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DTCI: Photo of car admissible to show lack of injury

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DTCI-Hehner-ButzOn Aug. 10, 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued an opinion that addressed for the first time the issue of whether a photograph of vehicle damage is relevant and admissible to assist a jury in determining the extent of bodily injury in a trial arising from a motor vehicle accident. In Flores v. Guiterrez, No. 45A04-1101-CT-28, 2011 WL 3501865 (Ind. App. Aug. 10, 2011), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s admission of a photograph of the plaintiff’s vehicle following the motor vehicle accident at issue, in which he was rear-ended by the defendant. The photograph depicted a vehicle with “little to no damage.” Despite the fact that liability was already determined, the jury awarded the plaintiff zero damages.  

On appeal, the plaintiff claimed the photograph was inadmissible on the grounds that it was irrelevant to any determination of his bodily injury. The court and parties agreed there is no Indiana authority on this issue so the court looked to other jurisdictions for support. While the court noted some jurisdictions bar the admission of photographs of property damage for purposes of establishing injury absent expert testimony showing a causal link, the Court of Appeals sided with those jurisdictions that allow photographs of property damage to show injury even with no expert testimony. Those other jurisdictions (and the Court of Appeals of Indiana) believe the relationship between the force of impact, the resultant injury, and the extent of the relationship is a jury issue, and the jury should be permitted to view photographs of vehicles involved in an accident. The court ultimately agreed with the trial court and held that the damage (or lack thereof) to the plaintiff’s vehicle had some tendency to prove or disprove facts relating to his personal injury claim. In outlining its reasoning the court stated:

“Here, the trial court admitted Exhibit D [the photograph of the automobile] on the basis that it was properly authenticated and relevant to Flores’s [the Plaintiff’s] personal injury claim arising out of a car accident. Flores [the Plaintiff] admitted during his testimony that Exhibit D truly and accurately depicted his vehicle as a result of the impact. Under Indiana Evidence Rule 401, relevant evidence is ‘evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.’ (Emphasis supplied). In admitting Exhibit D, the trial court concluded that the damage or lack thereof, to Flores’s vehicle had some tendency to prove or disprove facts relating to his personal injury claim. We agree. Flores presented no expert testimony to suggest that, under these facts, no such tendency existed. To the contrary, his own expert, Dr. Jones, testified that he had inquired into vehicle damage when assessing Flores’s condition immediately following the accident. While additional testimony by Dr. Jones suggested that a direct relationship between damage and injury does not always exist, he did not indicate that such a relationship was nonexistent under these circumstances.” Flores v. Guiterrez, No. 45A04-1101-CT-28, 2011 WL 3501865, at 5 (footnote omitted).

The Court of Appeals also noted in a footnote that while “the link at issue here is between minimal property damage and minimal injury, this commonsense relationship may also be relevant to link significant property damage and serious injury.” Id. n.3.

Pursuant to this opinion, a photograph of vehicle damage is therefore likely to be considered relevant and admissible to the issue of bodily injury in a personal injury action, unless the party seeking to exclude the photograph has expert testimony tending to show the lack of a direct relationship between the damage and the injury.•

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Jim Hehner and Ashley Arthur Butz practice with the law firm of Hehner & Associates, LLC in Indianapolis. Mr. Hehner is a director of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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