Citation. Simms v. Dixon, 291 A.2d 184
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Brief Fact Summary.
Cheryl Simms (Appellant) and Herbert Dixon (Appellee) were involved in an automobile collision with each other; each told a different version of the events that caused the collision. At trial, Appellant attempted to introduce photographs of her vehicle following the collision in order to support her version of the events, but the photographs were ruled inadmissible by the trial court and excluded. The trial court rendered judgment for Appellee, and Appellant appeals here.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
In a civil trial, whether photographs are admissible as evidence is within the discretion of the trial judge, who will allow such evidence only when the photographs are relevant and accurate. When a witness testifies that, based on the witness’s personal knowledge, certain photographs are an accurate representation of facts relevant to an issue of consequence at the trial, it is reversible error for a trial court to disallow the photographs without first making, “a finding that the proffered foundation by [a party to the case] was not an accurate representation” of those same relevant facts.
According to the trial testimony of Appellant, the collision at issue occurred after Appellant, “having properly signaled her intention to turn right from the curb lane,” pulled out into the road. Appellant claims her vehicle was struck from behind by Appellee’s car. According to the trial testimony of Appellee, Appellant pulled out in front of his vehicle, “suddenly and without warning.” Appellee testified that his car hit Appellant’s, “on the right hand side,” near the middle of the vehicle’s side doors. Appellant attempted to introduce six photographs of her care, taken after the collision, in order to show where her car was damaged and, accordingly, that her version of the collision was the correct one. The trial court did not allow the photographs, holding that they would only be admissible if the person who took the photographs, “first testified as to how the photographs were taken.” The trial court also stated that the photographs would only be admissible if App
ellee had an opportunity to cross-examine the photographer. The trial court ultimately held that it was within its discretion to view the pictures and to disallow them, “where it felt further clarification would be necessary.” Finally, the trial court rejected the contention that Appellant’s own testimony, rather than that of the photographer, was sufficient to lay the proper foundation for the admission of the photographs.
Did the trial court error in refusing to admit into evidence the photographs taken after the collision of Appellant’s automobile?
Yes; the court committed error because it did not make a finding that the foundation for the photographs was not an accurate representation of the facts of the case, specifically the vehicle’s condition following the collision.
The court first pointed out that, “the determination of whether to admit photographs is within the discretion of the trial judge because he is in the best position to determine their relevance and accuracy.” However, the court held, here, “judicial discretion was improperly exercised.” The court went on to explain:
The essential test [of whether photographs are admissible] is whether the photographs accurately represent the facts allegedly portrayed in them . . . [the applicable authority] does not require the testimony of the photographer to lay a foundation for the admission of a photograph to show damage to an automobile resulting from an accident . . . In the case at bar, the trial court examined the photographs but made no finding that they did not accurately represent the relevant facts or that he had some question as to their accuracy . . . [and] [i]n the absence of a finding that the proffered foundation by appellant was not an accurate representation of the vehicle immediately following the accident, it was reversible error to deny admission of the photographs.