Traffic Citations and Personal Injury Lawsuits

Automobile Accidents | traffic citation

April 20, 2012

If I am in an accident and the other driver gets a ticket, can I use that as evidence if I sue?

If you have ever caused a collision or been injured in a collision through the fault of someone else, this question has probably crossed your mind.  In most traffic collisions, the investigating officer typically issues a traffic citation to the at-fault driver at the scene.  Sometimes however, the facts are in dispute so the at-fault driver may not get a ticket at the scene, but may receive a citation in the mail at a later date.

If the at-fault driver is ticketed, the Supreme Court of Washington has held that evidence of the citation cannot be used in a later civil suit for personal injuries to prove fault. [1]  The public policy behind this decision is to prevent traffic courts from being overwhelmed with drivers who fear the broader implications if the citation is deemed committed.  If evidence of the citation was admissible to prove guilt in a later civil suit, there would be incentive for motorists to vigorously contest cases when only small or nominal damages were at stake, which would needlessly clog the traffic court system.

What do I do if I get a subpoena to testify at a contested citation hearing?

If you are injured in a collision and the at-fault driver is requesting a hearing to contest the citation, then you must respond to the subpoena and attend the hearing.  If you do not appear, the at-fault driver may get the citation overturned.  While this has no bearing on any later civil lawsuit for personal injuries, you should appear and provide testimony as to what occurred as it is your duty as a citizen to do so and you are required to comply with the subpoena.

In most instances, when you appear to testify the at-fault party may decide to admit the citation occurred and you will not need to testify.  If you do need to testify, it is a good idea to note the time when the hearing starts and ends –that way, you can order a copy of the transcript of the hearing.  Most municipal courtrooms are wired to record audio, and you can order the CD of the hearing for a small fee.  This is a good idea because while you cannot use the citation as evidence in a later suit for personal injuries, you can use the testimony of the at-fault party at the contested hearing in a later suit if the at-fault party decides to change his story.


[1] The case is Hadley v. Maxwell, 144 Wn.2d 306, 27 P.3d 600 (2001).