Should the Defendant be able to introduce accident photos to prove severity of injuries?
The general public has the perception that many personal injury cases are filed frivolously. They view those that bring lawsuits over minor claims as overly litigious individuals looking to make a quick buck. Tort reformers have used this perception, fueled by media coverage of questionably large settlements, to initiate reform in states all over the country.
Low impact car accident cases are especially likely to be perceived as frivolous. Defense attorneys realize this. They will try to show the jury how small the accident was and make it appear preposterous that anyone could have been hurt from such a minor crash.
The truth is that people are often injured in minor crashes. A Defendant is responsible for the damages even if the plaintiff is more likely to be injured than an average person. The plaintiff could have prior injuries that make them prone to exacerbation. Under Missouri law a Defendant should remain on the hook for these injuries despite the lack of significant property damage.
Defense attorneys have long sought to admit images showing little to no property damage into evidence for the purpose of showing that the injuries could not have been severe as claimed by the plaintiff. It is only natural to assume that if the collision did little harm to the vehicle, it wouldn't have harmed the person inside it.
In my opinion, there is nothing more prejudicial to a plaintiff’s case than for a juror to see these images. A picture can, and often is, worth a thousand words. That’s a bad thing for a judge if the picture overwhelmingly supports the arguments of one side and fails to account for many nuances.
A recent case in the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District agrees. This case, Kappel vs. Prater, #106216 Slip. Op., Eastern District, held that there was a "reasonable tendency for the . . . photographs to influence the amount of damages awarded to the [Plaintiffs]." In this case, the Defendant was traveling at a speed of only 15-20 miles per hour. He only “felt a jolt” when he hit the back of the Plaintiff’s vehicle. The trial court allowed the Defendant to introduce photos of the Plaintiff’s vehicle showing only minor property damage to prove that the accident was not severe enough to cause the Plaintiff to need surgery.
The court based their decision on evidentiary grounds holding that “the photographs were not legally relevant because of their potential to confuse the issues and mislead the jury outweighed any probative value that they may have” Id.
Not surprisingly, the insurance companies have filed their appeal of this decision with the Missouri Supreme Court. The high court has accepted this case for review.
It is my hope that the high court confirm the appellate court's decision and stops allowing overly suggestive photos into these cases. Any evidence that is confusing or tends to mislead the jury must be kept out.
If you are injured in car accident, no matter how small, call The Gerring Law Firm at (314)-222-0066 for a free consultation. We have experience representing a wide range of car accident cases and will make sure the insurance company doesn't take advantage of you.