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The Impact of Graphic Injury Photographs on Liability Verdicts and Non-Economic Damage Awards



Introduction

With the ever increasing availability of photographic evidence and the trend toward the admissibility of graphic visual images, it has become even more important to understand how these pictures influence jurors' verdicts. Little research has been conducted to address this important issue. What research has been completed suggests that graphic photographic evidence can have an improper effect in the criminal arena by influencing conviction rates (See Douglas, Lynn, & Ogloff, 1997; Bright & Goodman-Delahunty, 2006). The literature on the impact of vivid injury photographs in the civil setting suggests that there is a relationship between this evidence and research participants' damage awards (See Oliver & Griffitt, 1976, Whalen & Blanchard 1982).

In civil litigation, photographic images depicting the severity of an injury are submitted during the trial to purportedly help the jury assess economic (e.g., lost wages) and non-economic damages. Photos of a burned hand taken immediately after an accident may help a jury assess the pain and suffering associated with the injury. The application of this evidence is considered proper when used in this limited capacity. However, before a jury weighs damages, it must first find that the defendant was negligent and that this negligence caused injury to the plaintiff. Arguing jurors' improper use of injury photographs to determine liability may mean these images should be excluded under FRE 403. According to 403, relevant evidence is inadmissible if it is found to be unfairly prejudicial (emphasis added):

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

The current study examines the proper and improper use of vivid injury photographs in a civil dispute where the evidence favors a defense verdict. We assessed the impact of injury photographs on research participants' liability, causation, and non-economic damages verdicts (i.e., pain and suffering awards). The study also answers a question of strategic value: Can a defendant mitigate the influence that injury images have on liability verdicts and damage awards by providing counter photographs depicting improvement in the plaintiff's condition?

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. A Study of Impacts in a Product Liability Lawsuit
  3. 3. The Influence of Photographs On Juror Verdicts
  4. 4. Practical Implications of Injury Photographs in Civil Litigation
  5. 5. Legal Remedies
  6. 6. References