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Civil lawsuits: a witness's character for truthfulness

There are a number of issues that may be presented at a civil trial, the outcomes of which can reshape the ultimate outcome. Some of these issues are obvious, such as the elements of negligence. Other matters, though, may not be so obvious but can be just as critical. This often arises in the context of evidence and trial rules. Those who are able to successfully navigate these issues may be able to position themselves to stand a better chance at a favorable outcome.

One common issue during a civil trial is witness credibility. A witness whose credibility goes unquestioned may be free to testify about compelling facts that can be damaging to a plaintiff's claim. However, if the witness's credibility can be drawn into question, then the facts about which he or she testifies may not carry much weight with a judge and jury.

Generally speaking, a witness's reputation about having a character of untruthfulness can only be presented in court if the witness's character has already been attacked. However, evidence of specific instances of untruthful conduct may be admissible to challenge a witness's credibility. This is typically only allowed on cross-examination and must directly pertain to a witness's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness. Such evidence may also be allowed to attack another witness's credibility if the testifying witness is speaking about that witness's character.

There are other ways to challenge a witness's credibility, depending on the specific circumstances at hand. The key point, however, is that drawing a witness's reliability into question can be powerful when presenting a personal injury claim. It is not an exaggeration to say that it can make the difference between recovering compensation for one's damages, including medical expenses and lost wages, and recovering nothing. With that in mind, those about to come face-to-face with aggressive defense attorneys should carefully consider how best to prepare their car accident case in hopes of securing the financial resources to which they are entitled.

Source: Legal Information Institute, "Rule 608. A Witness," accessed on Mar. 3, 2017

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