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Indiana Car Accident Plaintiff Loses Appeal After Jury Verdict for Defendant by Not Objecting to Defendant’s Testimony and Timely Supplementing Trial Court Record

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a defendant in an Indiana car accident case. In Cook v. Beeman, the Plaintiff, Edward Cook, was driving west on Tenth Street in Jeffersonville, Indiana and collided with a vehicle being driven north on Allison Lane by the Defendant, Mark Beeman. Both Cook and Beeman claimed they had a green light at the intersection of Tenth Street and Allison Lane. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Beeman, finding Cook 51% at fault and Beeman 49% at fault in causing the collision. Under Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, a personal injury plaintiff may not recover damages if the person’s fault is greater than the fault of all other persons whose fault proximately contributed to the person’s damages.

Cook appealed and on appeal argued that the trial court erred in admitting some of Beeman’s testimony. During the trial, Beeman’s counsel asked Beeman why he did not sue Cook. Beeman replied by stating, among other things, that he did not sue Cook because he had already been compensated for the property damage to his vehicle. Cook argued on appeal that such testimony violated a motion in limine. A motion in limine is a procedural device used to prevent prejudicial, irrelevant, and otherwise objectionable matters that would interfere with a fair and impartial administration of justice from being raised in the presence of a jury before the trial court has had a chance to rule upon the appropriateness or admissibility of those matters. However, a ruling on a motion in limine is not a final ruling and a party must still object to evidence at trial falling within the scope of a motion in limine. Here, Cook did not object when Beeman was asked why he did not sue Cook and Cook did not thereafter move to strike Beeman’s answer. As such, the Court of Appeals held that Cook waived any claim that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony.

Cook also argued on appeal that the trial court erred in not granting a mistrial. On cross examination of Beeman, Cook asked Beeman who compensated Beeman for his vehicle. Beeman requested a sidebar conference with the Court, objecting to the question. Cook argued that Beeman opened the door to this question by Beeman’s testimony about being compensated for his vehicle. Under Indiana Rule of Evidence 411, evidence that a person did or did not have liability insurance is not admissible to prove negligent or wrongful conduct. The transcript provided to the Court of Appeals did not indicate what occurred during the sidebar conference as the recording was inaudible. Cook argued on appeal that the trial court sustained Beeman’s objection and that he moved for a mistrial, which the trial court denied. Beeman argued Cook did not move for a mistrial.

Indiana Appellate Rule 31 allows parties to supplement the record when all or part of a transcript is not available by submitting a verified statement of evidence and motion to certify with the trial court. Indiana Appellate Rule 32 however provides that the trial court has jurisdiction to modify the record or transcript only before a reply brief is due to be filed with the Court of Appeals, and after that time, the party requesting supplementation must request leave of the Court of Appeals to correct or modify the record. Cook filed a motion with the trial court to certify his statement of evidence as to what occurred during the sidebar. However, Cook filed the motion the same day he filed his reply brief, which removed the jurisdiction of the trial court to rule on the motion, and neither party requested a stay in the Court of Appeals. As such, the Court of Appeals held Cook waived any issues on appeal as to what occurred during the inaudible sidebar conference.  You can read the full opinion here: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/06222002msm.pdf.

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