Tennessee Court Rules Photographs May Be Admitted to Impeach Testimony in Car Accident Case

When a judge allows evidence to come in over the objection of a plaintiff, the plaintiff will typically argue the ruling constitutes reversible error on a subsequent appeal. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently addressed the issue of photographic evidence, and how that evidence may be used by the jury, in a car accident case involving a negligence claim, Garvin v. Malone (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 26, 2016).

In Garvin, the plaintiff and his wife were driving when a police officer’s vehicle unexpectedly crossed into their lane. The plaintiffs braked suddenly, and although the defendant stopped her car as well, she was unable to prevent her vehicle from hitting the rear of the plaintiffs’ vehicle. The damage to the plaintiffs’ vehicle was very minor. The plaintiffs then filed a negligence action to recover damage for back injuries they claimed to have suffered as a result of the accident.

Prior to trial, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking the trial court to prohibit the defendant from introducing evidence of photographs, auto repair documents, or testimony for the purpose of showing a correlation between the damage to the parties’ vehicle and the injuries sustained by the plaintiff. Ruling against the plaintiffs, the court allowed the defendant to present photographs to the jury showing the rear of the plaintiffs’ vehicle and the front of the defendant’s vehicle. The court provided a limiting instruction that the jury not makes an inference regarding the correlation between the property damage and personal injury damages, but allowed the jury to consider the photographs for impeachment purposes. The jury ultimately found that the defendant was not at fault for the accident. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the vehicles.

In Tennessee, relevant evidence is evidence that tends to make the determination of the existence of a material fact more or less probable than without the evidence. In other words, if a piece of evidence assists a jury in resolving an issue of fact, it is relevant. However, relevant evidence may nevertheless be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

The court of appeals affirmed the ruling of the trial court. The court explained that the plaintiffs testified as to the impact they felt when the defendant’s van hit the rear bumper of their vehicle, and the defendant was entitled to defend against plaintiffs’ claims and impeach testimony with any relevant evidence, including photographs.

Personal injury cases can be difficult to prove and to impeach testimony, but an experienced attorney can present the facts of your case persuasively to a judge or jury in order to obtain the best possible outcome. The Nashville trial attorneys at MHPS understand that these cases require careful attention to detail, thorough preparation, and courtroom experience. We represent victims involved in premises liability accidents, motor vehicle collisions, medical malpractice, and other negligence cases. Contact our offices to speak with one of our attorneys at (615) 800-7096 or online.

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