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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Photographs Can Be Used to Correlate Property Damage with Physical Injury

Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court heard a dispute as to whether or not a Middlesex Superior Court judge acted within his discretion by admitting photographs of damaged vehicles into evidence at trial and allowing defense counsel to argue a correlation between the property damage from the accident with the extent of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.  In the matter of Kristina Laccetti v. Steven G. Ellis, the Appeals Court found that the trial judge acted within his discretion in admitting photographs of the damaged vehicles on the basis that the photographs were relevant to the extent of the plaintiff’s physical injuries sustained in the collision.

While the plaintiff’s counsel tried to argue that an expert witness would be needed to make such a connection between the physical damage to the car and the personal injuries of the person inside the vehicle, the Court found differently.  More specifically, the Court held that “Here, the judge acted within his discretion in admitting photographs of the damaged vehicles because they were relevant to the extent of the plaintiff’s personal injuries sustained in the collision… Photographs of the plaintiff’s vehicle depict minimal front-end damage and slight rear-end damage, and photographs of the defendant’s vehicle depict minimal front-end damage. These photographs were relevant to assist the jury in determining the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and whether her ongoing medical issues were a likely result of the accident or of preexisting conditions.”

While the Court held that “it is possible for an automobile accident that results in minor vehicle damage nevertheless to cause serious physical injury… it is undeniable that an automobile accident that results in major vehicle damage may not cause serious physical injury.”  The Court further found that the plaintiff was “free to offer expert proofs for the purpose of showing that there [was] no relationship between the extent of the damage and the cause and severity of the resulting injuries” but such expert testimony “was not required, either to make that argument or to make the contrary argument.”  The Court, therefore, found that “the judge acted within his discretion in admitting photographs of the damaged vehicles and in allowing defense counsel to argue that there could be a relationship between the vehicular damage and the personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff.”

While this may seem like a win for the defense (and it was in this particular case), overall this may assist both sides in minimizing the need for expert witnesses in certain situations.  If the Court had ruled to the alternate, both sides may then need experts to testify that the injuries sustained (whether minor or major) could have been caused by the damage to the vehicles as depicted in photographs.  Plaintiffs who honestly did suffer significant injuries from a minor collision (which is known to happen) often needed expert support anyway, so this decision will not alter that.  It does make proving significant injury from minor collisions a bit more complicated, however, and it will be interesting to see how this decision impacts cases going forward.

If you are interested, you can read the full decision here: https://socialaw.com/services/slip-opinions/slip-opinion-details/kristiana-laccetti-vs.-steven-g.-ellis.-1


If you have any questions regarding personal injury or the Laccetti decision, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.


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