The main part of a personal injury trial is the presentation of evidence. The jury takes the evidence that it has been shown by both the plaintiff and defense to decide liability in the case. This article will cover some of the main things to know about evidence and its admissibility at trial.
Direct Or Circumstantial Evidence
Evidence can be direct or evidence can be circumstantial. Direct evidence is "evidence that is based on personal knowledge or observation and that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption." Black's Law Dictionary 636 (9th ed. 2009). By contrast, circumstantial evidence is "based on inference and not personal knowledge or observation." Id.
The easiest way to understand the difference between circumstantial evidence and direct evidence is to think of footprints in the snow. Direct evidence would be someone observing another person walking in the snow, leaving footprints behind. Circumstantial evidence would be someone finding footprints in the snow. You could infer that a person had walked in the snow because there are footprints left behind but no one actually saw the person who made the footprints.
Rules of Evidence
There are limits to what evidence can be introduced at trial. In order for evidence to be admissible it must be permitted under the court's rules of evidence. There are different rules for different courts. The federal courts use the Federal Rules of Evidence to determine what evidence is admissible. States also usually have their own rules for the admissibility of evidence. The evidence rules in some states are almost exactly the same as the federal rules, while others states differ.
One example of an evidence rule that many people have heard of is hearsay. Hearsay is defined as "testimony that is given by a witness who relates not what he or she knows personally, but what others have said, and that is therefore dependent on the credibility of someone other than the witness." Id. at 790. Thus, if someone tries to testify to things said outside of court that would tend to show the truth of the matter asserted then that statement would be inadmissible. However, there are many, many exceptions to the hearsay rule that do allow many out of court statements, documents, and other things into evidence.
Types of Evidence
There are two main categories that evidence falls into: witness testimony and tangible evidence.
Witnesses can testify to many different things at trial. For example, a witness may testify to things that he or she heard or saw. Or a witness might testify to a letter or other document that he or she received or wrote. Witnesses are also often needed to authenticate documents, photos, or other things that are being admitted into evidence.
Another type of witness is an expert witness. An expert witness is a "a witness qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to provide a scientific, technical, or other specialized opinion about the evidence or a fact issue." Id. at 1740. For example, an expert witness could be a doctor who is brought in to testify to the injuries that a person sustained after being in a car crash; a crash reconstruction expert helps determine exactly what happened during a vehicle collision.
The video below demonstrates a reconstruction made by a collision expert retained by Gilman & Bedigian. Having the assistance of such an expert can be enormously helpful if your personal injury case should go to trial; he or she can create a vivid picture for the jury to show how the injury occurred.
Tangible evidence are things other than witness testimony. Some examples of tangible evidence are:
- Photos or videos (of an accident site, injuries, etc.)
- Medical Records
- Public Records
- Business Documents
- Newspapers articles
- Car repair receipts
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of another please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian today.