If a case proceeds to trial, generally the parties leave the issues to the jury to decide. However, the judge still has to make decisions throughout the trial, including ones involving the admissibility of evidence. Sometimes, these decisions can have a huge effect on a trial—and sometimes, if a judge makes a decision later found to be incorrect, there may need to be a new trial altogether.
In a recent case, a man was injured after he was hit by a dump truck driver hired by an asphalt company. The plaintiff sued the asphalt company for negligence and negligent hiring. At trial, the company tried to exclude evidence that at the time of the accident, the truck driver had a suspended license, and the truck was uninsured. The judge allowed the evidence about the truck being uninsured to be admitted at the trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the judge should not have allowed the evidence about the lack of insurance. The court of appeals agreed, finding that the court should not have admitted the evidence and that this information was prejudicial. The court found that in a claim about negligent hiring and general negligence, evidence of lack of insurance coverage was irrelevant and should not have been admitted.
The court explained that in order for the truck driver’s lack of insurance to be relevant to a claim of negligent hiring, the employer’s negligence in hiring a person without insurance had to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The purpose of insurance is to make sure that a responsible party is able to pay damages and compensate injured parties. The court decided that the lack of insurance by itself did not indicate to the hiring company whether the truck driver was safely able to operate a dump truck. Accordingly, the driver’s lack of insurance was irrelevant and should not have been admitted. Since the trial court allowed this evidence, and the jury was likely to have considered this evidence in determining liability, the evidence was prejudicial, and the case had to be retried.
Evidence Rules in Illinois
The Illinois evidence rules govern the admissibility of evidence in court. Illinois Rule of Evidence 411 states that evidence that a person did or did not have insurance is not admissible to determine whether or not the person acted wrongfully. However, the evidence of insurance my be offered for another purpose, including “proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness.” In other words, a party generally cannot introduce evidence about a driver’s lack of insurance to prove that the person was liable. The evidence also always has to be relevant to the claim. Other evidence rules may exclude a defendant’s payment or offer to pay medical expenses, statements made during plea negotiations, and a party’s offers to compromise. The rules of evidence can be extremely important, and knowing the rules is essential in any case.
Do You Need Legal Advice?
If you or a loved one has been injured in an Illinois truck accident, you need an experienced attorney in your corner. If your case goes to trial, you need someone who knows what they are doing—and who will appeal if things do not go your way. The Chicago lawyers at Moll Law Group are here to help seek the compensation you deserve. Our personal injury attorneys are skilled in guiding people through medical malpractice, product liability, motor vehicle collision, and other accident claims. To learn more, call us at 312-462-1700 or fill out our consultation form to arrange a free initial consultation.
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