Plaintiff’s Case Lost in Translation

Claims Alleged: Automotive Defense

Injuries Alleged: Property Damage

Amount Claimed: $87,000

The Overview

A Smith Freed Eberhard attorney arbitrated a claim involving an 83-year-old client and two Spanish speaking plaintiffs.  When the version of events that the plaintiffs gave in deposition (through an interpreter), failed to match later testimony, the plaintiff’s credibility was tarnished leading the arbitrator to rule in favor of the defendant.

The Background

Plaintiffs (the driver and his sister, a passenger in the vehicle) claimed that the defendant (Smith Freed Eberhard’s client) changed lanes illegally, clipped the plaintiff’s car and caused it to spin out of control and into a jersey barrier on I-5. The driver claimed combined damages of $50,000 and the passenger was seeking $37,000 in combined damages. Our client, and his passenger, were adamant that they did not hit anyone since they never felt an impact and there was no damage done to their vehicle. In fact, the client did not even realize anyone blamed him for the accident until he was contacted by the state patrol three days later and threatened with arrest for a hit and run.

Since both plaintiffs spoke Spanish, they were deposed through an interpreter. During the deposition the plaintiffs stated that they could not identify the make, model or color of the car, nor could they identify the driver. The plaintiff who was driving the car said he wasn’t sure if someone hit them, but he assumed someone had because he “heard a blow” and then the car spun out of control. The passenger plaintiff claimed that a car hit them, but she could not tell if the car struck them from the front, rear, or side. Neither plaintiff was able to remember exactly how the accident happened.

The Strategy

The defense took the position that either there was a “phantom vehicle” who hit the plaintiffs, or that their car blew a tire. When the defense questioned the plaintiffs at arbitration their story started to change. First, the plaintiffs claimed that they could identify the driver as an “older man” and that he was driving a red car. As the questions continued, the plaintiffs remembered more and more details and descriptions that previously had not existed in their testimony. The defense became convinced that the plaintiffs were making up details to try to win and cranked up the heat in cross examination. By thoroughly questioning the plaintiffs, the defense skillfully highlighted all inconsistencies in their story. Even more damaging was the fact that the plaintiff’s attorney spoke fluent Spanish and had interrupted the interpreter during the depositions to make corrections.

The Outcome

The plaintiffs tried to claim that their testimony had changed because the interpreter had either misinterpreted the questions, or that their answers were not listened too. Ultimately, there were simply too many inconsistencies in their testimony and their credibility vanished.  The arbitrator ruled in favor of the defendant and did not award any of the damages that were sought by the plaintiffs. This delighted our insured, who had offered the plaintiffs $28,000 before arbitration to settle.

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