When a case goes to trial, it is up to the trial court judge to determine the specific evidence that may be introduced by the parties and considered by the jury in deciding the issues.
When one of the parties is aggrieved by an evidentiary ruling at trial, that party may opt to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court for review.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who was allegedly injured in an 18-wheeler accident in 2012. The plaintiff filed suit against the driver of the truck and the driver’s employer, asserting that the cause of the wreck was the trucker’s failure to yield the right-of-way at an intersection. In his case, the plaintiff sought compensation for injuries and related damages that he claimed he suffered due to the trucker’s alleged negligence.
As the parties prepared the case for a jury trial, the defendants filed a motion in limine in the trial court, signaling their intent to impeach the plaintiff’s credibility at trial by introducing evidence to the effect that the plaintiff had been convicted of three felony offenses in the past. The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that his prior convictions should be excluded because their probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
The trial court decided to allow the defendants to question the plaintiff about whether he had been convicted of the three felonies, but it barred any questions about specific details of the convictions. The case proceeded to a trial, and the jury ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, assigning 100% of the fault to the defendant and awarding the plaintiff $30,533 in damages. The defendants appealed, arguing that the trial court judge had incorrectly interpreted Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609.
Decision of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, determining that the trial court had correctly applied Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403 to the issue at hand. The court further agreed with the trial judge’s conclusion that the details of the plaintiff’s criminal convictions had very little probative value in an action seeking damages for injuries arising from an automobile accident and that, had the jury been informed of the details of the plaintiff’s convictions, they might have been offended or motivated to punish the plaintiff, irrespective of the facts of the case.
In so holding, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that a party to a civil action has an absolute right under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609 to impeach a witness with evidence of prior felony convictions, including the details regarding the nature of his convictions, the types of convictions, and the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions. Instead, the court ruled that, in such a situation, the trial court has the discretion to conduct a balancing test under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403 to determine whether the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
To Talk to a Lawyer About Your East Tennessee Truck Accident Case
Truck accident litigation is seldom, if ever, simple. It takes a great deal of knowledge, skill, and perseverance to deal with big trucking outfits and insurance companies that are determined to keep settlements and judgments as low as possible to protect their own bottom lines. To talk to a seasoned Maryville truck accident attorney about your case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at (865) 524-5657 and ask for a free consultation. We serve families throughout the greater Knoxville area, including in Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Vonore, Rockwood, Madisonville, Loudon, and Lenoir City.
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