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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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