The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is the same court to which Maryland’s federal cases are appealed, affirmed a case over the summer whereby the plantiff essentially lost at trial due to the decision not to testify.
In the case, Scott v. WATSONTOWN TRUCKING CO. INC., Ct. App. 4th Cir. (2013), the court recants a somewhat unusual series of events regarding trial strategy and anticipation regarding testimony.
The lawsuit arose out of a collision whereby a truck driver employed by the Watsontown Trucking Company struck a motorcyclist with his tractor trailer while he was making a left turn. The motorcyclist suffered personal injuries as a result, and he filed suit in federal court, alleging negligence. According to the overview in the appellate case, the issue at trial came down to whether the truck driver had a green light when he made the turn, and if not, whether the motorcyclist was contributorily negligent.
According to the opinion, the plaintiff had for some reason anticipated that the defendant truck driver would not testify at trial. Therefore, his counsel sought the imposition of a missing witness instruction for the jury, which informed them that a missing material witness allows them to reach the inference that the person who isn’t testifying would not have testified in a manner supportive of the side that called that person.
At trial, the driver did testify. Additionally, the plaintiff’s treating doctor testified regarding his injuries, and stated that he had advised the plaintiff not to attend the trial, because protracted sitting could aggravate his chronic pain, which he had as a result of the accident. However, the doctor did not testify whether the plaintiff could or would testify at trial.
Then, although he was expected to testify, the plaintiff did not. Defendant’s counsel then moved for the missing witness instruction, and the trial court granted it.
The jury then returned a special verdict, specifically finding that the plaintiff failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the driver was negligent. Thus, the jury did not consider whether the plaintiff had been contributorily negligent, and it did not reach a decision on damages.
The plaintiff requested a new trial, and after being denied, appealed. The Court of Appeals reviewed the record, and made note that there was a supposed great amount of “gamesmanship” going on by plaintiff’s counsel, and as a result, they affirmed the trial court decision.
Because the information we have on this case is limited to what the Court of Appeals stated in the case itself, it is impossible to know what the potential strategy was in this case. However, plaintiffs are some of the most important witnesses in personal injury cases. Only they know and can convey how the accident affected them, how the injuries have impacted them, what their struggles have been, etc. The jury expects to hear the plaintiff’s account first person, unless there is some extenuating circumstance which makes that impossible. It is unfortunate for the plaintiff in this case that the decision was unfavorable, but it is an instructive lesson in how important testimony can be at trial.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact the experienced Maryland motorcycle accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC immediately. Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing motorcyclists and their passengers who have been injured or killed due to another driver’s negligence. Call us today in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation. You can contact us through our website or by calling 1-800-654-1949.
More Blog Posts:
U.S. Court of Appeals Decision in Motorcycle Accident Case Affirms Importance of Not Making Statements of Fault Following Accidents, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 24, 2013
Westminster Man Seriously Injured in Route 140 Motorcycle Accident, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 18, 2013