Illinois Supreme Court Settles Conflict in the Districts as to Admission of Post-Accident Vehicle Photographs

Before the Illinois Supreme Court handed down its decision in Peach v. McGovern, there were differing Illinois Appellate Court cases about whether an expert was needed to testify about a photograph of post-accident vehicle damage before it could be admitted into evidence. The Peach decision held that expert testimony is not required to admit post-accident vehicle photographs and settle this conflict in the law.

In its holding, the Peach decision expressly overturned DiCosola v. Bowman, 342 Ill.App.3d 530, 538 (1st Dist. 2003) and Baraniak v. Kurby, 371 Ill.App.3d 310, 317-18 (1st Dist. 2007) and held that the proper analysis had been appropriate in the cases of Ford v. Grizzle, 398 Ill.App.3d 639, 648 (5th Dist. 2010), Fronabarger v. Burns, 385 Ill.App.3d 560, 565 (5th Dist. 2008), Jackson v. Seib, 372 Ill.App.3d 1061, 1071 (5th Dist. 2007) and Ferro v. Griffiths, 361 Ill.App.3d 738, 743 (3d Dist. 2005).

In the Illinois Supreme Court decision in Peach, the Court ruled that the question of whether the photographs were admissible depended on whether they were relevant, and that relevancy is tested in light of logic, experience, and accepted assumptions about human behavior. Peach, Id. ¶ 26 (citing Boykin v. Estate of DeBoer, 192 Ill.2d 49, 57 (2000)).

The Court ruled that photographic evidence is generally admissible if it has a tendency to prove or disprove of material fact at issue in a case. Id. ¶ 27.

The Peach decision held that the “essential question” in deciding the admissibility of the photos was “whether the jury [could] properly relate the vehicular damage depicted in the photos to the injury without the aid of an expert.” Id. ¶ 35.

In the Peach decision, the Court held that the photographs were admissible without expert testimony because:

(1) The photos were relevant to the issues of proximate cause;

(2) the photos did not need to prove or disprove a particular medical condition, but instead only needed to show a single link in the chain or proof or that a fact is slightly more true than not; and (3) jurors, without the aid of expert testimony, could rely on logic, common sense and their everyday experience to conclude that photos depicting little damage to a vehicle suggests a lower-impact collision, and that a lower-impact collision could mean that a plaintiff’s injuries would be less severe than those from a high-impact collision. The Court also expressed concern requiring expert to testify as a prerequisite to admitting photographic evidence would impose a financial burden on litigants in what is already an “expensive discovery and trial process.”  Id. ¶ 44.

The Peach v. McGovern case was thoroughly discussed in an excellent article written by attorney Arlo Walsman in the Illinois Bar Journal, February 2020, Vol. 108, No. 2. Mr. Walsman explained that the Court’s decision in Peach v. McGovern may inspire plaintiffs’ attorneys to consider retaining an accident reconstruction expert or another qualified expert to explain that the existence of the photographs showing little or no damage to vehicles does not mean that the impact was slight. “When possible, plaintiffs’ attorneys may also want to have an expert offer an opinion about the speed of the vehicles prior to the impact or the force of the impact.”

On the other hand, Mr. Walsman writes that defense attorneys should take the additional step of giving the photos to medical-expert witnesses so that the experts may form opinions and offer testimony about the nature of the impact and its correlation to the plaintiff’s claimed injuries and damages.

In conclusion, the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Peach v. McGovern results in that post-accident vehicle photographs are admissible without expert testimony to explain the relevance.  However, lawyers should consider retaining expert witnesses such as accident reconstruction expert or medical experts to review the photographs where the impact related to the damages and injuries may be in question. It would be better to have experts retained, disclosed and available at a trial should these issues of damages related to the photographs be in the forefront.

Peach v. McGovern, 2019 IL 123156.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois jury trials, truck accident lawsuits, car accident cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle crash cases, pharmaceutical product defect lawsuits and nursing home negligence cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire, Highland Park, Glencoe, Prospect Heights, Streamwood, Elgin, Schaumburg, Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Aurora, Orland Park, Calumet City, Evanston, Chicago (Englewood, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville, Calumet Heights, Avalon Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Near West Side, Bucktown, Avondale, Albany Park, Ravenswood, Uptown), Schiller Park, Rosemont, Rolling Meadows, Franklin Park and River Grove, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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