The Importance of Civil Reservations in Automobile Accident Cases

This week, in Maida v. Kuskin, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed an important aspect of civil reservations.  A civil reservation is a request made by a defendant when pleading guilty to a traffic offense that his or her guilty plea not be used in a subsequent civil action.  R. 7:6-2(a)(1) provides that [o]n the request of the defendant, the court may, at the time of the acceptance of a guilty plea, order that the plea shall not be evidential in any civil proceeding.”

In Maida, the defendant did not request a civil reservation until after the hearing via a post-hearing letter to the Court.  New Jersey’s Supreme Court made a clear pronouncement that the Rule requires that any civil reservation made when pleading guilty to a traffic offense must be made in open court and not after the proceedings.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs as well as amicus curiae, New Jersey Association for Justice, argued that a victim’s right to notice of a plea and to object to the issuance of a civil reservation would be frustrated if the request was not made in open court.  The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed.

This has important implications in any personal injury case involving an automobile accident in which liability is contested.  Without a civil reservation in place, guilty pleas to traffic offenses will be ammunition for plaintiffs’ attorneys because the plea could be considered a party admission in lawsuits and used as evidence of a defendant’s negligence.

This case demonstrates that if you suffered serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident, it is very important to immediately contact a New Jersey attorney who is knowledgeable about the most recent developments in the  law.