When DNA Evidence Goes Wrong

On 25 September 2013 the Lee family’s lives changed forever when their 4WD Toyota swerved into the path of Nissan Patrol while exploring North Stradbroke Island. The driver of their car was at fault. 

When the driver of the other vehicle came to the car, approximately 90 seconds following the crash, he saw three young males in the back seat and helped the father – Chin-Fu Lee – remove them from the wreck. 

In the minutes following the crash it became clear that 17 year old Lien-Yang Lee was dreadfully injured – he was in fact now a tetraplegic. 

Lien-Yang’s blood was found on the driver seat airbag, which caused huge issues for the Lee family. This would turn out to be the most critical fact in the case which would take the Lee family through a legal ordeal to find justice. 

 The case has recently been successfully appealed by the Lees in the High Court of Australia, because of this DNA evidence. 

THE DNA EVIDENCE AND ORIGINAL TRIAL 

The Lee family claimed against the insurer of their car – RACQ –arguing that Lien-Yang was a passenger in the car. RACQ brought a counter claim against the Lees for Fraud, saying that Lien-Yang was actually the driver. 

RACQ’s argued that because Lien-Yang’s blood was on the driver seat airbags he had to have been driving. The Lee family in turn said that the blood could have been put there by many other ways, like being transferred from Chin-Fu’s hands to the airbag as he climbed through to help his wife. A photo showed that the driver’s seatbelt was buckled following the crash, but neither party argued that the driver was not wearing the seatbelt at the time of the crash. 

The trial judge found that Lien-Yang was the driver of the car and ordered the family to repay RACQ $660,000.00. He was convinced that the driver of the vehicle had not been wearing a seatbelt, even though neither party had argued this, and that the blood on the airbag made it more probable than not that he was in the driver’s seat at impact. He believed that Lien-Yang had been avoiding wearing a seatbelt and had – in the 90 seconds before the other driver came to their wreck – been dragged from the driver’s seat into the back of the car by his father. 

THE FIRST APPEAL – THE QUEENSLAND COURT OF APPEAL

The Queensland Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision. Even though they ruled that the driver was almost certainly wearing a seatbelt (because of evidence led about the way seatbelts work in an accident), they held that the DNA evidence was so persuasive that the Trial Judge could still find that Lien-Yang was the driver. 

THE SECOND APPEAL – HIGH COURT OF AUSTRALIA 

A second appeal to the High Court led to the Lee’s finally getting justice. The High Court of Australia found that by overturning the decision in relation to the seatbelt, the Court of Appeal had taken away a core aspect of the Trial Judge’s reasoning. 

Essentially, the Trial Judge made the decision based on a very specific series of facts, and if Lien-Yang had been driving with a seatbelt on it was highly improbable that within the 90 seconds it took for the other driver to come, he could have been extricated to the back seat. 

The High Court of Australia found that it was more probable than not that Lien-Yang was a passenger at the time, and RACQ was ordered to pay over $3 million to the Lee family. 

The High Court made it clear that in making such decisions the court has to give weight to all the evidence before it. The Court of Appeal was unduly swayed by one piece of evidence, namely the blood, without taking into account the evidence of the other driver and the circumstances as a whole. 

This case is an important reminder that you have to take all the evidence into account when considering a personal injury claim – just because there is DNA evidence you have to take all the evidence and circumstances in consideration. 

If, like Lien-Yang Lee, your life has been changed by a serious accident and you want to know how the evidence weighs up in your claim, please don’t wait to talk to a qualified and experience Personal Injuries lawyer today.

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