Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia car accident case discussing the state’s “dead man statute.” The dead man statute, contained in Code of Virginia section 8.01-397, provides guidance on how courts should handle cases where one party is incapacitated or has died since the events giving rise to the case.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff claimed he was injured when he was rear-ended by the defendant. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, but before the case reached trial the defendant died. The plaintiff’s case proceeded against the defendant’s estate.
Evidently, the defendant conceded liability for the accident, and the only issue for the jury to decide was whether the plaintiff was entitled to any damages and, if so, what amount. The plaintiff, who had been involved in several previous car accidents and had a lengthy history of pre-existing medical conditions, testified that the defendant was going at least 20 miles per hour at the time. The plaintiff sought $500,000 in damages, claiming that as a result of the accident she required an additional back surgery.
The defendant’s estate presented the testimony of the passenger in the defendant’s car at the time of the accident, who testified that the collision occurred at a very low speed. The defendant’s son, who helped build the sports car that the defendant was driving, testified to the minimal damage the vehicle sustained in the accident. The estate also sought to admit a statement from the defendant to his son stating that the accident had occurred during “stop and go” traffic. The plaintiff objected, requiring the court to determine if the deceased defendant’s statement should be admissible. The statement was admitted and the jury returned a zero-dollar verdict.
The Dead Man’s Statute
Under section 8.01-397, “declarations by the party so incapable of testifying made while he was capable, relevant to the matter in issue, may be received as evidence in all proceedings” including those in which the declarant is a party. The rule also precludes an adverse party from recovering from a deceased party based solely on the surviving party’s uncorroborated testimony.
The Court’s Decision
The plaintiff made several arguments against the admission of the defendant’s statement. First, the plaintiff argued that the passenger testified as an interested party, making the rule inapplicable. Second, the plaintiff claimed that the dead man’s statute only applies to issues of liability, which were not present in this case.
The court rejected both of the plaintiff’s arguments and affirmed the jury’s zero-dollar verdict. The court explained that the passenger in the defendant’s car was not an “interested” party because he stood to gain nothing from how the case was resolved. The court went on to explain that even if the passenger had an interest, it would not change the result because the rule is only concerned about corroboration when an adverse party is pursuing a claim against a deceased party. In other words, the premise of the plaintiff’s argument was misplaced in that it did not matter that the passenger testified; the defendant’s statement could still be entered into evidence.
The court also explained that there was no basis for the plaintiff’s argument that the dead man’s statute only applies to liability issues. Thus, the court affirmed the jury’s zero-dollar verdict.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Attorney Charles B. Roberts is a dedicated Virginia personal injury lawyer with extensive experience assisting injury victims in the pursuit of compensation for the injuries they have sustained. To learn more, call 703-491-7070 to schedule your free consultation today.
See More Blog Posts:
Landowner Determined Not to Be Liable for Accident Caused by Untrimmed Foliage, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, November 29, 2018.
Court Determines Plaintiff’s Misuse of Product Precludes Subsequent Product Liability Lawsuit, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 11, 2018.