Eyewitnesses are incredibly important to the justice system. The term eyewitness refers to a person who gives an account of events that he has seen with his eyes firsthand. For example, a person may be required to give a description of an individual he saw robbing a bank or describe the scene of a car crash. When eyewitness testimony is available it may have a significant impact on the outcome of that case.
In the case of Mitchell’s Contracting Service, LLC v. Gleason, a widower wanted to sue Mitchell and Wilmar, two contractors, on behalf of his deceased wife’s estate, alleging that two drivers for these companies had been driving in their official capacities and that one of those trucks caused the widower’s wife, Lorena Gleason, to drive into a tree, resulting in her death.
At trial, the jury returned a $2.5 million verdict for the widower based on the testimony of another truck driver, who testified that he had no doubt that the truck in question that caused the accident was operated by a driver employed by Mitchell.
On appeal, The Supreme Court of Alabama, held that while the testimony presented by the widower was sufficient for the jury to base its decision upon, the widower’s counsel made a mistake by not informing opposing counsel that one of the witnesses on their witness list was an eyewitness.
The Court held that when the widower discovered that this witness was an eyewitness to the accident (and the only eyewitness), this imposed an immediate and affirmative duty to inform the Court. The widower’s failure to alert both opposing counsel and the court of said eyewitness resulted in reversing the $2.5 million jury verdict.
The lesson learned is that it is not enough to merely list the person on the witness list. Once a party learns that a witness is an eyewitness, even if it is with only two months remaining before trial, there is an additional duty to inform opposing counsel and the Court that a witness is specifically an eyewitness. Excuses based on lack of time followed by lack of knowledge are not enough to outweigh the prejudice that another party suffers.
It is important to remember the Court values honesty and candor above all. If you know a witness is an eyewitness, it is your attorney’s legal and ethical duty to alert opposing counsel and the Court.
If you find yourself in a situation involving concerns about eyewitnesses, you should have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side to ensure that you make the best arguments. Contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 335-2640 for an attorney with the experience and knowledge that can make all the difference.