Stipulated Liability In Missouri - Does Not Bar Plaintiff From Using Evidence Of Intoxication

As a St. Louis accident attorney, many clients we represent are individuals hurt by a drunk driver or the families of someone killed by a drunk driver. These cases typically result in much higher damage awards from juries because of the drunk driving issues, even if alcohol is only a factor and there is no evidence of “legal intoxication” or over a .08 BAC.

Oftentimes, in these cases, the intoxicated driver will deny they were drunk during the accident and even oftentimes deny they were at fault for the needless injuries or death they caused. A defense tactic to try and prevent the jury from hearing about alcohol and the recklessness of the DWI driver is to “stipulate liability” at trial. In other words, just before trial starts, they tell the judge (outside the presence of the jury) that they will admit fault (liability), then try to claim any evidence of intoxication is irreverent and should not be heard by the jury, since fault is no longer an issue.

Auto insurance defense lawyers will argue the intoxication can be revealed to the jury ONLY AFTER after they decide on a verdict and not before a punitive damage hearing in the case, if there is one. The drunk driver’s insurance lawyers will argue this since under Missouri law a jury does not consider punitive damage in the first trial, they decide it in a separate proceeding after the initial injury case is heard and a verdict determined. This makes the stipulated liability argument even more underhanded as the insurance lawyers are throwing their own client under the bus! Since auto insurer’s, in most cases, do not have to cover punitive damage verdicts . So they are hoping the jury will give a small verdict in the injury case since the jury does not hear about alcohol or intoxication, and then the insurance company only has to cover that verdict and not the potential damages related to intoxication.

A good Missouri car accident lawyer knows not to let this happen! Under Missouri law, even if the defendant admits fault, the intoxication and denial of liability is relevant to the Plaintiff’s injuries, it helps show how needless the injuries were and the affect on the victim or their family from the defendant (through their insurance company) denying fault, it also goes to the defendant’s credibility. See Burrows v. Union Pacific RR Company:

Even when a defendant makes an unqualified admission of liability, a plaintiff has the right to introduce evidence relevant to the issue of liability. Ruppel v. Clayes, 230 Mo.App. 699, 72 S.W.2d 833, 835 (St.L.1934). A defendant “cannot deprive [a] plaintiff of the right to present to the jury, in his own way, competent and relevant evidence to show all the circumstances attending [to] the accident.” Id. To allow a defendant to substitute a “naked admission” for a full picture of the events may rob the evidence of much of its fair and legitimate weight. Id. at 836.

Additionally, in Franklin v Byers, 706 S.W.2d (Mo App 1986) the appeals court stated that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting testimony and evidence regarding the circumstances of the accident and the defendant’s intoxication. The party bearing the burden of proof is not bound to a party’s admission.

We are a top injury law firm in St. Louis, our head injury lawyer, Ben Sansone successfully pursues drunk driving injury and wrongful death cases. Call today for a free meeting at (314) 863-0500 or contact us online.