Updated May 23, 2020
In Indiana automobile accident litigation, the potential for a traffic ticket to be admitted into evidence is a double-edged sword. Evidence of a traffic violation issued against the plaintiff can destroy credibility, whereas a ticked violation by the defendant can tip the scales in the plaintiff’s favor.
Consider the following scenarios to help navigate this issue, and if you have questions, contact a qualified car accident attorney.
The presentation of the injured plaintiff’s case to the jury has gone well. They made a good impression, a witness detailed a horrendous collision, and doctors described the injury with clear and understandable precision.
Then, the defense calls a police officer to the stand and asks if they gave out any traffic tickets related to the accident, and the answer is “yes” because the plaintiff failed to yield. The negative impact of this statement is clear on the jury because, in their minds, police officers don’t give out traffic tickets unless a person broke the law.
So, in a scenario such as this one, it would be beneficial to keep damning evidence from reaching the ears of the jury. The plaintiff’s attorney can raise the issue with the judge in advance of the trial, seek to exclude evidence of a traffic ticket based on hearsay and undue prejudice, or attempt to categorize it as impermissible opinion testimony.
Just as dangerous to a plaintiff’s case is when a defendant testifies that they did not receive a traffic violation. The danger is that a jury may presume that the defendant did not do anything wrong if they did not receive a ticket.
The principles mentioned above—hearsay, undue prejudice, and impermissible witness testimony—are also applicable in this no-ticket scenario as solutions for this issue.
Liability is hotly contested in a case concerning a car crash on a foggy, wet day. The battle revolves around a “he said, she said” argument concerning who ran the stop sign: the plaintiff or the defendant. The investigating officer was on the scene just a few minutes after the collision, and while there were no witnesses, the officer took detailed measurements of the skid marks and positions of the vehicles and concluded that it was the defendant who ran the stop sign. They pleaded guilty to the traffic citation and paid the appropriate fine.
This type of evidence can be crucial in convincing the jury and can be introduced by hearsay, undue prejudice, and impermissible witness testimony as well. However, in this case, some elements work in the plaintiff’s advantage. For example, regarding hearsay, the fact that the defendant pleaded guilty equates to an admission that they ran the stop sign. Such an admission is not considered hearsay. Additionally, whether or not the police officer is considered an “expert” witness depends on several factors, like whether they have participated in accident reconstruction training.
Whether it be through the admission of a traffic ticket where a guilty plea was entered or through a police officer’s testimony on fault, there are certainly avenues to pursue in attempting to admit evidence of a traffic violation at trial. Keep in mind that this issue can cut both ways, and it is possible that these same arguments can be made by a defendant attempting to admit evidence of a plaintiff’s traffic violation. Still, knowing both sides of the argument provides an advantage in successfully litigating your case.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An Indianapolis car accident lawyer from WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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