In a multiple vehicle car accident, where witnesses may give widely varying accounts of what actually happened and who is at-fault and to what degree, the credibility of each witness and party becomes critical. It’s not uncommon for defense attorneys to challenge the credibility of plaintiffs to challenge their own client’s liability.
In a recent case before the Hawaii Supreme Court, this was precisely what the defense attorney did, via alleging at various points during the trial that plaintiff was not even in the vehicle, was not injured in the course and scope of employment (she was a home health aide reportedly helping transport a patient to a doctor’s office at the time of the crash) and that she had filed this personal injury lawsuit as a money grab on top of her fraudulent workers’ compensation claim. He went so far as to tell the jury during closing arguments that if they sided with plaintiff, they should be ashamed of themselves as it would consummate plaintiff’s fraud. Mind you, this was not something of which she’d been formally accused or convicted.
Plaintiff sought a jury instruction that would stipulate they could not consider her motive in filing the case, but rather only whether defendant was negligent. Trial court rejected that request, and jurors returned an 11-1 verdict in the defense favor, finding defendant – the rear driver in a three-car pileup – was not the legal cause of plaintiff’s injury.
Plaintiff appealed. She argued firstly the trial court erred in allowing prejudicial and irrelevant testimony about an alleged unrestrained child in the backseat of vehicle in which plaintiff was a passenger (something she and the driver denied). She also alleged the court erred in not using her jury instruction indicating they were not to consider her motive for pursuing this claim in the first place.
An appeals court ruled references to alleged workers’ compensation fraud should never have been allowed, and further that while allegations of an unrestrained child might have had relevance in establishing plaintiff’s position in the car at the time of impact, the prejudicial elements of this information far outweighed its probative value, particularly as defense attorney mentioned in repeatedly in conjunction with plaintiff’s alleged workers’ compensation fraud. Appellate court vacated the previous denial of plaintiff’s motion for a new trial or judgment as a matter of law, and remanded the case back to the lower court for a new trial.
Defense appealed, but the Hawaii Supreme Court affirmed.
The court noted that a plaintiff’s motives for filing a car accident lawsuit are irrelevant so long as he or she has made her case on facts that have merit.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you hate the defendant and want revenge. The only thing that matters is whether you have used facts to make your case and that your claim is decided on merits. And this isn’t a new concept. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1900 held that if courts started concerning themselves with the motives of everyone who filed a case, it would have the effect of seriously skewing the merit. This isn’t to say a plaintiff’s motive is always inadmissible, but it shouldn’t be used to consider the merits of a case.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Medeiros v. Choy, April 26, 2018, U.S. Supreme Court
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Liability When Poor Road Conditions, Construction, Cause Florida Car Accident, April 9, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney Blog