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The short answer is yes, Absolutely. The insurance defense team cannot prevent the jury from hearing about the defendant driver being drunk just because they admit fault, this is what is referred to as a “stipulated liability case” and it is a defense tactic to try and keep evidence of reckless conduct from being heard by the jury. See the article “Stipulated Liability in Missouri“. This discusses several Missouri Court of Appeals cases that made it clear that admitting fault does not stop the Plaintiff from explaining to the jury how the car accident happened, including evidence of alcohol or drugs.

Despite the law being clear on this issue, insurance lawyers still try to admit liability at the last minute (just before trial) and try and convince Judge’s that since fault is not an issue the Plaintiff should not be able to talk about the reckless actions of the at-fault driver, such as being drunk at the time of the accident. They claim it is not necessary because fault has been admitted so jury should not hear testimony about intoxication.

Recently, a trial judge bought this defense argument and prevented Plaintiff from telling the jury about the at-fault driver being a drunk driver and causing a truck accident in southern Missouri. The court of appeals in Cogdill v. Flanagan, SD32219, agreed that the trial court abused its discretion by preventing the Plaintiff from submitting evidence of the defendant’s drunk driving causing the car crash:

“Here, we find the trial court did abuse its discretion in excluding evidence of Flanagan’s intoxication. The general rule in Missouri as to a judicial admission was stated in Ruppel v. Clayes, 72 S.W.2d 833 (ST.L.D. 1934): “[a] party is not required to accept a judicial admission of his adversary, but may insist on proving the fact.” Id. at 835 (internal quotation and citation omitted). Phrased another way, a “party bearing the burden of proof is not bound to a party’s admission.” Ingram v. Rinehart, 108 S.W.3d 783, 792 (Mo.App. W.D. 2003). Instead, the party bearing the burden of proof “may elect to present evidence to prove the issue at jury trial.” Id.

This is an example of a good trial lawyer making sure all relevant evidence get in during his client’s car accident trial. Being a good personal injury lawyer means that you must always assume that a judge either won’t know the law or disagrees with it and won’t let in evidence that you would normally assume would get in no matter what. The best injury attorneys must always be prepared for even the most obvious evidence to be denied and be ready to challenge the trial court on the issue, and take it up on appeal if necessary. Lawyers must be ready for the insurance lawyers to make arguments and push for legal ruling despite the law being obviously to the contrary.

In my experience, at trial I have had judges make rulings that are completely against the law, even when I have the law printed and hand it to them. Sometimes, this can be a blessing, if the jury comes back with a good verdict then the bad ruling did not affect your case, but if you get a bad verdict, then you have an opportunity to win on appeal and have the case tried again, another bite at the apple thanks to a bad ruling by a trial judge.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, call the Missouri and Illinois car accident lawyers at Sansone / Lauber at (314) 863-0500 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation.

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