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What Is A Civil Reservation?

Did You Know That A Moving Violation Can Be Evidence In A Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Many drivers in New Jersey are involved in automobile accidents and receive a ticket for a moving violation such as careless driving (39:4-97), but did you know that if you plead guilty to the offense, or even a downgraded offense, under the doctrine of Negligence Per Se, a rebuttable presumption of negligence may be created? More plainly said, the plaintiff usually must show that:

1. The defendant violated the statute
2. The statute provides for a criminal penalty (i.e., fines or imprisonment) but not by civil penalties
3. The act caused the kind of harm the statute was designed to prevent
4. The plaintiff was a member of the statute’s protected class

Thus, you may be held responsible for personal injuries simply because you were issued a ticket by a police officer, who did not even witness the accident! Even if Negligence Per Se is not an issue, the plea of guilty to a traffic offense can be used as evidence against you in civil court.

For these reasons, a defendant has the choice to plead guilty in municipal court and have it affect the pending civil suit or have a trial. Municipal courts deal with traffic matters, not civil responsibility, and are not the place for trials that are really about civil responsibility.

To alleviate this concern, there is R. 7:6-2, which permits for an order that a plea be deemed nonevidentiary. This means that if a civil reservation is granted, your plea of guilty in the municipal court cannot be used against you in any civil court proceedings. In order to obtain the nonevidentiary reservation, a motion needs to be made at the conclusion of municipal court trial or hearing by the attorney handling the case. If the victim or their attorney is present and decides to object, a hearing will be held on the issue. Nonetheless, the presumption of the court is to grant the reservation.

It is difficult to know which accident/careless driving case is going to result in a personal injury lawsuit. The statute of limitations is two years for a personal injury action. By the time a suit may emerge, the municipal court matter could have been long decided. In fact, the failure to obtain a civil reservation may make a case easier for a plaintiff and thus a lawsuit more likely. A few questions to be considered when deciding whether a ticket should be contested so that a civil reservation can be sought:

1. Was the accident a fender bender or was there significant damage?
2. Was there an air bag deployment?
3. Was either driver taken to the hospital?

The Law Offices of James A. Abate handles both traffic matters and personal injury lawsuits, offering clients the best of both worlds. If you’re facing punishment for a moving violation in which you were involved in an accident, call us today at 908-643-7005 for a free consultation. Our office frequently handles suspended license cases in Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Hunterdon counties.

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