Clients must tell there lawyers about stuff that they are not proud of and mistakes that they may made during their lives. A guy spent 7 years in prison because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time when he was 21. He gets out of prison and tries to build a life for himself. One day he is driving home from work on his motorcycle and he is hit by a car and severely injured. He did nothing to cause the accident but the insurance company treats him like dirt because of his history.
The insurance adjuster makes comments like the guy doesn't deserve anything because he will only use the money for drugs or whatever. The insurance adjuster refuses to give a fair offer because she thinks a jury will hold the prison sentence against the guy.
A lawsuit is filed and it goes through the discovery process. At the settlement conference, the insurance defense lawyer makes a statement that they are discounting the value of the case because of the guy's past. They think if a jury hears about prison, it will hold it against the guy.
As a trial lawyer, how do I handle the situation? Well, I'm glad you asked.
I will file a motion in limine asking the Judge to rule before the trial starts on the admissibility of the guy's prior conviction. A motion in limine is a pretrial motion where you ask the court to look at a piece of evidence, and give a preliminary ruling on whether the jury will hear the evidence or not.
In this case, if the judge decides the jury will not hear about the prior conviction, we will not have to bring it up during jury selection and with the witness on the stand. On the other hand, if the judge decides the prior conviction is admissible, we will have to deal with the issue strategically. The best way is to be up front and open about the bad fact from the get go. This strategy has two purposes. First, it will assist the guy's credibility because he is being open and honest about his prior issues. Second, the jury will already be sensitized to the idea from the beginning of the case so when the insurance defense lawyer cross-examines the guy, the prior conviction will not sting as badly.
This is one of the most important reasons to be open and honest with your lawyer about an skeletons in your closet. You may recall, how I wrote about and did a podcast session on a case where a woman was severely injured in a car accident and she didn't get fair value for her claim because the husband, was involved in a criminal matter, during the pendency of case, and they didn't tell their attorney about the issue. That case would have been ripe for a motion in limine to deal with the issues.
If you have any questions about an Indiana personal injury matter, you can always give me a call at (219) 874-4878.