One of the biggest concerns that an injury victim may have in court—or that anybody that ends up in a trial may have—is what happens if the other side just lies? What motivation is there for someone to tell the truth?
Certainly, there is the risk of a criminal conviction for perjury. But in the short term, our legal system has much more instant penalties for the failure to tell the truth during a proceeding. In some cases, a case can be dismissed (or a defense to a claim can be ignored) if a party lies to a court.
A recent case discusses this principle and describes how “bad” a lie, omission, or misleading statement must be to warrant the ultimate sanction of having a case dismissed.
Victim in Multiple Injuries Faces Fraud Charge
The case involved a victim who was rear ended by a corporate truck while at a red light. He, his girlfriend, and their children were in the car at the time. The truck that hit them was going about 60 miles an hour, and the driver of the truck was eventually arrested for driving under the influence.
The impact was significant; the victim’s girlfriend was rendered quadriplegic. The driver himself suffered injuries to his arm and back. He filed suit against the truck driver.
Shortly after that accident, the victim was involved in a second accident, where he was rear-ended while at a stop sign. He sustained injuries in that accident, as well, and as would be anticipated, the truck driver from accident #1 tried to argue that the victim’s injuries resulted from accident #2, and that the truck driver was not responsible for them.
In deposition, the victim admitted that he had been involved in accident #2, but just said he was “parked” and that someone hit him from behind causing damage to his car. He said that after that accident, his back hurt him even more than it had after the first accident.
The truck driver moved to dismiss the victim’s case based on fraud on the court, saying that he was dishonest about disclosing the nature and severity of accident #2, and also that he had not revealed a few visits to a hospital that he had made.
The victim’s position was that he did disclose the existence of accident #2, and that he had limited English skills, which would explain his failure to describe the severity of that accident. He also stated that his age and certain medications impacted his memory of accident #2.
Appellate Court Describes Requirements for Dismissal
The case was dismissed, and the victim appealed. The appellate court explained that to dismiss a case based on fraud, being incorrect is not enough. When a party simply provides incorrect facts, or omitts information, the court system, through the ability to gather evidence and impeach witnesses, has mechanisms to deal with that. Rather, for a lie be onerous enough to warrant dismissal, a party must actually set in motion a purposeful, unconscionable scheme to try to deceive the court or hamper the other side’s case or defense.
Here, the appellate court noted that both sides agreed that the victim had sustained some injury. The dispute was over the extent of the injury and which accident caused the injury. The court noted that the victim did mention accident #2 in his deposition, and that by saying accident #2 made his back hurt more, the victim actually did admit that the second accident contributed somewhat to his injuries.
Thus, the court determined that although his testimony may have been inconsistent, that could be dealt with at trial, through impeachment. It was not serious enough, with the requisite malicious intent, to warrant dismissal, given that the victim did not actually conceal or hide the fact he was in accident #2.
As for failure to disclose the hospital visits he had made, the victim did in fact disclose that he sought treatment there in amended answers to discovery.
Evidentiary Hearing Needed
The court also noted that when it comes to determining whether a fraud has been perpetrated on the court, an evidentiary hearing must be held—that is, a hearing where testimony is taken, and evidence presented. Here, that did not happen: All that occurred was argument before the judge and presentation of evidence that was not actually admitted under the rules of evidence.
Honesty and Completeness are Key
In most cases, omissions or misstatements are not the result of some secret plan to mislead anyone, but, as appears to have been the situation in this case, are the result of misunderstanding or bad memory. Victims should take care never to be sloppy in responding to written or oral questions during a lawsuit. If a question asks for all places you have sought treatment, time and care should be taken that every medical provider is listed. If questions about prior accidents are asked, time should be taken to make sure that every single one is noted.
Many victims are concerned that the truth about something in their past may be damaging to their case. But in fact, nothing damages a case more than dishonesty and incompleteness. Most good personal injury attorneys can handle whatever information that you think is “bad” for your case (and in some cases, that information is not nearly as damaging as you think it is). But by misstating or hiding information, a victim may risk dismissal, thus preventing their attorney from even being able to try the case.
Make sure your attorney can handle all the information in your case and prepare you fully for trial. If you are injured, contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.