Oregon Civil Litigation: What Witnesses Can and Cannot Talk About

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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Joe Di Bartolomeo is a top rated personal injury lawyer helping Oregon and Washington families

The Oregon Rules of Evidence govern what can and cannot come into evidence at a trial. The starting point is usually "relevance." In other words, if a fact tends to prove or disprove one of the issues in the case, then it is considered "relevant," and will be admitted into evidence. However, there are certain types of evidence that are not allowed in civil personal injury cases. That's take a look at some of the things people cannot discuss in a civil trial.

Many times, potential jurors are interested in whether or not there is insurance involved in the case. A specific rule of evidence prohibits the parties from admitting any evidence regarding the existence of liability insurance. The rationale is that the jury's role is to decide the issues of liability and the issues of damage.  Whether there is insurance, and whether that insurance will cover the damages is irrelevant. Sometimes, jurors are told that this issue is another piece of the puzzle, and are warned not to consider this in making their decision.

Many times, the attorney representing a defendant in a civil personal injury claim is actually paid by the insurance company, and not the individual defendant. This is not true in all cases, but many. Again, the jury is not allowed to know about this, just like it is not permitted to know how the plaintiff's attorney is compensated for her efforts at trial.

Another similar issue that is not admissible at trial is whether or not a defendant was cited for a moving violation involving a auto injury claim. Many times, police will issue a citation to a driver that causes an injury to another driver. However, because many people choose not to contest a traffic ticket, and just pay the fine, the mere fact that they were convicted of a moving violation is considered unreliable evidence of liability. However, if somebody fighting a traffic ticket testifies in court, that testimony could be admissible at a later date in the injury case.

Then there is the issue of "hearsay." This term simply means "what somebody else said." Generally, a witness is not allowed to testify about what another person said to them. The rule contemplates this as being inherently unreliable. However, there are certain "out-of-court statements" that are considered non-hearsay, or are considered to be an exception to the hearsay rule. The basis of these exceptions is that the nature and circumstances surrounding the statement makes it inherently reliable. For example, one exception to the hearsay rule is known as the "excited utterance." This kind of statement is considered reliable simply because it is made in the "heat of the moment."

Often times, the issue of whether something can be admitted into evidence in front of a jury will be handled by the court before the trial through "motions in limine." However, trials take unpredictable twists and turns, and in those cases, an attorney can object to certain questions in the jury's presence.

If you have an injury claim, and want to know whether it would require a trial, call us at 503-325-8600. We have over twenty year's experience litigating cases in Oregon.