- Fault and Traffic Citations in Oklahoma Car Accidents
- Comparative Negligence in Oklahoma
- Gathering Evidence Beyond Traffic Citations
- Legal Support for Your Car Accident Claim
- Common Traffic Violations and Liability
- Risks of Being Deemed At Fault
- When Both Parties Receive Tickets
- So, can the guilty plea on the traffic ticket be included as evidence or testimony?
- Inadmissibility of Fine Payment Without Guilty Plea
- Conviction Admissibility Based on Punishment Severity
- Guilty Pleas in Civil Suits Arising from Traffic Incidents
- Exclusion of Guilty Pleas by Non-Parties in Associated Civil
- Non-Admissibility of Nolo Contendere Pleas
- Fine Payments and Guilty Pleas: Evidentiary Admissibility
Fault and Traffic Citations in Oklahoma Car Accidents
When car accident negotiations start, determining who is at fault is the first issue the liability adjuster will generally review. In Oklahoma, a traffic citation can be significant evidence for negotiations, but it does not definitively establish fault in an accident. Insurance adjusters, judges, and juries will look into the crash details to determine the responsible party. They consider the circumstances surrounding the citation and its relevance to the cause of the accident. In fact, the Official Traffic Collision Report is not admissible evidence. The jury won’t review what the report says. Accident reports are often incorrect.
As plaintiff’s counsel, we can sometimes get a “guilty plea” into evidence (through testimony) for the citation, but there are issues with whether or not a guilty plea was actually made. Take this recent case, for example:
The defendant driver paid the ticket online, and OSCN.net shows a conviction. However, this is just how the court clerk documents the payment. So, if someone calls in and says they want to pay their ticket, it shows as a “conviction.” The defendant didn’t actually plea anything.
Comparative Negligence in Oklahoma
Oklahoma follows a modified comparative negligence standard, which allows injured parties to recover compensation even if they share some of the blame for the accident. If you are found to be less than 50% responsible for the crash, you can still obtain compensation, but your percentage of fault will reduce it by that percentage. This means that even if you received a traffic citation, you could still recover damages, provided your level of fault does not exceed 49.99%.
Gathering Evidence Beyond Traffic Citations
Traffic citations alone are seldom enough to establish liability in car accident cases. You (and your attorney) will want to have:
- Photographs from the accident scene
- Eyewitness accounts
- Expert witness testimony
- Statements from the other driver
Following an accident, saving all evidence, obtaining witness information, seeking immediate medical attention, and preserving all medical records are important. It’s also advisable to avoid discussing the case with insurance companies without first talking with a lawyer to review your claim.
Legal Support for Your Car Accident Claim
If you have been involved in a car accident and received a traffic citation, having an experienced car accident attorney can help protect your rights and ensure you receive the maximum compensation possible. At Hasbrook & Hasbrook, we offer free initial consultations to discuss your case and provide guidance on the best course of action.
Common Traffic Violations and Liability
Traffic violations that frequently lead to accidents include:
- Distracted driving
- Failing to obey traffic signals
- Unsafe passing maneuvers
- Following too closely
If another driver committed any of these violations and caused your accident, their traffic ticket could support your claim in court. Conversely, if you received a ticket, it’s crucial to understand how it might affect your claim and what steps you can take to mitigate its impact.
Risks of Being Deemed At Fault
If you are found at fault for a car accident, you may face legal liability, including being sued for the other party’s case costs. Being at fault can also prevent you from receiving compensation for your injuries. To protect against unjust accusations of shared blame, it’s important to challenge traffic tickets that may unfairly attribute fault to you.
When Both Parties Receive Tickets
In situations where all involved parties receive tickets, assessing which citation has the most significant impact on fault determination is important. A seasoned car accident attorney can help navigate these complexities and work to ensure that the true cause of the accident is accurately represented.
So, can the guilty plea on the traffic ticket be included as evidence or testimony?
Like most things with the law, “it depends.”
Inadmissibility of Fine Payment Without Guilty Plea
Evidence of paying a traffic fine is inadmissible without proof of a guilty plea, as per Walker v. Forrester, 1988 OK 102. This rule is grounded in the principle that payment of fines alone should not be construed as an admission of guilt, especially in subsequent legal proceedings where the context of the payment may be misunderstood or misrepresented.
Conviction Admissibility Based on Punishment Severity
Under 12 O.S. § 2803 (22), convictions punishable by more than one year are admissible over hearsay objections, as illustrated in Haynes v. Rolling, 1967 OK 184, and Lee v. Knight, 1989 OK 50. The severity of the punishment serves as a criterion for admissibility because more serious convictions are deemed more probative of the matters at issue and less likely to be prejudicial than minor offenses, which remain inadmissible.
Guilty Pleas in Civil Suits Arising from Traffic Incidents
According to Zumwalt v. Moran, 1953 OK 223, a guilty plea to a reckless driving charge related to the incident is admissible in civil suits. This principle is particularly relevant in civil litigation, such as personal injury or property damage cases, where the plea may influence determinations of liability or the assessment of damages.
Exclusion of Guilty Pleas by Non-Parties in Associated Civil
Admitting a guilty plea by a non-party involved in the same incident as the trial is erroneous, as seen in O’Neal v. Joy Dependent School Dist., No. 1, Murray County, 1991 OK 118. The exclusion of such pleas underscores concerns about fairness and relevance, preventing the potential for undue influence on the jury’s perceptions of the parties directly involved in the case.
Non-Admissibility of Nolo Contendere Pleas
Nolo contendere (no contest) pleas cannot be admitted as evidence in subsequent civil actions, per 12 O.S. § 2410 (2), and Moore v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 2002 OK CIV APP 23. The rationale behind this rule is that a no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt and should not be used to establish liability or influence outcomes in civil matters.
Fine Payments and Guilty Pleas: Evidentiary Admissibility
The payment of a traffic fine without accompanying proof of a guilty plea does not make the traffic case records admissible, and such admission is considered a reversible error, highlighted in Laughlin v. Lamar, 1951 OK 330, and Dover v. Smith, 1963 OK 166. This principle cautions against the improper use of fine payments as evidence, emphasizing the need for clear demonstrations of guilt through due legal process to ensure fairness and accuracy in judicial proceedings.