Did You Know? Things You Can’t Mention at Trial
Utah Rules of Evidence are explicit in regards to what can and cannot be presented to a jury in a trial, whether in a criminal or tort trial. The following is a reference for what will not be allowed as evidence, if your trial is going to be presented to a jury.
The Utah Rules of Evidence Rule 411 states that “evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.” This means that attorneys are usually not allowed to mention insurance in a personal injury trial. Why? Because the courts view insurance evidence as irrelevant in determining negligence. In other words, courts do not recognize insurance coverage as indicative of careful or reckless drivers. However, juries often do. Some people are under the impression that anyone who doesn’t have auto insurance is an irresponsible, and unsafe driver. Thus, a jury is likely to be persuaded to rule for or against someone based on his insurance status. A few exceptions exist to this rule. The Rules of Evidence also state that “the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice or proving agency, ownership, or control.” However, mentioning insurance is generally not admissible. Also, mentioning insurance in front of a jury can easily lead to a mistrial.
You may be frustrated to learn that police reports are not allowed as evidence in a personal injury case. After all, police reports may seem like a reliable form of evidence from an authority figure. However, often the police officer doesn’t actually witness the accident. Instead, he/she is called to the scene after the fact. When they arrive on the scene of the accident they take down your statement and the statement of the other party involved, and any witnesses that may have seen the accident. If the officer didn’t witness the accident then what they write in the police report are second-hand accounts of the events; and further, the accounts are stated outside of a courtroom. These two facts make police reports hearsay, which is never knowingly allowed in a courtroom. While police reports are inadmissible in court, the officer’s testimony is allowed if they witnessed the accident first hand. They can testify as to what happened and who they believe is at fault. The officer can also describe events they witnessed at the scene, before or after the collision. Witnesses may also be called to testify in personal injury trials, just as in criminal trials. But again, their statements as seen in the police report will not be used as evidence. The courts require first hand accounts.
According to the Davis Law Group, a trial by jury is not the starting point for personal injury cases. Most personal injury cases are negotiated by the insurance companies first to try and reach a settlement. However, if one party is unhappy with the settlement offer, he/she (or more likely his insurance company) can request a trial by jury. In this case, the jury will never be allowed to hear evidence regarding the settlement offer, as it can sway the decision one way or another. Meyerkord & Russell explain that most personal injury cases go to trial either because the negligent party is not offering enough money, or the injured party is asking for too much money. This type of knowledge can determine the jury’s decision.
Violation of Traffic Code
The Utah Rules of Evidence Rule 416 states that “evidence that a person was convicted of an infraction or a class C misdemeanor under Utah Code…is not admissible [in these circumstances]:
- To prove the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongly; or
- To impeach the person’s testimony on those issues.”
In simple terms, your attorney will not be able to bring in prior accidents as proof that the person caused your accident. It’s not easy to negotiate with insurance companies regarding personal injury cases, and if your case ends up going to trial by jury, this complicates it even further. Christensen & Hymas specializes in personal injury law and can remove the headache and burden that often come with these type of cases. If you have been involved in an accident that was caused by another’s negligence, please give us a call at 801-506-0800. We can help you get the most out of your unfortunate circumstances.
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