What the Jury Doesn’t Know at the Trial of a Personal Injury Case
A settlement or a trial of a personal injury case — those are the two ways an injury claim ends. We always tell clients that the best way to determine a reasonable settlement amount is to estimate the range of potential jury verdicts for their case.
This is not a science. There is no formula a jury must follow, so different juries can award drastically different amounts for the same exact case. However, most seasoned attorneys know the range of potential outcomes.
In determining this range, it is important to remember what the jury doesn’t get to know at trial due to the Alabama Rules of Evidence:
Car accident reports are inadmissible at trial. Ala. Code § 32-10-11 states “No such report shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal, arising out of an accident…” In addition to this statute, most judges exclude car accident reports based on the “hearsay rule” found in Alabama Rule of Evidence 802.
In limited situations, a car accident report can be used to refresh a police officer’s memory while testifying or to impeach a witness who has made a prior inconsistent statement. However, the jury will not be allowed to view the accident report.
In personal injury cases, the main question is whether someone is liable to another for money damages. In a lawsuit seeking damages, the insurance company will provide legal representation and pay any judgment – up to the policy limits – against the defendant if they are found to be negligent.
However, in almost all situations, the jury cannot be told that a defendant has liability insurance. Alabama Rule of Evidence 411 states, “Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.”
The justification for this rule is straightforward. A jury may be tempted to award damages or increase its award of damages because the insurance company is paying the judgment. Our legal system wants the jury to determine the outcome of a personal injury case on the facts, not whether the insurance company will pay the judgment.
Given this, at the trial of a personal injury case, the word “insurance” cannot be said. If it is mentioned, it could be grounds for a mistrial.
A Person’s Driving Record
Many personal injury trials involve car accidents. In such cases, you would think a person’s prior driving record would be important evidence. However, a driver’s prior history of reckless driving is usually inadmissible.
Alabama Rule of Evidence 404 prohibits “character” evidence. Character evidence is evidence offered to show that since someone did something in the past, that they did it again in your case. For example, if someone has 3 prior DUI charges and then hits you while under the influence, it is unlikely that the 3 prior DUI charges would be admissible at trial.
With that said, character evidence can be admissible if the evidence is offered for a purpose other than showing that the defendant acted in conformity with that character trait.
Settlement offers made by either party are inadmissible at trial due to Alabama Rule of Evidence 408. The logic of this rule is simple: if we allowed settlement offers to be admitted into evidence, it would having a chilling effect on pre-trial negotiation.
For example, if an insurance company knew that you could tell a jury that there was already a $50,000 settlement offer, the insurance company may be hesitant to ever offer $50,000. The law encourages the settlement process and Rule 408 codifies that encouragement.
Injuries Not Related by Expert Testimony
Alabama law requires a personal injury claimant to prove their injuries were “probably” caused by someone else’s negligence. A mere “possibility” is not good enough.
Furthermore, an expert witness (usually a medical doctor) must testify under oath in deposition or at trial that the injury was “probably” caused by the incident. If the doctor says the injury was “possibly” caused or was “perhaps” caused by the incident, then the jury will never get to know the nature of the injury, the extent of it, nor how painful the jury was.
Knowing the Law Helps to Evaluate Your Case
We guide people every day in making the best decision for their case. In some instances, it makes sense to have a trial of a personal injury case. In other instances, it’s more prudent to accept a settlement offer.
The best way to gauge whether a settlement offer is fair is by predicting exactly what the jury will see and hear at trial. If you are having a tough time deciding what to do with your personal injury claim, please let us help.