When it comes to establishing fault in a motor vehicle accident, there are many cases in which witness statements, surveillance videos, accident reconstruction and forensic evidence paint a pretty clear picture of who was in the wrong.

trafficsignalsIn other cases, fault may be hotly contested. Oftentimes, it comes down to the word of those involved and the ability of your attorney to present the facts in a way that is both digestible and convincing to a judge and/or jury.

Recently, the case of Browning v. Hickman was weighed by the West Virginia Supreme Court, when plaintiff appealed following a jury’s determination in favor of a defendant in an auto accident case.

According to court records, the accident in question occurred in October 2011. Defendant was reportedly traveling straight through the intersection while plaintiff, traveling in the opposite direction, was making a left turn across defendant’s lane of travel.

Front passenger side of defendant’s vehicle struck the rear passenger side of plaintiff’s pickup truck. Plaintiff’s truck spun around, causing him to suffer injuries and totaling his truck.

Both drivers insisted they had the right-of-way.

Plaintiff sued defendant for personal injuries and property damage stemming from the auto collision.

Over the course of a two-day trial, plaintiff testified that as he turned left, he had the green lighted arrow, which meant he had the right-of-way. Although he did see defendant approaching the intersection, he testified he proceeded through it both because he had the arrow and because defendant was a fair distance away at the time. He contended plaintiff was speeding and thus made it to the intersection far faster than plaintiff anticipated.

Defendant countered these assertions. He insisted he had the green light. He indicated he was only about 10 feet from the intersection when plaintiff pulled out in front of him. Defendant said he immediately slammed on his brakes and swerved, but he couldn’t avoid the other vehicle.

It appears only one other person witnessed the collision, although she was never personally called to testify. A woman who identified herself as “Toni” contacted 911 and indicated plaintiff’s truck pulled out in front of defendant’s vehicle. The woman described each vehicle and gave the location of the incident.

At trial, defendant sought to enter this as evidence – something to which plaintiff strongly objected. Although a call center representative verified the call, plaintiff argued their side should be given time to locate the actual caller. Circuit court denied these requests and trial proceeded.

A local city police officer was called to testify about his accident report and observations at the scene. In the accident report, officer indicated defendant failed to yield right-of-way. However, he later conceded during pre-trial depositions that he didn’t know who actually had the right-of-way. Therefore the court barred any questioning pertaining to the officer’s conclusions. That was a huge blow for plaintiff’s case.

Jurors ultimately decided the case in favor of defendant, finding he was not negligent and hadn’t proximately caused the crash.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing trial court was wrong to deny the motion for mistrial after the 911 call was admitted and for excluding the full accident report.

State supreme court affirmed, holding trial court did not abuse its discretion in either of these aspects.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Browning v. Hickman , June 10, 2015, West Virginia Supreme Court

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