Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia handed down an opinion in a case that was based on a truck accident caused by another driver’s dangerous and aggressive driving. In the case Phillips v. Stear, the appellate court reversed a jury’s verdict that the plaintiff failed to prove his case. The court did so based on the defendant’s failure to admit that he was recently issued a citation for reckless driving after testifying that he was a safe and cautious driver by nature.
Phillips v. Stear: The Facts
The plaintiff was injured as a result of an accident involving the defendant. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was cut off by the defendant, who had pulled in front of the plaintiff and slammed on his brakes. The plaintiff lost control and crashed his truck. He sued the defendant, seeking compensation for his injuries.
At trial, the defendant took the witness stand to testify to his own good character and record of safe driving. On cross examination, the plaintiff asked the defendant about a recent reckless driving citation, but the defendant failed to admit to the citation and told the court he “did not recall the event.”
After hearing the defendant’s response, the court made an evidentiary ruling that the plaintiff would not be permitted to continue that line of questioning. Ultimately, the jury found in favor of the defendant. On appeal, however, the appellate court reversed, explaining that the defendant’s failure to disclose his recent citation – regardless of whether the failure to disclose was intentional – prevented the plaintiff from a fair cross-examination.
Character Evidence in Virginia Personal Injury Trials
Trial judges do not have complete authority to admit or refuse to admit evidence. In fact, they must follow rules of evidence that are created and adopted by the Virginia Legislature. When a judge makes an evidentiary ruling, that may be the basis of an appeal.
As a general rule, parties are not permitted to use “character evidence” to bolster or weaken a witness’s credibility, absent certain facts. However, when character evidence is admissible, it can be extremely powerful. One instance where a party can use character evidence against an opponent is when the opponent puts their own character in question. For example, the plaintiff should have been allowed to cross examine the defendant’s character for safe driving because the defendant took the stand to say that he was a safe driver. It is not likely that the plaintiff would have been afforded the opportunity to discuss the recent conviction if the defendant had not claimed he was a safe driver.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. As you can see, however, taking a case to trial is not necessarily as simple as presenting all evidence in your favor. That is why having a knowledgeable attorney is so important in personal injury cases. With an attorney’s help you can increase your chances of making sure that the judge or jury gets a chance to consider all the relevant and persuasive evidence that helps your case. Call 888-407-4529 today to set up a free consultation with a skilled Virginia personal injury attorney.
See More Blog Posts:
Punitive Damages Awards in Injury and Wrongful Death Cases Often Exceed Compensatory Damages, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 4, 2016.
The Enforceability of Liability Release Waivers in Virginia Courts, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2016.