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A Way Powerful Evidence Can Be Used in Injury Cases

I was recently consulted on a case in which a young driver (with a history of reckless behavior involving alcohol) was entrusted with keys to a car by a parent. When dealing with cases of this nature, the general rule is that previous accidents or behavior cannot be used as evidence in the trial of a particular accident. Therefore, a person’s driving record will usually not come into consideration in an auto accident. The rule of thumb is that the driver’s behavior on the day in question is what matters (rather than his/her overall record). There can, however, be an exception to this rule, and it occurred in the case I consulted. This involves a doctrine, called “negligent entrustment”. When pursuing that claim, the skillful lawyer can use evidence of prior acts, such as bad driving and drinking. In a negligent entrustment claim, a parent (or another) can be independently liable in the event that he/she has given the keys to a young driver, who has been known to drink and will be heading to a party where alcohol will be prevalent.

Massachusetts courts have addressed this issue and have said that if prior accidents are permissible evidence, they cannot be used in determining fault or negligence in the accident on trial. The judge will instruct a jury on this, giving what is called a limiting instruction so that the jury will not misuse this evidence to determine who was at fault in the auto collision. Leone v. Doran, 363 Mass. 1 (1973). But you should know that this information will be used in another sense, that being to advance the negligent entrustment claim.

It is also important to understand the separate concept of respondeat superior. This means that an employer will be held liable for negligent driving committed by an employee. Nothing I have mentioned in this blog detracts from that principle.

In summary, when an auto case is on trial, the past driving record of the at-fault party is usually not admissible evidence. The exception to this occurs in situations involving negligent entrustment.

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