Attending Defendant’s Traffic Court: A Critical Decision In Personal Injury Cases

Published on September 24th, 2020

One of the first questions a client asks after a car accident is whether or not they should attend traffic court on the defendant’s ticket in their personal injury case. In some instances, the court appearance is thwarted if the defendant admits guilt and pays the fine and no court appearance is required. Oftentimes, traffic tickets are not this “clean” and easy, and may require a court visit. If you’re currently debating this question or are ever in this position, this article will provide a perspective on your rights and if appearing in court could improve the outcome of your personal injury case. 

Is a Court Appearance Always Necessary?

Many times, as a plaintiff, your appearance in court is not required.  In a minor automobile accident with no injuries from either party, and the plaintiff does not wish to file a lawsuit, appearing in court is not necessary. In this situation, the ticket will likely be dismissed. Typically in these situations, the defendant is the only one that goes to court. In the courtroom, the clerk of the courtroom will call the case, the judge will ask the defendant to turn around and face the gallery, then he will ask the gallery if “anyone in the room was involved in a car accident with this person on this date, at this time, at this location”, and given that nobody responds, the prosecutor will dismiss the case.

Even if the plaintiff does not attend court but is still filing a civil case, it does not negatively affect the case. The civil case can continue to proceed and is not reliant on a guilty plea by the defendant in a traffic ticket case. It is only helpful because it is an admission against interest. So by not going and allowing the defendant’s ticket to get dismissed, the chance to gain an advantage in your civil personal injury case for monetary damages has been lost.

Can Appearing in Court Benefit My Personal Injury Case?

Oftentimes automobile accidents are more complicated and do suggest a court appearance. Although not required, in a car accident where the plaintiff did want to file a civil case against the defendant, appearing in court would be beneficial for their case. In this situation, the plaintiff wants the defendant to plead guilty for a few reasons. The main reason is simply to feel justified and hear the defendant take responsibility for the accident, and to have peace of mind that they are guilty for any injuries caused.

The legal reason you want the defendant to plead guilty or admit wrong in a traffic ticket is that it is then considered an admission against interest. An admission against interest can then be used in your civil case for personal injury, thereby giving you an advantage in the case. There is a higher likelihood that the defendant will plead guilty when the opposing party is present in court and, again, an advantage in your case for money damages that have been lost.

When Is Court Appearance Mandatory?

There are other situations where your appearance in court may be required. If you receive a subpoena demanding your appearance in court, you must attend court. Chances are that in this type of event, the traffic ticket is more serious than just a traffic infraction. For example, if the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor in most states, then you will have a legal obligation to attend court If you have received a subpoena to attend. 

How Do I Prepare for Attending Court On A Defendant’s Ticket?

The following provides some tips and information regarding the things you should consider if you’re attending court for a defendant’s traffic ticket in your personal injury case: 

  • It is always recommended to get to court early to ensure that things run smoothly and there are no interruptions. 
  • Upon arrival at the courthouse, you will first find your courtroom. You then will step up to the clerk next to the judge and tell them that you are a witness. You will then provide them the name of the defendant and ask them who the prosecutor is, and tell the clerk that you are there to testify. 
  • Once you are informed who the prosecutor is, you will walk up and tell him/ her that you are there to testify. The prosecutor will then tell you what to do, which is usually to sit and wait for the case to be called. 
  • Make sure to sit in a spot that gives you a good view of those stepping up before the judge. You want to try to spot the defendant when he/she is called up, if you know what they look like, and listen for the bailiff or the clerk to call out the defendant’s name. As soon as the defendant’s name is called and he/she steps up, you must be diligent and immediately stand up and walk forward before the judge.
  • You then will address the court when asked who you are, and tell them that you are a witness and are there to testify.

What If The Defendant Pleads Not Guilty?

If the defendant pleads not guilty, you may have to go to trial. It all comes down to the facts of the case and whether or not you have been prepared by your personal injury attorney. Normally, personal injury attorneys do not prepare the victim driver for this type of testimony in a traffic ticket accident.

Will Court Appearance And Testimony Negatively Affect My Case?

One thing to be cautious of is whether or not there is a court reporter and an experienced defense attorney defending the ticket for the defendant. If there is a lawyer present, he or she will likely know what questions to ask you to try and destroy your case. If a court reporter is present, these answers will be documented. In those situations, it is crucial that you are prepared and ready for any questions that could potentially weaken your case. Otherwise, it is likely too high risk, depending on the mechanics of the accident, to testify.

For example, in an intersection accident where one person says they had a green light and so does the other, it would be very dangerous without complete preparation to go forward in that situation. However, in a rear-end accident where you are standing at a light for several seconds before you were hit, it would be quite easy for the victim/plaintiff to testify because there is really no chance of liability on their end. 

Do Personal Injury Attorneys Attend Traffic Trials With Clients? 

Typically attorneys do not attend traffic court with their clients. Many attorneys find it unnecessary and do not take the time to prepare the plaintiff for testimony. Bellas & Wachowski always attends court with our clients. The advantage gained is worth the extra time. A complaining witness/plaintiff should not hesitate to request their personal injury attorney to attend the defendant’s traffic ticket trial.

If you or someone you know has been involved or injured in an automobile accident that requires you to go to court, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn more about what step to take next. Peter Wachowski has over 30 years of practicing law in the field of personal injury and can help you evaluate your claim to determine the right course of action and seek the most favorable outcome possible.

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