Legal Alert: The Low-Impact Defense is Now Permitted in Nevada

March 30, 2016

Rish v. Simao

For many years, defendants in minor motor vehicle accident cases in Nevada were often precluded from offering evidence and testimony that the motor vehicle accident was too insignificant or of such low-impact to cause the plaintiff’s injuries.  Defendants were sometimes prohibited from presenting photographs of the vehicles and repair invoices.  Defendants’ medical doctors were often limited in  offering opinions regarding the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  These restrictions frequently prevented defendants from presenting a complete case.

The Nevada Supreme Court’s recent opinion, Rish v. Simao, 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 17, lifted and remedied these types of restrictions and, in doing so, recognized the low-impact defense as a permissible defense to minor vehicle accident cases.  Under Rish, defendants should now have greater opportunity to present photographs of the vehicles, and medical doctors should now be permitted to offer more complete opinions regarding causation so long as there is a sufficient foundation for their conclusions.  Jury awards are expected to be significantly reduced as district courts begin to permit defendants to present evidence and testimony that the accident was low-impact.

In Rish, the plaintiff and defendant were involved in a minor motor vehicle accident, where the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff in stop-and-go traffic.  The damage to the vehicles was minor and plaintiff refused medical treatment.  Nonetheless, the plaintiff and his spouse brought a personal injury and loss of consortium action against the defendant.  Prior to trial, the plaintiff filed a motion to preclude the defendant from presenting a low-impact defense.  In other words, the plaintiff sought to preclude the defendant from offering any evidence and testimony that the accident was too insignificant to have caused the plaintiff’s injuries.    The district court granted the plaintiff’s motion and prohibited the defendant from making a low-impact defense.  At trial, Defendants were prohibited from describing the accident as low impact and were forbidden from presenting relevant property damage evidence.  The defendant’s medical doctor was also barred from opining about whether the force of the defendant’s vehicle could have cause the plaintiff’s injuries.  The district court awarded $4.5 million to the plaintiff and his spouse.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed the district court’s judgment and ordered a new trial.  The Court reasoned that the restrictions imposed by the district court effectively and impermissibly deprived the jury of hearing any testimony regarding the nature and circumstances of the accident and any resulting injuries.  The Court concluded that medical doctors may offer an opinion regarding causation so long as there is a sufficient foundation for the conclusion.  The Court further concluded that photographs and repair invoices should be admitted since there is a common-sense correlation between the nature of an impact and the severity of an injury.

Defendants in minor motor vehicle accident cases are no longer forbidden from presenting relevant evidence and testimony about the accident to the jury.

News & Events

Print PDF