U.S. Court of Appeals Decision in Motorcycle Accident Case Affirms Importance of Not Making Statements of Fault Following Accidents

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit recently handed down a decision reenforcing the importance of not making statements regarding fault following motorcycle accidents. In the case, Jordan v. Binns, et al. U.S. Ct. App. 7th Cir. (2013) case no. 11-2134, a woman who lost both of her legs in a motorcycle accident appealed a jury verdict finding that she was responsible for causing the collision, not the other driver.

The accident occurred when the motorcyclist was traveling on an interstate, and collided with a tractor-trailer while coming around a turn. The driver of the tractor trailer was driving in the center lane through a right hand curve. The motorcyclist, who had been riding in the right lane was thrown to the pavement, and as a result lost both of her legs at the knees.

According to the driver of the tractor-trailer, he ran up to the motorcyclist following the collision, and in between screams, she repeatedly said that the accident was her fault. She reportedly said the same thing to her husband, who arrived shortly after the accident, and spoke with state police. A state police officer quoted both the driver of the truck and the woman’s husband in his report regarding her admission of responsibility for the accident. An insurance adjuster had a similar report.

The woman later sued the truck driver, and his employer, for negligence and loss of consortium. Following a five day trial, the jury found for the defendants.

The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that some six pieces of evidence which were used at trial were inadmissible hearsay under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Specifically, they sought exclusion of the statements regarding what the woman had said in the crash report, and the state trooper’s related testimony in court. They also challenged the woman’s statements in the adjuster’s report, and related in court testimony, which were based on the crash report, and the adjusters conversation with the woman’s husband at the hospital. All of the challenged evidence was offered to show that the motorcyclist had admitted fault at the scene, by making statements such as “I’m sorry,” “It wasn’t the trucker’s fault, it was mine.”

The hearsay standard under which the motorcyclist and her husband were attempting to challenge evidence, is a blanket term that refers to any statement, made out of court, which is being offered for the truth of the matter asserted. In this case, that would mean the statement the woman made “it was my fault” is being offered to prove it was in fact her fault. Under the straightforward definition of the term, this would be considered hearsay. However, there are several exceptions to the rule, in which these statements will be allowed as evidence.

In this case, the court found that the woman’s statements fell within several of those exceptions.

Firstly, the woman’s statements qualified as an admission by a party opponent. The woman’s husband’s statements about what she had said were also admissible because he is also a party to the lawsuit. The point of allowing admissions to party opponents, stems from the policy perspective that they are likely to be trustworthy. Additionally, the inclusion of the statements in the police report were admissible under a public records exception.

While this case happened in Illinois, the Federal Rules of Evidence are uniform throughout all federal courts. Thus, the definitions and exclusions regarding hearsay are the same in Maryland, as throughout the country.

Therefore, it is critical that anyone who has been involved in a motorcycle accident, or who becomes involved in any sort of accident take the holding of this case to heart. Just as any statement made against yourself may be used against you in a criminal case, the same is true in a civil case.

This is particularly critical in Maryland, as our contributory negligence law completely bars any recovery if an individual is found to be even 1% at fault. Therefore, it is in your best interests to not make any statements regarding fault, and reserve any questions or comments for your motorcycle accident lawyer.

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 Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. Our law firm has extensive experience in representing motorcyclists and their passengers, or the family members of those who have been injured or killed due to another driver’s negligence. Remember that insurance adjusters and related professionals will seek to resolve your claim as quickly and for as little as possible, and not in your best interests. 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:

Westminster Man Seriously Injured in Route 140 Motorcycle Accident, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 18, 2013
Single Vehicle Accident Kills Motorcyclist in Elkridge, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 11, 2013

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