If you’ve ever watched an episode of Law & Order, you know that trials can range from the mundane to the dramatic. You also know that the lawyers are not always allowed to offer into evidence all of the information they have. This is because the law provides “rules of evidence”stating what information may and may not be used in court.
Just like in criminal trials, certain evidence is not allowed to be presented before a jury in civil trials. Is this fair? It depends on which party you ask.
If you have filed a personal injury suit, it’s important for you to know what a jury may never hear about your case—and why. We’ve outlined five of the most important pieces of information below that won’t make it into the jurors’ notes.
#1 An Accident Report
This one may surprise you. After all, it’s highly relevant to your case, and it can serve as a compelling piece of evidence in your favor. Unfortunately, your auto accident report is considered under the law as “hearsay.”Hearsay is generally excluded from court because it is a statement made by a person outside of court who doesn’t have direct knowledge of the incident. Because a police offer only shows up after the accident, he or she didn’t see exactly what happened and can’t say for sure what each party did.
In some situations, a lawyer may use a police report to refresh the officer’s memory, but otherwise it is barred.
#2 Offers to Pay Medical Expenses
If the defendant offered to pay your medical expenses after the accident, this offer will not be allowed in court. The reason behind this rule of evidence is fairly straightforward: offering to pay someone’s medical expenses after an accident sounds like an admission of guilt. If a jury hears this, they will be strongly persuaded to rule in favor of you, the plaintiff. As a result, this information is barred.
#3 Steps Taken to Fix Negligent Acts or Behavior
Let’s say, for example, that you tripped and fell in the parking lot of a grocery store. You fell because the lot was in disrepair and badly needed to be fixed. Because you are injured, you file a personal injury suit. After your accident, the store fixes the pavement so that it is not a fall hazard. In this scenario, the jury wouldn’t be allowed to hear that the store had taken remedial measures to prevent future falls in their lot. Like an offer to pay medical expenses, fixing past behavior can be seen by the jury as a sign of guilt. In addition, the law doesn’t want to discourage people from fixing wrongful behavior. If this information were allowed in court, people may avoid fixing problems to avoid liability—thereby endangering others.
#4 Offers to Settle
Sometimes, it makes more sense to settle than to go through the trial process. This may be because the defendant knows that he or she won’t win the case or because it would be cheaper in the long run. However, offering to settle would look like an admission of fault to a jury, persuading them to rule in favor of the plaintiff. The law doesn’t want to discourage people from settling outside of court, which is why this rule is in place.
#5 The Defendant’s Liability Insurance Coverage
Whether or not the defendant has insurance—and how much insurance he or she has—is not allowed to be presented to a jury. Like several of the other pieces of information above, this information is excluded in order to prevent jury bias. If the jury knew that the defendant’s insurance would cover any damages, they may be inclined to award damages or increase the damages awarded. The law wants the jury to decide a case based on the facts, not whether or not the insurance company would pay.
As you go through the personal injury process, we hope that this information will help you avoid any surprises. If you have questions about your case or are considering filing a personal injury suit, please visit our What Is My Claim Worth? page or call an experienced Huntsville, AL personal injury lawyer at our firm. We’d be happy to answer your questions.