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The Harmless Error Doctrine in Virginia Personal Injury Cases

Although courts, judges, and the legal system overall do their best to follow all of the laws and make correct decisions, it is inevitable that some errors will be made. When errors do happen in a Virginia personal injury case, both parties have the right to appeal, or to have the error fixed or the judgment overturned, sometimes resulting in a new trial. However, under Virginia law, even if an appellate court finds that there was an error at trial, the error will not always require reversal of the lower court’s decision. Under the “harmless error” doctrine, courts can acknowledge that there was an error below, but still not remand the case for a new trial or alter the verdict.

For example, the Supreme Court of Virginia recently considered a car accident case where the plaintiff, on appeal, argued that the trial court erred in admitting unauthenticated medical documents into evidence. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was involved in a car accident in 2016, while she was a passenger in one of the defendant’s car. Another vehicle, driven by the other defendant, crashed into them in an intersection, and the plaintiff allegedly sustained $50,000 in injuries. She then sued both drivers.

The defendants introduced into evidence copies of medical records, but instead of having the doctor in question testify, they presented the records with a statement of authenticity. This statement did not follow the rules for authentication or admissibility of evidence in Virginia, but the trial judge allowed it anyways. At the end of the trial, the jury found for the plaintiff, but awarded her $0 in damages. The plaintiff appealed, alleging that the evidence should not have been admitted. The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed with the plaintiff. However, the Court found that the error of admitting this evidence was harmless and had little to no effect on the jury. Because of this, even though the plaintiff was right about the error, the jury verdict was affirmed, and the plaintiff received no damages.

The harmless error doctrine is important for all plaintiffs considering a civil suit or an appeal in Virginia. To have the greatest chance of avoiding errors in the first place, plaintiffs should consult experienced Virginia personal injury attorneys before moving forward with their case, who can help them navigate the intricacies of the court system and the rules of evidence, among other things.

Have You Been Injured By Someone Else’s Negligence?

If you have recently been injured as the result of someone else’s negligence, you know how costly medical bills and other accident costs can be. You may be entitled to monetary compensation, and our law firm wants to help ensure you get every penny you deserve. Our dedicated Virginia car accident lawyers will work tirelessly on your case, doing everything we can to ensure that errors are avoided, and the final outcome is just. To learn more, contact our office at 703-542-4008 to schedule a free consultation with our attorneys today, or contact us online. Contacting us is risk-free because our services are free to you unless we can help you receive compensation.

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