California Appellate Court Holds Jury Reasonably Rejected Plaintiffs’ Accident Claims, Based on Finding that Testimony was not Credible

Recently, a California appellate court addressed whether a jury reasonably rejected a plaintiff’s testimony and concluded there were no injuries in a motor vehicle collision. The parties had stipulated to the defendant’s negligence as the cause of the collision.  The issues at trial centered on the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s harm and the claim of loss of consortium.

Susan Christ brought a lawsuit against Dwayne Schwartz for injuries she allegedly suffered following Mr. Schwartz’s collision with her vehicle.  Jon Christ, Susan’s husband, also brought a claim against Mr. Schwartz for loss of consortium based on Susan’s injuries. The jury awarded no damages to the Christs. On appeal, the Christs argued the trial court should not have allowed evidence of photographs of the vehicles after the collision, or evidence of Jon Christ’s extramarital affair.

Regarding medical evidence, Susan Christ underwent medical examinations with different doctors for one year before bringing her lawsuit.  She complained of neck and back pain, but she had a history of neck pain before the accident.  The Christs testified that they could not longer participate in activities like walking and that Susan could not lift anything weighing more than five pounds.  But a defense investigator presented a video showing Susan lifting heavy items without apparent pain.

The attorney for Mr. Schwartz emphasized that Susan had not been credible and that she was not injured in the accident.  Referring to the extramarital affair, the attorney also stated there had not been a loss of consortium because the collision had not changed the marital relationship between the Christs.

The jury voted 11 to one to award Susan nothing in past and future economic damages, and to award zero dollars for non-economic damages and Jon’s claim for loss of consortium.  On appeal, the Christs contended the lower court erred in admitting the photographs of the vehicles and the evidence of Jon’s affair.

On appeal, the court stated the rule that photographs of vehicles involved in a collision may be admitted into evidence without supporting expert testimony.  This rule, the court stated, rests on the discretion provided to the trial court to determine whether evidence may be shown to a jury without expert testimony in support.

The Christs argued that the photographs were prejudicial, and under Evidence Code section 352, this prejudice outweighed the probative value of the photographs.  They contended the outer appearance of the vehicles belied Susan’s internal injuries.  The court rejected this argument, again stating the court can allow the jury to view photographs based on the determination that prejudice is likely slim.

Photographs may also be relevant to show the force of the collision, which can indicate injuries to passengers.  While the Christs disputed the relevance of the photographs because Mr. Schwartz admitted liability, the court stated that the photographs were also probative as they related to potential injuries.

The appellate court also stated that by claiming loss of consortium, the Christs put their marital relationship at issue. For this reason, the trial court had not abused its discretion in allowing testimony regarding Jon Christ’s extramarital affair.  Evidence of the affair was relevant to Jon’s claims of love and companionship.

Next, the court addressed whether the Christs had been prejudiced by the jury’s failure to award damages after Mr. Schwartz admitted liability.  While Mr. Schwartz had responded in an interrogatory that Susan suffered “harm,” the court noted that Mr. Schwartz did not admit to causing the damages Susan claimed.

The rule is that a stipulation of liability does not entitle plaintiffs to damages. The burden was on Susan to prove the accident caused her to incur expenses, suffer noneconomic damages, and require future medical care.  Here, Susan’s claim was subjective and based on her credibility.  Her credibility had been impeached at trial, for example, by the video taken before trial showing Susan lifting a trash can and bending at the waist without pain.  The court stated that the jury could have reasonably found that Susan had not been candid about her past conditions that may have caused her current complaints.

Other evidence supported the jury’s finding that Susan did not suffer injuries. The court of appeal stated her lack of injuries was supported by medical testimony showing no manifestation of injuries, as well as Susan’s own admission she had not bumped anything during the collision.

The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide legal representation to victims and their families throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Injured Driver Had Not Shown Dangerous Condition Posed by Construction Site Nor Had He Presented Evidence of Negligence, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 22, 2016

California Court Finds Substantial Evidence Supported Jury’s Finding that Defendant’s Negligence Did not Cause Plaintiff’s Injuries in Rear End Collision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 4, 2016

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