Absence of injury to passengers: proof of lack of injury?

Posted By Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney || 22-Sep-2011

The heart of most personal injury claims, especially clear liability motor vehicle accidents, is damages. Damages being economic and non-economic; Economic damage is the amount of money required to compensate the Plaintiff for the out of pocket expenses (i.e. medical bills, future medical costs, medicine, lost wages, etc.) Non-economic damages or "pain and suffering" being the amount to make up for or at least balance the past and future harms and losses that the Plaintiff is suffering. Pain and suffering damages are the most important type of damages as they represent the real personal harms and losses an individual suffers; the daily emotional and physical pain an injury can cause. In reality there is no magic wand available to take those harms and losses away, so money is the only way we have to compensate and make an individual whole or at least balance the harms with compensation.

In a Missouri auto accident injury claim, can the defense (the auto insurance company) argue to a jury that the victim is not hurt as bad as they say they are because the other driver or passengers in the same vehicle were not hurt as bad? I believe the answer to that is no, however depending on the circumstances, some Judges may allow that evidence in for certain purposes.


"Generally. the details about the nature and severity of personal injuries to non litigants in automobile cases are not admissible." Martin v. Sally, 341 Ill. App. 3d 308, 318 (2nd Dist. 2003) (refusing to allow testimony regarding passenger injuries) (quoting Keil v. McCormick, 5 Ill. App. 3d 523, 526 (2nd Dist. 1972), concluding that reference in opening statement and subsequent testimony to lack of injuries to the defendant the two occupants of her vehicle, and the occupant of the plaintiffs vehicle was error. The issue involved was the injury to the plaintiff not the fact that the defendant and her passengers, in a different automobile were not injured."). See also, Vujovich v. Chicago Trans. Auth, 6 Ill. App. 2d 115, 126 N.E.2d 731 (1st Dist. 1955).

In J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. v. General Motors Corp, 243 F.3d 441 (8th Cir. 2001), the district court excluded evidence of the minor injuries of the driver of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding in the front passenger seat. ld. at 445. The plaintiff argued that the driver's injuries proved that the seat of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding failed, given the fact that both of the vehicle's occupants were subjected to the same impact. Id. The Eighth Circuit determined that evidence of the driver's injuries was correctly excluded, explaining:

"We cannot say that [the driver's] injuries could be considered either substantially similar evidence or relevant to [the plaintiff's] injuries. First, it was undisputed that [the driver], unlike [the plaintiff], was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident. Second, because [the driver] was driving, she was able to anchor herself by grasping the steering wheel, which may have alleviated some of the impact. Moreover, the angle of impact differed between the two occupants leading to the varying degrees of injury."

The court noted that admitting similar-incident evidence "threatens to raise extraneous controversial issues, confuse the issues, and be more prejudicial than probative."