Many motorcycle accident victims probably realize that their ability to recover compensation during a personal injury trial will depend to a significant degree on a persuasive presentation of admissible evidence. However, the civil litigation process is comprised of a complex system of rules that dictate the types of evidence that the jury may consider. The rulings of a judge regarding the admissibility of key facts, documents, or other forms of evidence frequently determine the outcome of a trial. Sometimes an unfavorable decision can lead to a negative outcome regardless of the merits of a plaintiff’s case. In this blog post, our motorcycle accident attorneys examine how two evidentiary ruling in a motorcycle accident case influenced the outcome.
In the 2nd DCA case of Shaver v. Carpenter, a husband and wife were struck by an automobile while riding a motorcycle. The couple entered an intersection proceeding straight from the west when the defendant made a left turn across the riders’ path as he approached from the east. The primary issue of dispute involved right-of-way when the vehicles proceeded through the intersection. The married couple contended they had a green light when they continued straight through the intersection. The driver of the automobile admitted partial fault because he alleged he entered the intersection immediately before the light turned red. Based on this contention, the defendant argued the couple also was at fault because they entered the intersection against a red light. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs in the trial court and found that the driver of the car was 95 percent at fault and that the plaintiffs were five percent at fault.
During the trial, the couple introduced the testimony of the state trooper who handled the accident investigation regarding the issue of right-of-way. The trooper testified that the driver of the car violated the right-of-way of the couple, and the couple did not violate the right-of-way of the motorist. The appellate court examined prior cases that found an investigating police officer should not be permitted to tell the jury who received a citation or who caused a collision. In analyzing the prior decision, the appellate court noted that allowing the officer to testify regarding who had the right-of-way was ruled improper in the prior cases even when the officer did not indicate that a traffic citation was issued. The court reasoned that an officer’s comments regarding the right-of-way violation would be akin to informing the jury who did (or should have) received a traffic ticket.
The appellate court reversed the trial court for allowing this testimony. The court essentially was concerned the jury would accept the officer’s conclusions on right-of-way rather than analyze testimony and other evidence about the facts of the incident to determine who was negligent. During a jury trial, it is the jury’s job to evaluate the facts and testimony of percipient (first-hand observation) witnesses rather than have a police officer provide his conclusion regarding which party was negligent.
The appellate court found that the trial judge also committed an error in permitting testimony regarding surveillance of the couple by the defendant. This common tactic is used by insurance companies to gain pictures or video of an accident victim engaging in activities inconsistent with the nature or severity of a plaintiff’s injuries. However, the defendant, in this case, informed the trial judge that no evidence obtained during the surveillance was going to be used as evidence in the trial. The couple wanted to introduce the evidence, so the jury would view the defendant’s conduct in a negative light. Since the defendant had already indicated that information obtained from the surveillance would not be used during the trial, the appellate court found that the trial judge should have excluded the fact of the surveillance as irrelevant.
The strategy of stipulating that certain information or evidence will not be introduced often is used in personal injury trials to avoid the introduction of other unfavorable facts by the other side. For example, a defendant might stipulate to his or her own negligence to limit a trial to the issue of damages. This strategy could be particularly appropriate when evidence of liability is fairly clear, but the defendant is trying to avoid the introduction of objectionable facts that might make the jury more generous when awarding damages.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Serious Injury & Wrongful Death Victims and Families
While some motorcycle injury victims attempt to deal directly with insurance companies, the complex evidentiary and procedural hurdles involved in civil litigation make it imperative that crash victims be represented by an experienced Miami motorcycle accident attorney. Our lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance clients need to pursue the results they desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.