Bad Driving Record Evidence in Civil Suits

Bad Diving Record

If you are involved in an automobile accident case, you may be wondering if evidence of your bad driving record, or the defendant’s, is admissible. Conventional wisdom would imply that a person with a bad driving record is more likely to cause an accident, so a jury should get to hear about that. Of course, it’s called “conventional wisdom” instead of just “wisdom” because it’s usually wrong, as it is in the case of evidence of a bad driving record. With few exceptions, evidence of either driver’s past moving violations will not be admissible in your car accident case.

Bad Driving Records Fall Under the Prior Bad Acts Rule

In civil cases, “prior bad acts” are not admissible to prove that a party committed a bad act in the current case. This is true for bad driving records, such as multiple speeding tickets or failure to yield citations. Just because someone sped in the past does not prove that they were speeding at the time of your accident. While this information can (and for the most part will) be obtained through discovery, it will not be admissible at trial.

Bad Driving Records Can Be Admissible Under Certain Circumstances

While the general rule is that the parties’ driving records are inadmissible to prove that either party drove negligently at the time of the accident, these records can be admitted for other purposes. For example, if the defendant screws up at trial and testifies about how great a driver he is, he has just opened the door for his bad driving record to be entered into evidence to counter that assertion. The record is not being submitted to prove that he drove negligently the day of your accident. It is merely to challenge his assertion (which was obviously meant to convince the jury that he was not negligent).

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The same is true if the person falsely volunteers that he has never had a moving violation. In that case, the driving record evidence would be introduced to impeach his credibility. Once the jury hears this information, though, we all know how they will interpret it — bad driver = driver who caused your accident — despite any instruction by the judge to the contrary.

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Another common circumstance where a defendant’s bad driving record can be admitted into evidence is when the defendant was operating a delivery vehicle for his employer at the time of the accident. In these cases, where an employer has hired or retained a delivery person with a bad driving record, the employer, as a co-defendant, can be sued for (1) negligent hiring, if the employee had the bad record before he was first hired or (2) negligent retention, if the employee developed the bad driving record after he was hired. In these cases, the bad driving record would be introduced to prove that the employer was negligent because it either knew or should have known that the employee was unfit to be a delivery driver, not to prove that the employee negligently caused the accident (*wink*, *wink*).

A third exception to this rule is if a party’s driving record includes a felony conviction, such as a felony DUI or vehicular manslaughter conviction. These convictions, if they occurred within the last 10 years (this time frame can vary from state to state) would be admissible to impeach the defendant’s overall credibility, and really have nothing to do with the fact that they were vehicle-related. All convictions for felonies or “misdemeanors involving dishonesty” (such as fraud) are admissible against any party to impeach credibility.

What About Evidence of Prior Accidents?

As with evidence of moving violations, evidence of prior auto accidents is not admissible to prove fault for the accident in your lawsuit. However, if you as a plaintiff were involved in prior auto accidents which resulted in injuries, these may be admissible to prove that you had a pre-existing injury. Your attorney can try to convince the judge to exclude this evidence if your injuries were only minor, or were related to a different part of the body than that which you are claiming was injured in your current lawsuit. He may be able to limit the evidence to the mere fact that you were injured, and exclude the fact that the injury was from a car accident. Of course, if you were not the driver in any of the older accidents, it shouldn’t be a concern. If you were the driver, excluding as much information as possible about your prior auto accidents is the safest bet.

Summing up, juries are usually not allowed to hear evidence of prior bad driving by either party, unless it is submitted for a legitimate purpose other than to prove a party’s negligence in the current lawsuit.

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7 Responses to Bad Driving Record Evidence in Civil Suits

  1. DPMS says:

    So. I was involved in a traffic crash were I was at fault for carless driving (struck the vehicle in the rear) citation was issued to myself. The driver of the vehicle that was hit in the rear had sore neck and sore shoulder. The driver also had a suspended driver license and was test driving the vehicle for the brake shop he work as a mechanic he was also issued a citation for driving on a suspended license. The owner of the shop arrived on the scene and tried to get people includung myself to say thay he was driving the vehicle people refused and the shop owner left upon arrival of the Police. The owner told several people that the mechanic was a good guy but he just could not keep his license vaild and he knew they were suspended.
    So can any of this be introduced to the jury if a lawsuit is filed? my insurance is fully aware of all that occured.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      If you just pay the traffic ticket, it will be admissible as an “admission” (of guilt) that you drove carelessly. If you fight the ticket and win, it won’t be admissible. If you fight the ticket and lose, it will not be an admission — therefore not admissible — because you never admitted to the alleged careless driving.

      The other driver’s suspended license (and ticket for it) won’t be admissible. It isn’t relevant to whether he operated the vehicle negligently.

      The shop owner’s attempt to get people at the scene to lie about who was driving likely won’t be admissible in a personal injury case brought by the employee. It’s not really relevant to the potential negligence claim, and unless the employer saw the accident, he probably won’t be a witness in the case. If he is used as a witness, it could possibly be introduced to impeach his credibility, as his willingness to lie for his employee demonstrates his bias in favor of the employee.

      Of course, things that are inadmissible can become admissible if the witness opens the door for these things to be used as impeachment material. For example, if the employee goofs on direct examination and claims that he’s always been an excellent driver, his suspended license (if based on prior bad driving) could be used to impeach that claim.

  2. Edwin says:

    You answered a question of mine regarding traffic tickets on “How to Answer Interrogatories” on Dec 2, 2013. (Thanks!) I have a follow-up, figured it was more appropriate to put here. I know not to open the door to my citation history. What do I do if opposing counsel tries to crack the door? Like, at deposition asks: “Are you a safe driver?” Don’t see how I could refuse to answer, and if I objected I think I’d still have to answer leaving the objection to be ruled upon later. I can’t say “no”. Saying “yes”, which I believe is true, I think would open the door then, wouldn’t it?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Generally, an attorney can’t claim you opened the door for impeachment by having you respond to such a broad opinion-based question. If it were that easy, an attorney could ask “Are you a good person?”, and any “yes” response would open the door to every bad thing you ever did. To open the door for impeachment, you either need to lie to fact-based question or volunteer such an opinion when the question wasn’t even asked (or was asked by your own lawyer). If I were asked such a question in deposition, I’d dance with the other attorney by answering “If you’re asking if I was being safe at the time of the accident, then yes,” or something along those lines. If he keeps pressing it as to your overall safety as a driver, I would answer “In my opinion, yes.” You could even answer that while you have received the occasional ticket, overall you are a safe driver and you were obeying all rules of the road at the time of the accident. Then, should the matter go to trial, I’d file a Motion in Limine (pronounced “limminy”) to keep that question and answer out, and preclude the attorney from asking such a question at trial.

  3. Brittany says:

    You mention above that if a person at fault fights the ticket and loses, it will not be an admission of guilt. What if the at-fault driver applies to fight the ticket but then does not show up at court for their hearing? The judge stated, I believe the words were “guilty by default”. Would this be admissable as admitting guilt? This would be in Canada.

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