Evidence is more than just one fact. Evidence is robust and includes information that can indicate whether a person had the ability and presence of mind to actually commit an act that they have been accused of committing. When it comes to personal injury cases, evidence is the deciding factor on if a plaintiff was actually injured and whether the defendant caused that injury.
For those reasons, the crux of any personal injury case is the evidence that is allowed into the courtroom as well as kept out.
What follows is a summary of what to know about evidence in a personal injury trial taking place in Philadelphia.
PA Rules of Evidence
The Rules of Evidence cover the plaintiff's burden of proof, the admissibility of evidence, the relevance of evidence, the weight of evidence as well as the sufficiency of what should be admitted into the court record. The rules that surround evidence are incredibly nuanced but below is a summary of some of the rules and how they apply in a courtroom.
In Philadelphia, the Rules of Evidence are governed by Pennsylvania Code Title 25.
In Pennsylvania, a test exists to balance the relevance of evidence. A court will deem evidence to be relevant if it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and the fact is of consequence in determining the action. Whether evidence has a tendency to make a given fact more or less probable is to be determined by the court in the light of reason, experience, scientific principles and the other testimony offered in the case.
The relevance of evidence is extremely important when arguing a case in court because the rules state that all relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by law. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible.
In general, evidence that is usually deemed inadmissible by law is:
- Evidence that is considered to be unfairly prejudicial. This includes evidence that attempts to elicit a reaction from the jury without providing material information.
- Evidence that is considered to be misleading. If an attorney attempts to distract from the main issue in a case by presenting “evidence” that is immaterial, it will likely be inadmissible.
- Evidence that does nothing more than waste time. When arguing a case, efficiency is key. Presenting multiple witnesses with the intention of coming to the same conclusion time and time again is an example of wasting time. Such evidence will likely be deemed to be inadmissible.
- Evidence that is hearsay. Hearsay is one of the most nuanced types of evidence that can come up during a trial. The issue of hearsay is raised during witness testimony when a witness attempts to offer an out-of-court statement to prove the truth of the matter asserted. For example, if a witness claims another witness said the defendant hit the plaintiff with a car and the plaintiff's attorney wishes to use that testimony to prove that the defendant did, in fact, hit the plaintiff with his car, that testimony is considered to be hearsay and will likely be excluded unless it falls into one of the many exceptions reserved for hearsay.
Direct or Circumstantial Evidence
Circumstantial evidence is evidence that, even if fully credited, may nevertheless fail to support the point in question, simply because an alternative explanation seems probable.
An example of circumstantial evidence would be the plaintiff's attorney providing a security photo to the court which showed the defendant being in the same location of the plaintiff at the time the injury occurred. The defendant may very well have been in the same location as the plaintiff at the same time the injury occurred but it does not, by itself, prove that the defendant caused the injury.
Direct evidence is evidence that, if accepted as true, establishes the point for which it is offered.
An example of direct evidence would be in a personal injury case a witness providing testimony as to what they saw and/or heard. The witness stating that they saw the defendant hit the plaintiff with an object would be direct evidence that the act that gave rise to the litigation took place.
Types of Evidence in Personal Injury Cases
Demonstrative evidence may be used to describe or explain items that are difficult to verbalize.
Like, demonstrative evidence, documentary evidence involves physical objects, like documents or recordings. The difference, however, between demonstrative and documentary evidence is that with the latter, the objects are the carriers of the evidence, not the actual evidence. For example, if a DVD recording is shown of an act occurring, it would be documentary since the DVD is not the actual evidence.
Real, physical, or tangible, evidence is an item or items capable of being touched or felt and have a real substance. For example, imagine a personal injury case where the plaintiff was injured when the shovel of a nearby tractor suddenly fell off, causing the shovel to pin down the plaintiff's foot. At trial, the plaintiff introduces the shovel into evidence in order to show the trier of fact the actual size and magnitude of the tractor part that caused his injury. In this situation, the shovel is an example of real or tangible evidence.
A witness account by way of testimony can be powerful in a courtroom setting. Generally, every person is presumed to be competent to be a witness. However, Rule 601 of the Pennsylvania Code states that a person is incompetent to testify as a witness if the court finds that because of a mental condition or immaturity the person:
(1) is, or was, at any relevant time, incapable of perceiving accurately;
(2) is unable to express himself or herself so as to be understood either directly or through an interpreter;
(3) has an impaired memory; or
(4) does not sufficiently understand the duty to tell the truth.
Witnesses can testify to many different things at trial but in order to do so, they must have personal knowledge of the matter. In other words, if the witness is not an expert (different rules apply), they may only testify about things they have personally seen, heard or sensed themselves. The witness is not permitted to guess the intent of another person.
Expert Witnesses in Pennsylvania Personal Injury Trials
Expert witnesses have specialized knowledge and are usually called to testify to assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. Rule 702 of the Pennsylvania Code allows experts to testify if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is beyond that possessed by the average layperson;
(b) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; and
(c) the expert's methodology is generally accepted in the relevant field.
Personal injuries are difficult. Not only is the actual injury painful but the recovery process can be tedious and time-consuming. Adding potential litigation to the mix can be overwhelming if you do not have highly skilled and competent representation. If you have been injured due to another's negligence, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian today. Their dedicated staff will make sure that you are in the best position to receive just compensation.