COA affirms driver waived claims of error in car accident case

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a jury’s verdict in a car accident dispute, finding the driver determined most at fault has waived his claims of error.

As Edward Cook was driving in the early morning hours for work, he approached an intersection that driver Mark Beeman was sitting at while he waited for the stop light to turn green. Beeman — whose story of what occurred next differs from Cook’s version of events —then entered the intersection when the traffic signal gave him a green light, and Cook’s car hit the side of Beeman’s vehicle.

The two men gave conflicting testimony during a jury trial in a case brought by Cook, with Cook alleging that he had the green light as he entered the intersection. Beeman, however, testified he waited for the traffic light to turn green before entering the intersection.

When asked on direct examination by his counsel why he didn’t sue Cook, Beeman replied that he had been compensated for his vehicle and wasn’t injured. Although Cook did not object or move to strike the testimony, Cook on cross-examination asked Beeman who compensated him for the vehicle.

After Beeman’s counsel requested a sidebar conference before Beeman answered the question, Cook asked Beeman a different question and his cross-examination continued. Ultimately, the jury rendered a verdict assigning Cook 51% at fault and Beeman 49% at fault.

On appeal, Cook argued the trial court erred in admitting Beeman’s testimony that he did not sue Cook because Beeman was compensated for the damage done to his vehicle. Such testimony, Cook asserted, violated a motion in limine. But the Indiana Court of Appeals found that Cook waived any challenge to Beeman’s testimony because Cook did not object when Beeman was asked why he did not sue Cook.

“Nor did Cook move to strike Beeman’s answer to the question. Therefore, Cook waived any claim that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the appellate court.

Additionally, the appellate court concluded that Cook also waived any objection to the trial court’s limitation on the questions he could ask Beeman about Beeman’s insurance coverage and the trial court’s denial of his motion for mistrial by failing to present an adequate record on appeal.

“Cook’s failure to supplement the record in a timely manner is particularly consequential in this case because we are unable to determine whether Cook moved for a mistrial or what his basis was for such a motion,” the appellate court continued. “Further, we do not know the substance of Beeman’s objection or what the trial court said in issuing its ruling. Therefore, Cook has waived any issues on appeal based on the arguments he made during the inaudible sidebar conference.”

The case is Edward Cook v. Mark A. Beeman and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 19A-CT-2145. https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/06222002msm.pdf

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