Delaware Law on Admissibility of Photographs in Car Accident Cases

Most jurisdictions leave the judge’s discretion whether to admit photographs from a car accident for the purpose of demonstrating the extent of the injuries of the occupants of the car. In Davis v. Maute, 770 A.2d. 36 (Del. 2001), the Supreme Court of Delaware took a minority view, holding that a party in a car accident may not directly argue that the seriousness of the injuries from an auto accident correlates to the extent of the damage to the cars, unless there is testimony from an expert witness that makes a correlation.

Accordingly, lawyers in Delaware may not argue by implication what the lawyer could not argue indirectly and attempt to suggest that the lack of property damage reflects the minor injuries.

This is great for Delaware plaintiffs’ lawyers in car accident cases who have minor property damage and claim injuries. Still, our lawyers prefer the majority rule because if you have a serious injury/serious impact case, you want to get the pictures to the jury to show the severity of the injuries and the Davis v. Maute holding can backfire on plaintiffs.

How This Plays Out

Outside of Delaware, the rule is pretty much that the pictures can come in at the judge’s discretion.  Which almost invariably means they will come into evidence.  In Maryland, we have pretty much stopped making the argument.  I’m not sure about the scientific arguments, but common sense tells jurors that the property damage tells you something about the severity of the injuries.

Regionally, in the District of Columbia,  Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania you will generally be able to get in photographs even without an expert to tell you that it relates to the injuries.  Where I practice, Maryland has shot down the Maute rule.  Our intermediate appellate court said in Mason v. Lynch that the trial court has the discretion to determine the relevancy of the property damage photos and argue from those photos.

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