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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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