UPDATED MARCH 12, 2020
Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
At times, a person who has been injured in a car accident through no fault of their own is still issued a traffic ticket by the police. This happens for various reasons, and in such a case the person may hear the term “civil reservation” at their municipal court date. Below we explain what a civil reservation is, why it’s used, and a proposal to change the application process.Related: Automobile Negligence, Traffic Tickets, Can I Sue If I Am Partially At Fault?
What is a civil reservation?
Occasionally, police may arrive at an accident scene and issue tickets to a driver who was not at fault for the collision. This is sometimes due to the fact that police may not adequately investigate the accident, they may not consider the statements of third-party witnesses, they may not get a chance to speak with one of the drivers due to injuries, etc. And in some cases, an officer may not know who really did something wrong, and they just issue both drivers a ticket. If a person is injured in an accident and they receive a ticket, what happens with the ticket may greatly impact a lawsuit for injuries caused by the other driver.
In such a case, if the person simply pleads guilty and pays the ticket, that guilty plea may be used against them later in a civil proceeding. But it may not make sense to go through the expense and effort of fighting a small ticket just to protect yourself regarding a lawsuit. Court Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) states that on 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.” This court rule is designed to fix the problem – a driver could plead guilty, pay a ticket, and request that the judge order a “civil reservation” under R. 7:6-2(a)(1). In a lawsuit, the defense could not use the guilty plea as evidence of an admission of wrongdoing. Therefore, if a driver wants to simply pay the ticket but thinks that they may file a lawsuit later, it is critical that they retain an attorney to make an application for a civil reservation.
How do I apply for a civil reservation?
Generally, civil reservations are granted as a matter of course in the municipal courts. Per the court rule, the order granting the civil reservation is supposed to be made at the time of the guilty plea. What often happens is that the attorney will make the application at the same time that the client is pleading guilty and the judge will order it. On rare occasions, someone who was involved in the accident may object to the civil reservation. There, the objecting party would essentially need to show that there is “good cause” to deny the civil reservation. Interestingly, the standard is opposite of this if the case is in Superior Court (for example, a very serious accident involving alcohol or allegations of very dangerous driving). In Superior Court, under R. 3:9-2 a judge may order a civil reservation if the person pleading guilty can show that there is good cause to grant the application.
But what about occasions where the person pleading guilty neglects to request a civil reservation at the time of the guilty plea? The case, Maida v. Kuskin, involves this scenario and it is presently pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court. In that case, the defendant pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and his attorney waiting until after the plea was entered to write to the court and request the civil reservation. He argued that it “was understood” that this was going to be granted and the prosecutor had no objection to it. The municipal court judge granted the civil reservation. However, in the later lawsuit the trial judge ordered that the guilty plea could be used in the civil case at trial, reasoning that the request was not made at the time of the guilty plea. The Appellate Division, however, disagreed and ruled that the trial judge could not overrule the municipal court judge. The case is now with the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rejects the Appellate Division’s ruling, the application process for civil reservations will be much stricter going forward.
UPDATE: The issue about a post-plea civil reservation application was decided by the Supreme Court and they rejected the Appellate Division’s ruling. The bottom line is that a person who wants a civil reservation must make the application at the time of the plea. They cannot go back to court some time later to make the application. Today, judges will often allow the other parties involved in the accident to object, if they would like to, and if the application is granted then the judge will instruct the defense attorney to send in an order to the court for the judge’s signature.
New Jersey Accident Attorney – Free Consultation With Skilled Attorney
The police and prosecutors aggressively prosecute traffic offenders in New Jersey, and sometimes they accuse innocent people. If someone is hurt in an accident because of someone else’s negligence and the person still received a traffic ticket, it is very important to contact a skilled attorney right away to assist with the traffic ticket and protect their rights. If you or someone you know was injured in a car accident and given a ticket, please call us for a 100% free consultation with a skilled attorney.Based in Paterson, New Jersey, Raff & Raff, LLP services clients in the communities of Bloomingdale, Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, Passaic, Paterson, Pompton Lakes, Prospect Park, Ringwood, Totowa, Wanaque, Wayne, West Milford, Woodland Park, Allendale, Alpine, Bergenfield, Bogota, Carlstadt, Cliffside Park, Closter, Cresskill, Demarest, Dumont, East Rutherford, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Emerson, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Franklin Lakes, Garfield, Glenn Rock, Hackensack, Hasbrouck Heights, Haworth, Hillsdale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Leonia, Little Ferry, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, Maywood, Midland Park, Montvale, Moonachie, New Milford, North Arlington, Northvale, Norwood, Oakland, Old Tappan, Oradell, Palisades Park, Paramus, Park Ridge, Ramsey, Ridgefield, Ridgewood, River Edge, River Vale, Rochelle Park, Rockleigh, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Saddle River, Teaneck, Tenafly, Teterboro, Waldwick, Wallington, Westwood, Wood-Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Wyckoff, Belleville, Bloomfield, Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Orange, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Livingston, Maplewood, Millburn, Montclair, Newark, North Caldwell, Nutley, Roseland, Verona, Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, Secaucus, Kearney, Harrison, North Bergen, Weehawken, Elizabeth, Linden, Plainsfield, Rahway, Union, Scotch Plains, Clark, Cranford, Hillside, Westfield, Roselle, and surrounding areas.