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Plaintiff in Personal Injury Action Barred from Testifying that his Automobile was Totaled

By on April 26, 2019 in Civil Lawsuits with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Mariusz Kuzian claimed to have suffered personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by the defendant Steven Tomaszewski. During the trial, his lawyer questioned him as to whether his vehicle was totaled in the accident. The issue in Kuzian v. Tomaszewski, 2018 N.J. Super. LEXIS 183 (Law Div. July 12, 2018) was whether plaintiff would be permitted to testify about whether his vehicle was totaled in an attempt to establish the extent of the collision and its resulting impact on plaintiff’s injuries.

At trial, plaintiff’s counsel asked the plaintiff whether his vehicle was totaled in the accident. Defense counsel objected to this question, arguing that it was improper and, without more information, it could mislead the jury as to the actual extent of the damage to the vehicle. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that whether the vehicle was totaled was relevant to the extent of the collision and its corresponding impact on plaintiff’s injuries.

The trial judge considered whether this evidence would be relevant to the jury’s consideration of plaintiff’s alleged injuries from the accident. The court noted that photographs of the vehicle can be entered into evidence and that the jury is permitted to consider the photographs in evaluating the seriousness of the accident and its impact on plaintiff’s injuries.

But the judge found that the use of photographs was distinguishable from advising the jury that the vehicle was totaled. This testimony could be misleading to the jury. The judge pointed out that the term “totaled” has two very different meanings. It could mean that the vehicle had been completely demolished in the accident. Or, it could mean that the vehicle was considered a total loss based upon a variety of factors that an insurance company would use to determine if its cost of repair exceeds the actual cash value of the vehicle. Further, the criteria used by insurance companies to determine if the vehicle is a total loss varies by insurance company and may be controlled by state statute or regulation.

Hence, due to the different meanings of the term “totaled,” the judge found that it would be improper to allow either party to raise this issue. Without more information, this testimony does not render the desired inference, i.e., that plaintiff was injured because of the severity of the accident.                

However, photographs that depict the damage of the vehicle were properly introduced into evidence. But, the court ruled that any attempt to ask a witness whether the vehicle was totaled was irrelevant and barred at trial.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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