Photographic Evidence May Be Found Relevant Without Expert Testimony – Williamson v. Morales

A recent Illinois Appellate Court decision provided additional clarification regarding the admissibility of photographic evidence. At issue was whether or not a judge had correctly allowed photographs taken at the scene of an accident to be admitted into evidence during a Cook County personal injury trial. The appellate court ruled that judge had and upheld the jury verdict in Patricia Williamson v. Luis Morales, 2012 IL App. (1st) 110324-U.

Williamson involved a 2006 car accident in which the defendant Luis Morales rear-ended the plaintiff Patricia Williamson’s vehicle. And while Morales admitted to having caused the accident, there was some debate as to the extent of Williamson’s injuries. Williamson refused treatment by paramedics at the accident scene, but then did head to the Christ Medical Center Emergency Room just one hour later. And even though her x-rays did not show any fractures, she continued to experience pain and treatment with a chiropractor for four to five months following the accident.

When Williamson brought her personal injury claim against Morales he denied that the car accident was responsible for the extent of Williamson’s injuries and her lost time from work. And when Williamson’s attorney attempted to produce photographs from the accident scene as a way to demonstrate the severity and nature of the car accident, Morales’s attorney objected on the basis that they were not relevant and could not be introduced unless in conjunction with expert testimony. The court agreed and stipulated that the photographs could not be introduced unless the defendant first opened the door to their submission.

According to the plaintiff’s attorney, this opportunity came during the course of the Williamson’s testimony. On cross-examination, the defense attorney asked Williamson to characterize the impact when Morales’s car rear-ended her. Williamson responded that the impact was “medium” in comparison with some other car accidents that she’s been in. Williamson’s own attorney then sought to ask her to clarify her response while using the scene photographs, at which point the defendant’s attorney again objected to the use of the photographs.

However, Williamson’s attorney argued that Morales had opened the door to their admission when he questioned the plaintiff regarding the accident impact and scene. The trial judge agreed, overruling Morales’s objections and allowing the photographs into evidence. Williamson’s attorney then went on to question her about the photographs, the nature of the impact, and the relationship between the crash and her injuries. At the end of the Cook County personal injury trial, the jury entered a $9,516 verdict in favor of Williamson. Morales appealed this verdict on the grounds that the trial court incorrectly allowed the scene photographs into evidence.

In coming to its decision, the appellate court reviewed the personal injury case of Dicosola v. Bowman, 342 Ill. App. 3d 530 (2003), in which the court held that the court may exercise its discretion in admitting photographic evidence. The issue was then whether the court should have exercised its discretion despite the lack of expert testimony.

The appellate court stated that expert testimony is only required when the jury would need that expert to help them interpret what they are seeing in the photographs and help connect the damages and injuries to the claim. However, in Williamson, the court found that the jury had enough experience in driving and that they did not need an expert to interpret the relatively straightforward photographs for them. And since the court found that the jury could easily assess the relationship between the photographed vehicle damage and the plaintiff’s subsequent injuries, the jury verdict stands.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois automobile accidents lawsuits for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Elmwood Park, Villa Park, St. Charles, Aurora, Plainfield, Shorewood, Joliet, Oak Park, and Evanston.

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