An Important Rule of Evidence
When lawyers talk about the rules of evidence, they are referring to the body of rules that regulates what information can be let in during a trial and what information will be excluded. The rules of evidence are key to every personal injury case from the very beginning of that case.
In fact, before a personal injury case can be filed, negotiated, or taken to trial, the lawyers from both sides must evaluate the applicability of all the potential evidence. For example, if a the victim in a personal injury case has damaging evidence against the tortfeasor in a case, but it is all hearsay, the victim’s attorney will have to come up with an exception to the general rule that hearsay should be excluded.
Confusing, Unfair, and Prejudicial Evidence
The first question that is asked about all evidence is whether it is relevant. The bar for what makes evidence relevant or not is very low. As long as the evidence has some tendency to prove or disprove some disputed fact it is relevant. To illustrate this point the law often uses the maxim that a brick does not make a wall. Meaning that while one piece of evidence does not make an entire case, enough pieces eventually will.
Relevance is not the final determining factor in whether evidence will be admitted in a case. There are dozens of remaining rules that regulate the admission of evidence. One of those is the rule against evidence that is unfairly prejudicial or confusing. This rule can be found in Florida Statutes 90.403.
Some might say that such a rule does not make sense, as the point of bringing a case is to prove that the defendant is the wrongdoer through primarily prejudicial evidence. While that is true, there are some kinds of evidence that if presented to jury would confuse them to the real facts of the case and lead them to a conclusion based on how the evidence made them feel.
Florida Court of Appeals Reverses Unfair Prejudicial Ruling
A recently decided case by the District Court of Appeals, Third District gives a good example of the unfairly prejudicial rule. In that case the victim of the accident brought a suit against a driver after they were in an accident on the highway. The claimant complained of sustaining injuries and sought to recover from the defendant to be compensated.
At trial, the defendant wanted to present evidence to the jury of a golfing trip the plaintiff had after their accident. According to the defendant, he could present evidence that some time after the accident the victim played in a golf tournament where he got into a golf cart accident and drunken brawl that caused his injuries.
After considering whether to let the evidence in, the trial court decided to exclude it because the facts were too unfair and prejudicial to the victim. If the jury heard that he was in a drunken brawl they would be less likely to make an award based on that fact, whether he actually sustained injuries as a result or no. But the court of appeals reversed that decision. According to their opinion, this was not the type of evidence that should be excluded because the jury could conclude that injuries were a result of the brawl and not the original car accident.
Every personal injury case has numerous facts that must be evaluated prior to filing a claim. That is why it is so important to have a team of professionals with experience in this area of the law evaluating your case and determining what evidence will be admissible and what not. At The Pittman Firm, we have the experience that your case deserves. If you have been injured in an accident,contact us.
See related blog posts: Florida Supreme Court Rules: Product Liability for Manufacturers; What It Means to Be in the Million Dollar Advocates Forum®.