A recent road rage incident, in which prosecutors declined to file charges against a man who shot and killed another motorist, sheds light on the evidence gathering and resolution processes in a car crash case.
On October 9, 2020, Joshua Taylor called 911 and said he had been involved in a road rage collision. While he was on the phone, the other driver, John Abell, approached the car and argued with Taylor. Photographs taken at the scene show Abell, who had apparently been drinking, pointed a rifle at Taylor. In response, Taylor fired four shots from a handgun, killing Abell almost instantly. A subsequent investigation revealed that Abell indeed had a rifle, but the gun was empty and the trigger was locked. So, authorities considered filing charges against Taylor.
They eventually decided not to do so. “The investigation by Fort Wright and Kenton County Police Departments conclusively found the shooter was reasonably in fear for his own life and responded lawfully,” said Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders. “There was no way for Mr. Taylor to know the rifle being stuck in his face was inoperable, so that does not make his reaction unreasonable or unlawful,” he added.
Burden of Proof in Court
Many people still vividly remember the O.J. Simpson murder saga from the mid 1990s. After a lengthy and sensational trial, a criminal jury acquitted Simpson of double murder charges. A short time later, a civil jury reached the opposite result, ruling that Simpson was legally responsible for the two deaths and ordering him to pay $58 million.
How could two different juries examine essentially the same evidence and reach opposite conclusions?
The difference is the burden of proof. In criminal court, prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They take this high standard of proof into consideration when they evaluate cases, which is why Kenton County prosecutors dropped the above case. Taylor might well have been guilty, at least morally, but there was not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest burden of proof in Kentucky law. As a result, it is much easier for a Lexington personal injury lawyer to resolve such claims. In civil court, a little proof goes a long way.
Evidence in a Civil Case
In the above case, prosecutors and investigators examined physical evidence and spoke with witnesses. Most vehicle collision claims rely on these same two types of evidence.
Physical evidence includes skidmarks, collision damage, and other items from the accident scene. Frequently, however, this evidence is not available. Many car crash victims are unable to take such pictures at the scene.
Other physical evidence is available. The police accident report and medical bills are the two most common examples.
The police accident report often refers to the aforementioned skidmarks and other physical evidence at the scene. So, these reports are often valuable. Unfortunately, they are also sometimes incomplete or inaccurate. The accident narrative is a good example. If the victim was killed or seriously injured, the officer’s report only contains one side of the story.
The extent of the victim/plaintiff’s injuries are often the most critical part of a case. These matters often have a direct bearing on the amount of compensation available. In addition to clinical and financial information, medical bills often include treatment notes which reflect the extent of the victim’s pain and suffering.
Medical bills are usually admissible in court, provided that an experienced lawyer lays the proper evidentiary foundation.
Witness statements are often effective as well. Something unexplainable happens when people with nothing to lose or gain take the stand and tell jurors what they saw and heard.
Unfortunately, like police accident reports, witness statements are sometimes unreliable. Some people only saw part of the crash. Others are biased.
Electronic evidence usually fills in the gaps. Red light, security, and other cameras cover most intersections and stretches of roadway. Additionally, most passenger cars have an Event Data Recorder. Much like a commercial jet’s black box flight recorder, an EDR measures and records operational data, like vehicle speed and steering angle, which often shed light on what caused the accident.
Resolving a Vehicle Collision Claim
Almost all car crash claims settle out of court. Most insurance companies pay their lawyers by the hour, so they want to wrap things up as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, very few of these cases settle right away.
Once medical treatment is at least substantially complete, most attorneys send demand letters to insurance companies. These letters demand a sum of money in exchange for a liability waiver. That amount of money varies significantly, depending on the facts of the case.
Usually, demand letters serve as a starting point for settlement negotiations. Like most negotiations, civil settlement talks usually involve some compromise. An attorney must know when to bend and when to stand firm. Otherwise, the settlement might be too small to fully compensate the victim/plaintiff, or the attorney might needlessly and pointlessly hold out for more money.
If the two sides do not reach an agreement, most Fayette County judges refer the matter to mediation. If both sides negotiate in good faith, mediation is about 90 percent successful.
Vehicle collision victims are entitled to significant compensation, but insurance companies do not simply give this money away. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.