Defendant in Tennessee car accident case had the right to introduce photographs

by Mandy Hicks

By Kyle Roby, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

Car accidents, truck wrecks, and other motor vehicle crashes fall under the general law of negligence. In order to prove a negligence case, a plaintiff has to prove four separate elements:  duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Each element must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which is when the jury finds that the plaintiff’s version of the facts is more likely true than not. It does not require the injured person to prove beyond a reasonable doubt these elements, as in the criminal justice system, but rather only that it is more likely than not that there was a breach in a duty owed to the injured person that caused damages.

Once the plaintiff has presented his or her case at trial, and the judge has determined that he or she has made a prima facie case of negligence, the defendant has the right to offer evidence that contradicts the plaintiff’s version of the facts or impeaches the plaintiff’s testimony. The jury is the ultimate trier of fact, taxed with the duty of deciding which witness to believe when the testimony is conflicting.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Garvin v. Malone, the plaintiffs were a husband and wife who were involved in a car accident. A police car crossed into their lane, causing them to have to stop suddenly, and a vehicle that was traveling behind them hit them from behind. They filed suit against the motorist whose vehicle struck their rear bumper, alleging that the impact from the collision caused them serious and permanent injuries. They sought to recover $900,000 in damages for their injuries, including surgery to the husband’s cervical and lumbar spine. At trial, the defendant motorist introduced photographs of the plaintiffs’ vehicle after the accident (which apparently showed little or no property damage), over the plaintiffs’ vehement objection. The jury ruled in the defendant’s favor. The plaintiffs sought a new trial, but their motion was denied, and they appealed.

Decision of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting the photographs (which were taken immediately after the collision) into evidence. The appellate court first noted that the admissibility of evidence at trial was with the sound discretion of the trial judge and would not be overturned on appeal except in cases of a clear abuse of discretion.

The court went on to find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the photographs for the purpose of impeaching the plaintiffs’ testimony as to the amount of impact that they felt during the collision. The trial court’s judgment was thus affirmed, with the appellate court noting that the defendant had a right to defend the case and to impeach the plaintiffs’ testimony with any relevant evidence, including the photographs.

To Talk to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

If you or a loved one has been involved in a  car, truck, or other motor vehicle collision caused by the negligence of another driver, the Kentucky and Tennessee truck accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley can help. Call us at (270) 781-6500 for a free initial consultation. Our offices are located in Bowling Green, and we accept cases throughout both Kentucky and Tennessee.

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