Inferences And Assumptions In A Personal Injury Case – What’s Allowable?
When you are in a personal injury case can the jury make assumptions? That is, would a jury be allowed to infer something? Do you need hard, solid evidence to prove every aspect of your case? Sometimes, you don’t. Sometimes, the jury can make reasonable inferences in your case.
Let’s assume that someone hits you from behind, and drives off. We know, or can infer, that you were hit from behind, from the damage to your car. With some expert testimony, we may be able to infer how fast the other car was going, or how hard that it hit your vehicle.
If you fall on water inside a grocery store, and the water is smudged, dirty, and spread out, with irregular borders, we don’t know how long the water was there—but based on the way the water looks, we can infer it was there long enough for people to walk through or step through it.
These are all inferences, and Florida law allows a jury to come to certain conclusions, just by making inferences. What you cannot do, is stack an inference on an inference—in other words, you can’t infer something that comes from another inference.
Let’s say that there is a large couch in the middle of the highway. The car in front stops short to avoid it, but drives away. You are behind that car, and you swerve off the road, trying to avoid the car in front of you.
It is a safe and legal assumption that some car, somewhere dropped the couch in the middle of the road, and did so negligently—couches don’t just appear on freeways outside of someone being negligent.
But now we’re asking the jury to infer what the car in front of you, the one that drove away, actually did. We are asking the jury to infer that because there was a couch in the road due to another driver’s negligence, that the other car swerved to avoid it causing you to crash.
That is impermissible—you are stacking one inference on another.
What if someone is stacking ice cream in the grocery store, and you fall on spilled ice cream in that area. You would have to both infer that the ice cream came from the pile the employee was stacking—which may be allowable—but you’d also have to infer that the employee did something wrong to cause the spillage-even though you have no direct evidence of how the employee handled the ice cream, or if the employee did anything out of order, to cause the spill. Now, you’re stacking inferences.
The inference rule is important. If a jury enters a verdict for you in your favor, but does so by stacking inferences, your case can be overturned on appeal. It’s always best to get hard evidence as much as possible, to minimize the number of inferences a jury has to make.
What can you expect in your personal injury trial? We can help. Call the Tampa personal injury attorneys at Barbas Nunez Sanders Butler & Hovsepian today. Schedule a consultation today.