Paying Your Traffic Ticket Can Have Serious Consequences for Automotive Personal Injury Cases
Each year, approximately one in every six drivers in the United States receives a speeding ticket. The majority of those drivers, over 95%, simply choose to pay the fine rather than contest their citations.
Individuals pay their traffic tickets for a number of reasons. As a practical matter, paying may seem more efficient than appearing in court and a one-time upfront cost more appealing than potential attorney fees. On a more emotional level, paying may seem a favorable alternative to the embarrassment and stress of publicly contesting a ticket in court. In Florida, paying may also mean you can enroll in a Basic Driver Improvement Course to avoid accumulating points on your driver’s record and increasing your auto insurance rates, an option which is unavailable should you choose to plead not guilty and unsuccessfully defend your case.
However, paying a traffic ticket, which has the effect of entering a guilty plea to your offense, can have serious other costs and consequences in cases where the ticket relates to an automobile accident involving personal injury or property damage from which a civil suit is likely to arise.
In such cases, your guilty plea to a traffic citation constitutes an admission of fault that can be used as evidence of negligent driving in subsequent related civil lawsuits. In effect, a guilty plea to what may seem like a minor driving offense will make it much more difficult to defend your case in a later lawsuit that could involve considerable damages.
Though a guilty plea to a traffic offense can have serious ramifications, it is possible to avoid such consequences by preventing your plea from being considered as evidence in a subsequent related civil lawsuit. Pleading nolo contendere (“no contest”) in Florida, the same as requesting that the judge who presides over your traffic violation hearing enter your guilty plea with civil reservation in New Jersey, means that you do not admit or deny the charges, but will accept the penalties for the crime without protest. Because you are not admitting guilt, your plea of no contest cannot be used as evidence that you were at fault in a later civil suit. Instead, the opposing party will have to come up with independent evidence to support the accusation against you, making their case more difficult to prove.
The more immediate effects of pleading no contest are that you waive your right to a speedy trial, will be assessed a civil penalty, and may be ordered to attend Defensive Driving School or the Advanced Driving Institute. However, a plea of no contest may also, in certain cases, permit you to ask the court to withhold an adjudication of guilt, or avoid having points assessed against your license, without having to go to court.
In Florida, there are certain limitations on the no contest plea. You may plead no contest to a traffic ticket only once in any given twelve month period, and only three times in your lifetime. In addition, the plea is unavailable in cases where the violation involves a traffic accident or driving violation while your driver’s license is revoked or suspended. However, if you were charged with certain specific traffic violations such as driving with an expired or suspended driver’s license, expired car insurance policy or registration, or not having a motorcycle endorsement, you may be able to plead no contest to the charge and possibly even have your fine reduced.