Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant, which was based almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence, should be permitted to proceed towards trial. The case is important to Virginia personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates the importance of circumstantial evidence and that circumstantial evidence can be just as convincing as direct evidence.
Direct Evidence vs. Circumstantial Evidence
Evidence can be broken down into two main categories: direct and circumstantial. Direct evidence tends to prove an assertion without any necessary inferences. For example, if an eyewitness sees a crime occur, the eyewitness’ testimony that the defendant committed the offense would be considered direct evidence.
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, requires at least one inference be made to prove an assertion. For example, fingerprints that are found at the scene of a crime would be circumstantial evidence that the defendant was at one time present at the crime scene and may have committed the crime. Both types of evidence can be equally persuasive, depending on the evidence itself, as well as the surrounding circumstances.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was rear-ended while stopped in traffic. The driver fled the scene; however, the plaintiff could see that the driver was male and identified the make and model of the truck. The truck was later found abandoned in a nearby parking lot and was towed to a scrap yard. The vehicle was registered to the defendant.
Evidently, police unsuccessfully attempted to contact the defendant. The scrap yard also tried to contact the defendant without success. The defendant never picked up his truck. Based on the defendant’s behavior, police believed that the defendant was the driver that struck the plaintiff.
The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, claiming he was the hit-and-run driver that rear-ended her car. The defendant testified that he was not driving, and suggested that the actual hit-and-run driver was his wife’s sister’s ex-boyfriend, who was temporarily living with the defendant; however, the defendant could not provide any contact information for the man.
The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s only evidence that he was the hit-and-run driver was circumstantial evidence, and that this evidence did not sufficiently rebut the direct evidence (the defendant’s denial) that he was driving the car.
The court disagreed, explaining that a plaintiff’s case that is based solely on circumstantial evidence can survive a summary judgment challenge if the circumstantial evidence creates a more convincing story. Here, the court held that after taking all the evidence into account, the plaintiff’s version of events was more likely than the defendant’s. The court noted that the plaintiff described the vehicle that struck her, as well as the sex of the driver. Through an investigation, it was later discovered that the defendant was the same sex as the driver and was the owner of the vehicle. The court explained that these facts, combined with the defendant’s post-accident conduct, created a reasonably convincing argument that the defendant was indeed the driver.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Hit-and-Run Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia hit-and-run accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Attorney Sidney Schupak is a dedicated Virginia car accident attorney with extensive experience handling all types of car accident claims, including Virginia hit-and-run accidents. To learn more about how Attorney Schupak can help you obtain compensation for the injuries you have sustained, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation today.
See More Blog Posts:
Virginia Accident Victims and the Importance of Reading All Settlement Agreements Closely, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 10, 2018.
Court Discusses Employer Liability in Recent Distracted Driving Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 18, 2018.