It seems so unfair ! If the driver who caused the crash tells the cops she’s been drinking, that should come in to court when the injury case is tried. However, negligence law—the law that typically applies when you sue someone after a car accident—can seem a bit unfair. Take, for example, the case of an individual who was hit by a driver under the age of 21 who had been drinking. Even the police accident report includes details about the under-age drinker’s admissions about having a beer. But now you’re at trial and the judge won’t let those facts into evidence. Why not??
There are actually two reasons, and they are related to one another.
First, when you sue someone for negligence—like in a car accident case—a big part of what happens at trial is trying to figure out what caused your accident to happen. So, you have to ask the question, “Does it matter to my case that the person drinking was underage?” It might matter that the person was drinking, especially if a breathalyzer or other test shows they were over the legal limit, since that shows negligent behavior. But the fact that they were underage doesn’t really matter because the law doesn’t really distinguish between actions based on age—so it simply doesn’t matter whether they were 15 or 55. Of course, underage drinking is illegal and the driver might be subject to criminal sanctions, but those facts don’t affect what caused your accident.
The second reason actually has to do with fairness to the underage drinker. One of the roles of the judge is to make sure that everyone is tried only on the facts. That means that the judge will try to keep out evidence that make someone look bad, even if it has no bearing on the outcome of the case. In this example, if the jury hears the driver is an underage drinker, they are automatically going to be prejudiced against that person and she will be deprived of a fair trial on the facts.
So, at the end of the day, this evidence simply might not come in. In part because it isn’t very helpful in proving the chain of events that actually led to the collision and your injury, and in part because it will make the trial unfair for the defendant. At ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd., we investigate car crash claims in order to get fair reimbursement for all of the harms and losses sustained by the innocent victims of drunk driving accidents.