Evidentiary Implications of Recent Georgia Court of Appeals Case
Pursuant to dispositive Georgia law, judges typically exclude evidence of prior settlement awards in personal injury cases. In so doing, Georgia courts have relied upon Goforth v. Wigley, 178 Ga. App. 558, 560 (1986), a decision which concluded that evidence stemming from a settlement in a previous lawsuit is generally considered to be irrelevant, prejudicial, and thereby inadmissible in a subsequent personal injury matter.
To clarify, Goforth held that the lower court properly excluded evidence of a plaintiff's previous settlement where she did not testify to having sustained injuries in a prior incident. Notwithstanding the ruling in Goforth, the recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Bolah v. Driskell, Case No. A121612 (November 7, 2012) has potentially narrowed the scope of the aforementioned standard.
In Bolah, the record demonstrated that the Plaintiff testified about the extent of his injuries from a prior motorcycle accident in an effort to distinguish them from those sustained in the instant one. Upon review of the facts, the Court of Appeals - in distinguishing Goforth - ruled that such evidence was relevant to impeach the Plaintiff's testimony regarding the extent of the injuries he sustained in his earlier accident. In other words, the Court concluded that "a jury could find that the evidence contradicted Bolah's testimony that his injuries were not serious enough to impair his job performance or require additional medical treatment." Finding no abuse of discretion by the lower court, Bolah supported its findings in asserting that "a trial court, in its discretion, may admit evidence relevant to the issue of impeachment even if the evidence would not qualify for admission on other grounds."
Given the potential for the Bolah decision to significantly weaken the evidentiary standard set forth in Goforth, there are several considerations that personal injury victims and attorneys alike should consider. These are as follows:
- Is crucial that you advise your attorney about any previous injuries and corresponding settlement awards. You can follow up with this information by providing your attorney with any pertinent medical records and documentation pertaining to your previous personal injury matter. This way, you can prevent potential discrepancies that could expose you to impeachment in the event that you need to testify.
- Make sure to testify as precisely as possible regarding the nature of your earlier injuries, including any medical treatment that you received and its impact on your ability to work or engage in other activities. While it is recommended that your description of your injuries is brief, it nonetheless must be truthful so as to avoid impeachment.
- You should discuss with your attorney the scope of your legal options in terms of trying to prevent the admission of evidence pertaining to any prior settlement awards that you received. This can be accomplished through filing certain evidentiary motions, which if successfully litigated, will prevent any evidence from being admitted regarding the settlement of your prior personal injury matter.
If you or someone you love has sustained personal injuries in Georgia, you should speak with an experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer. At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, our Georgia auto accident law firm has been successfully representing personal injury victims located throughout the Atlanta area as well as Northern Georgia for over 36 years. We offer clients an unparalleled commitment to fighting for their legal rights and to protect their interests throughout the pendency of their case. We also work tirelessly to maintain our reputation as being the foremost automobile accident lawyers in the State.
Call 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit online at www.montlick.com and use the firm's Free 24-hour Live Online Chat or Free Case Evaluation Form.