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COA allows for admission of vehicle photo in personal injury action

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The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed for the first time the issue of whether a photograph admitted at trial showing little damage to a truck involved in an accident is inadmissible on the grounds that it’s irrelevant to any determination of bodily injury.

Raymond Flores challenged the trial court’s determination that he is entitled to no damages arising out of his car accident with Juan Rocha Gutierrez, who hit Flores’ stopped vehicle. After the accident, Flores was able to drive his vehicle home.

Flores went to his doctor the next day to seek care for back and neck pain. He hurt his back in 1999 as the result of another car accident and was diagnosed with arthritis, scoliosis, and degenerative disc disease. His treatment for injuries from that accident ended in 2001. While he was receiving treatment for the latest car accident, Flores fell on some ice at his workplace and filed a workers’ compensation claim. He never mentioned the fall to his doctor.

Default judgment regarding liability was entered against Gutierrez, who was unable to be located, but Flores had to prove proximate cause, injury, and damages. The trial court did not grant Flores’ request to keep defense Exhibit D, a photograph of his car after the accident showing little or no damage to it, or any references to his workers’ compensation claim from being mentioned at trial. The jury awarded Flores zero damages.

In Raymond Flores v. Juan P. Rocha Gutierrez, No. 45A04-1101-CT-28, Flores challenged the admission of the photograph of his truck. He pointed to Davis v. Maute, 770 A.2d 36, 40 (Del. 2001), to support his argument that the photograph was irrelevant to determining his injuries. But Davis – which reversed admission of photographs of property damage for purposes of establishing injury and held that expert testimony must be included to admit the photographs – has since been limited to its facts, wrote Judge Cale Bradford. A later case out of Delaware said Davis shouldn’t be construed broadly to require expert testimony in every case in order for jurors to be allowed to see photographs of cars in accidents, and other jurisdictions have rejected the Davis reasoning.

The trial court admitted the photograph of Flores’ car because it was relevant to his personal injury claim, and it concluded that the damage, or lack thereof, to his car had some tendency to prove or disprove facts relating to his personal injury claim. Even Flores’ physician observed the commonsense relationship between property damage and personal injury, the judge noted.

The COA also rejected Flores’ argument that the photo was more prejudicial than probative and should have been excluded under Ind. Evidence Rule 403. The court also upheld the finding of zero damages, noting that the evidence showed Flores had multiple pre-existing back problems with multiple causes. The appellate court said the doctor’s diagnosis that some of Flores’ issues were related to the accident was attributable to an incomplete record and that Flores’ had credibility problems.

The judges also affirmed the trial court’s decision to allow references to Flores’ 2010 fall at work, his workers’ compensation claim, and the admission of certain medical records.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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