When you have been hurt in an incident due to another person’s negligence, the logical next step is to file a New York personal injury claim for the damages you suffered. However, it is important to understand that the other party will not silently pay up the amount that you claim. The defendant will often do their best to reduce the amount you are awarded by using a number of legal tactics.
The easiest way they can try to hurt your personal injury claim is by alleging that you are lying about the severity of your injuries. To be able to discredit your trustworthiness, they may to scour through your legal history to find evidence of even a minor criminal conviction. Although a personal injury matter is a civil case that is not connected in any manner with an individual’s criminal history, the evidence of past convictions is often used to undermine credibility.
Can a Past Felony Affect Your Present Claim?
A past offense is generally not likely to have any connection with a present personal injury claim. However, the negligent party can bring up a previous criminal record to cast you in a negative light. It is human nature to view a previously convicted person with suspicion and this may work against you if your case goes to trial and the members of the jury are not happy with the fact that you have a previous history of criminal offense.
Generally, any crime that is minor and has occurred a very long time ago is not very likely to have a serious impact on a personal injury case. However, it is best to make sure your personal injury lawyer has all the relevant details of the past case so that they are not caught unawares.
Under New York law, when civil litigation is underway, prior criminal acts can be admitted as evidence of character.
Not all cases are the same, and therefore, it’s crucial for your lawyer to have details of the type of felony for which you were convicted in the past. A conviction that occurred in the recent past is more likely to harm your personal injury claim than one that occurred more than 10 years ago. Past crimes that involve financial aspects (such as Social Security or Medicaid fraud or writing a bad check) will attract greater scrutiny.
Offenses such as drug possession that do not directly relate to financial fraud may not be very relevant to a civil personal injury claim. However, it’s paramount that you are upfront in admitting to those offenses because if the defendant catches you in a lie, that can be used to undermine your credibility.
In some cases, the judge may decide to disallow past criminal records if they are convinced that the admission can lead to an unfair influence on the jury during the trial of your civil case.
Trials are time-consuming and expensive, and most parties would prefer to settle the claim before it goes to trial. If the defendant in your claim takes this approach, and your personal injury claim gets settled before going to trial, the criminal history factor may not be really significant. However, if there is no settlement reached between the parties, a court trial is inevitable and when that happens, your past offense may play a role in deciding your case.
Ways in Which Criminal History can be Used Against You in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Under rule 6.19, New York allows the defendant to impeach the credibility of a witness during a civil proceeding in good faith by introducing a certified copy of the past judgment as evidence.
If you have previously been convicted of a crime that involved fraud or forgery, it can be used to create doubt about your honesty. Past criminal records may also be used to undermine the testimony you provide. For example, if you claim that you were driving safely and the accident was caused by the other driver, the defendant’s case grows stronger if they introduce evidence of a speeding ticket you earned in the past.
Another common ploy employed by the lawyer of the defendant is to catch you telling a lie. This is known as “impeaching of the witness” and can severely impact the way the jury views your case. For example, consider a case of personal injury claim that involves a slip and fall accident. If the lawyer asks if you are a responsible driver and you reply in the affirmative, and they then produce evidence of a past DUI conviction, it can seriously undermine your credibility in the eyes of the jury.
Can You Avoid the Impact of Previous Criminal History?
Under New York law, an individual can request that their criminal record be sealed to protect their future. This request is generally possible only for those individuals whose record includes not more than one misdemeanor and one felony or not more than two misdemeanors. It is also admissible for individuals who have successfully completed a drug treatment program.
However, such a sealing of past criminal history is applicable only to New York criminal records and does not extend to any convictions or arrests that occurred outside the state or under federal law.
Be Honest With Your NY Personal Injury Attorney
Having an open relationship with your personal injury lawyer is key to the success of your claim. If you have any kind of criminal history – even something that you believe is not relevant to the present claim – make sure that your attorney knows about it.
If you do not share this information with them, they will not know how to proceed when the other party brings it up during negotiations or trial proceedings. When your personal injury attorney knows all the facts, they can decide about whether it will have an impact on your present case and prepare to deal with it in the appropriate manner.
What Strategies can be Used to Reduce the Impact of Past Criminal Records?
The impact of a previous criminal record will greatly depend on the nature of the offense and the action that resulted at the time when it occurred. Based on the particular crime, your attorney may develop one of the following plans of action to deal with the fallout of that crime on the current personal injury claim.
One of the easiest ways to deal with a past offense is to be proactive and upfront voluntarily sharing this information during the trial. This can help you give the jury information in a manner that gives them a right perspective. Besides, you may also gain stature in their eyes for being an honest individual.
In some cases, personal injury lawyers may advise you to opt to have a judge decide your case instead of going for a jury trial. A judge is less likely to be swayed by emotion than a jury and this increases the probability of the civil case being decided on its own merits without the bias that may be introduced by information of an irrelevant past offense.
If your criminal history involves a case of an arrest but no conviction, it can be possible under New York law to expunge your past record. This is a complex process and if you wish to take this route, it is helpful that you have an experienced NYC personal injury attorney on your side.
Does a Criminal Conviction of the Party at Fault Impact My NY Personal Injury Case?
Criminal cases are separate from civil cases; therefore, the outcome of the former cannot directly influence the result of the latter. However, the evidence that is employed to obtain a criminal conviction may be useful in establishing fault in a civil case. In order to win a New York personal injury claim, you need to focus on proving that the party at fault breached their duty of care and that your injury was directly caused due to their error or negligence.
In those rare cases, when a civil case crosses over into a criminal case or the other way around, it is generally necessary for one case to conclude before the other one begins. Consult with your New York personal injury lawyer to know what could be the best legal strategy in your circumstances.
Get in Touch with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney in NYC
All of us make mistakes sometimes and in some cases, we may end up with a criminal record. If you have some such past conviction, do not let the fear of its impact stop you from filing a claim for a genuine injury that was caused by another party’s negligence. An accomplished New York City personal injury attorney can work with you to reduce the effect of a past offense on your present civil claim.
At Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP, our lawyers have several years of experience in winning personal injury claims, even for clients with past criminal records. Our expert and competent attorneys will guide you through the complex legal processes that can help to reduce the impact of a past offense.
To know more about how we can help you win the best compensation that you truly deserve, Call Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP today at 1-800-660-2264 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.
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