Why can’t a injured party tell the jury that other passengers were injured in a car crash in New Jersey

Rashid v. Reed. Atlantic County law division trial court decision decided July 31, 2018 approved for publication February 25, 2019.

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog on a decision this very same Presiding New Jersey civil division judge ruled on.  In that case the presiding civil trial division judge determined the injured plaintiff  could not answer the question in front of the jury whether his car was “totaled” because there was no relationship between whether a car was a total loss and the injuries suffered by plaintiff. In other words, it was a determination that such evidence was not relevant.

In this case the same Atlantic County presiding civil trial judge ruled that a plaintiff, the injured party, could not answer in front of the jury whether another passenger in the same vehicle was injured. Again this court ruled that such evidence is not relevant under New Jersey’s Rules of Evidence 401 and 403.

In this case the suing party was a jitney driver and the question surrounded whether other passengers were injured as a result of the same impact. The specific question asked was whether the other passengers were “injured as a result of the crash” as opposed to whether the other passengers were “thrown from their seats” as a result of the impact. The court indicated the second question could be asked because it pertains to the nature and extent of impact however the first question regarding weather said passengers were injured could not be asked.

As I said in the other blog often defense attorneys will ask the same question for the opposite result. If either passengers in the vehicle were not injured how could this passenger be injured And if they were not thrown from their seats, then they too must not have been injured. The judge looked again that New Jersey Rule of Evidence 401, which reads: relevant evidence means evidence having a tendency in reason to prove or disprove any fact in consequence to the determination of an action. This judge ruled that whether another individual was injured in the same accident as the suing party is not relevant to whether that suing party sustained a permanent injury. That fact does not render the inference more probable that another person  being injured is the same as this person being injured. Again this judge made reference to a catastrophic accident where one passenger dies while another walks away unharmed. The court recognized the human body is frail to some while others can sustain significant impacts without any trauma.

Once this trial judge made a relevancy determination he also commented that under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 403 that even if there is probative value of another person being injured in the same vehicle as the plaintiff it is substantially outweighed by the intended risk of misleading the jury that one individual’s injuries are related to another individuals injuries in the same vehicle.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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