Introducing Settlement Agreements in California Auto Accident Cases

courtroom-2If you are injured in an auto accident, the court case that may follow could involve many different parties, and how that case unfolds may depend on which parties agree to settle. In one recent case, an taxi cab passenger sued both her cab company and another driver after she was injured in a two-car crash. The passenger settled with the cab company, but the agreement allowed the cab company to continue to participate in the case against the second driver. The California Court of Appeal ruled that the second driver should be allowed to introduce the settlement at trial so that the jury could obtain a full picture regarding each party’s motivations and biases.

The case arose from an accident that took place in San Francisco on Jan. 4, 2011. A taxi cab carrying passenger Christine Diamond was broadsided by a sedan driven by Serge Reshko. Reshko’s mother, Valentina Reshko, was riding with her son. The police officer who investigated the accident issued a citation to the cab driver for making an illegal U-turn and also cited Reshko for speeding. Diamond suffered serious injuries to her ribs and back.

Diamond and her husband, Andrew Diamond, sued the taxi company and the Reshkos for their injuries. On the eve of trial, the taxi company settled with the Diamonds, agreeing to pay the wife $350,000 and the husband $50,000. After a postponement, the trial went on against the Reshkos. Despite the fact that the cab company had settled, its lawyer was permitted to continue to participate in the trial because that was a term in its settlement with the Diamonds.

The taxi company’s lawyer argued that, although its driver committed a technically illegal U-turn, it was reasonable under the circumstances, and the wreck only happened due to Reshko’s reckless speeding. The jury ultimately concluded that the total sum of damages was $745,000 and that Reshko was 60% at fault (and the cab driver 40% at fault.) At no point in the trial did the jury learn about the cab company’s settlement with the Diamonds.

On appeal, the Reshkos argued that the trial court committed an error by preventing them from introducing the settlement between the cab company and the Diamonds to the jury. During the appeal, the Diamonds argued that the trial court made the correct decision, since the rules of evidence in California say that evidence of a settlement is not admissible at trial to prove that the settling party was liable. The appeals court rejected this argument, pointing out that the Reshkos did not pursue introducing the evidence to prove the cab company’s liability. The Reshkos argued that they only sought to put the settlement before the jury to establish witness bias and prevent collusion between the cab company and its passengers.

In the end, the appeals court explained that California law had already established that, if a settlement agreement calls for the settling party to stay in the case and participate as a party or a witness, the agreement is presumed to be admissible at trial. The reason is that, without “this evidence, the jury is prevented from fully assessing the motivations of both the plaintiff and the settling defendant, and from properly weighing the credibility of their witnesses.”

For reliable answers to your questions and determined representation in your personal injury case, contact the Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury attorneys have helped many victims over the years get the recovery that is owed to them. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

California Driver Forced to Pay Accident Victim’s Fees, Costs for Unreasonable Refusal to Admit Liability, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Aug. 31, 2015

Be Wary of the Release Agreements You Sign as Part of Your California Personal Injury Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Aug. 31, 2015