Although many think the dramatic parts of a trial – the opening and closing arguments — are the most crucial moments, the actual evidence presented at trial is what truly determines the verdict. After all, a jury’s verdict must be based on the evidence. But what is “evidence”? A lawyer’s argument or interpretation of facts is not evidence in a personal injury case. Evidence can be testimony given by witnesses, as well as tangible items and documents that are admitted as exhibits. Each state has its own rules of evidence that a judge must apply in determining whether evidence is admissible or not admissible. In many situations, evidence that would seem quite relevant to the lawsuit is frequently excluded at trial. It may be a surprise to find out that these five things are usually inadmissible in a personal injury case in Alabama.
Alabama Uniform Traffic Crash Reports – Alabama Courts have said that automobile accident reports are inadmissible at trial. However, judges have disagreed on the reason why. One Alabama statute states, “No such report shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal, arising out of an accident…” (Ala. Code § 32-10-11). In Mainor v. Hayneville Telephone Co., 715 So. 2d 800 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997), the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals decided that the statute required that automobile accident reports be excluded at trial. However, other judges have prevented admission of automobile accident reports on the basis of the “hearsay rule” (Alabama Rule of Evidence 802). In limited situations, an automobile accident report can be used at trial to refresh a police officer’s memory while he is testifying or to impeach a witness who has made a prior inconsistent statement. Yet in the vast majority of cases, the jury will not be allowed to view the accident report or learn all the information contained in the report.
The Defendant’s Available Liability Insurance – In personal injury cases, the main question is whether someone is liable to another for money damages. For a party to be found liable, they must be proved to have been negligent. In Alabama, automobile insurance is mandatory. Therefore, in a lawsuit seeking damages for personal injury from a car wreck, the insurance company will provide legal representation and will pay any judgment – up to the limit of the policy – entered against the person, if he or she is 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.