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Motorcyclists Suffered No Prejudice in Personal Injury Trial

Although less common than car accidents, motorcycle accidents remain common in Kentucky. In 2009, there were 1,915 motorcycle accidents in Kentucky, which included 89 fatalities, according to the Kentucky State Police. Getting in a motorcycle accident in Kentucky can be the result of road conditions, another driver, or a variety of other reasons. While they are less common than car accidents, the personal injuries caused to a motorcyclist can be quite severe.

If you go to trial against a potentially responsible party after a motorcycle accident, prior to the trial both sides will try to limit the subjects which can be presented to a jury by making what are called motions in limine. By the time the actual trial comes around, the judge will typically have ruled on most of these motions and you will mostly know what the other side will be allowed to argue at trial. A defendant driver, for example, might argue that you were at fault as a motorcycle driver for failing to use an appropriate signal while turning or failing to stop at a stop sign. Sometimes, however, a surprising statement or unexpected issue may still  surface at trial.

A case last year illustrates the difficulty of predicting the outcome of a motorcycle accident case. In the case, two couples who went motorcycle riding together were involved in a crash. As they rode down the hill, the second couple saw the first couple crash their motorcycle. Seconds later, the second couple’s motorcycle also crashed and struck the woman motorcyclist. She was knocked into a pickup truck and badly hurt. Several witnesses testified later that the motorcyclists lost control of their motorcycles because of a slick substance, probably diesel fuel, on the road.

The next day, someone set a fire in order to burn the weeds on his farm. One of the couples (the one with the badly injured woman) believed that the diesel fuel used was what caused the motorcycle accident. The couple filed suit against the farm owner alleging his negligence in applying the diesel fuel to the field and road.

At trial, the farm owner’s attorney argued that the lawsuit “held the prospect of financial ruin” over the farm owner’s head for a period of two years. The plaintiffs objected. They asked the court to tell the jury the farm owner had an insurance policy to cover the damages. Even though evidence of liability insurance is generally impermissible in a civil trial under Kentucky Rule of Evidence 411, the plaintiffs argued that in making such a statement which was untrue, the farm owner’s attorney had “opened the door” to informing the jury that he in fact had insurance which would cover a judgment against him. Instead, the judge merely admonished the jurors that they could not consider the financial condition of either party, and the jury found in favor of the farm owner. The couple appealed, arguing that the trial court shouldn’t have allowed the jury to hear statements about the farmer’s financial condition and that the admonition to the jurors was insufficient.

In a split 2-1 decision, the Kentucky Court of Appeals  noted that at trial, attorneys aren’t allowed to refer to the financial condition of either party to persuade the jury. The Court nevertheless held that an admonition, such as the one given by the judge here, was sufficient to cure the error of an improper argument unless an argument is so prejudicial under the particular circumstances of the case that the admonition could not cure it.

The issue is whether the probability of prejudice is enough to justify reversing the lower court. A single improper statement is rarely considered prejudicial. In this case, the appellate court noted that the improper statement was isolated. Most of the closing argument did the usual things that closing arguments do: pointed out inconsistent testimony, restated the experts’ evaluations of the accident scene, and noted helpful testimony. Eleven out of the 12 jurors did not believe that the defendant had caused the spill. Since there was no finding of liability, the Court held, the issue of damages (which has the potential for affecting financial condition) was never reached.

If you are a motorcyclist who was injured in a collision with a car or other vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. As you can see from the case described above, it is important to find an experienced lawyer who can properly prepare all aspects of your case before bringing it to a potentially skeptical jury. Contact us at 877-634-1519 or via our online form.

More Blogs

Kentucky Injury Lawyers Blog, “Kentucky Motorcycle Wrecks Result in Numerous Fatalities”

Kentucky Injury Lawyers Blog, “Accidents for Kentucky Drivers Likely to Increase in Summer Months”


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