Law Division Holds that Evidence of Car Being “Totaled” as a Result of an Accident is Irrelevant

Mar 5, 2019

In a case involving personal injuries, a trial court held that evidence of whether plaintiff’s vehicle was “totaled” as a result of the accident was inadmissible.  Kuzian v. Tomaszewski, - N.J. Super. – (Law Div. 2019).

In Kuzian, plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident with the defendant.  During direct examination of the plaintiff, plaintiff’s counsel inquired as to whether plaintiff’s vehicle was totaled as a result of the accident.  Defense counsel objected and the trial court upheld the objection.

The trial court held that the issue of whether a vehicle is totaled as a result of an accident is irrelevant under N.J.R.E. 401.  While photographs of the vehicle are admissible, the court held that the use of photographs from an accident is distinguishable from advising the jury that a vehicle was totaled.  The court noted that the term “totaled” has two very different meanings.  It may mean that a vehicle has been completely demolished in a serious accident or it may mean that an insurance company has determined that the cost to repair the vehicle is higher than the actual cash value of the vehicle.  The court thus upheld the objection and held that it is improper for a plaintiff to question a witness as to whether a vehicle has been totaled in an automobile negligence action.