In many car accident lawsuits, there will be matters of fact about which both sides will disagree. Sometimes, this will be things like whether one vehicle was speeding, whether the other had the right of way, whether one driver was distracted by his cell phone or whether another may have been impaired.
Often, there is circumstantial evidence that may be tend to prove one theory or another. Sometimes, third-party eye witness statements can be pertinent, depending on the credibility of those witnesses and other factors. In some cases, there may be photographic, video or digital evidence of relevance.
It’s the job of plaintiff attorneys to explore every possible avenue for clients.
The recent case of Crusoe v. Davis before the Alabama Supreme Court involved two very different accounts of how a 9-year-old girl’s injuries occurred. Ultimately, it came down to the inadmissibility of an accident report. Plaintiff argued it should be allowed, but the state overruled, finding the narrative of the report to be hearsay.
Here was the central dispute, according to court records:
Plaintiff claims that she was southbound, stopped at a red light, with her 9-year-old granddaughter in the front passenger seat. Plaintiff states as she began to turn right at the cross street, a car accelerated out of a parking space on her right and struck the passenger-side door, resulting in injury to her granddaughter, who suffered a broken arm. Plaintiff said she too was injured.
However, driver of the other vehicle testified she was sitting in her parked vehicle with the engine turned off when plaintiff’s car sideswiped her vehicle.
Plaintiff sued defendant for negligence, seeking damages for medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering and lost wages.
After hearing the evidence, jurors returned a verdict for defense. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. She then appealed, arguing trial court erred in refusing to allow the policeman who prepared the accident report to testify. Plaintiff contends that testimony would refute defendant’s assertion the vehicle wasn’t in motion at the time of the car accident.
Appellate court weighed trial court’s decision not to include the accident report/officer testimony.
It’s noteworthy that plaintiff called to testify the responding police officer ,who was a certified accident reconstructionist with 21 years of experience, and who had reconstructed and investigated hundreds of prior accidents. Rather than qualify him as an expert to give his opinion on how the accident occurred, she sought to have his narrative description in the accident report admitted under the admission-by-party-opponent exclusion of the hearsay rule.
Trial court did not allow accident report to be admitted as evidence to be read to the jury or examined by the jury. The narrative and diagram portion of the report was excluded. That report indicated defendant was in a forward motion at the time of crash.
In general, courts will sometimes exclude police accident reports as hearsay and even officer testimony may be limited, except where it pertains to the officer’s firsthand knowledge. The officer didn’t see the crash firsthand, so a good chunk of the report was excluded.
Appellate court ruled there may have been some other exceptions in which the report could have been admitted, but plaintiff did not raise any of those until after trial. Thus, based on the argument plaintiff made, trial court’s refusal to admit the report into evidence was appropriate.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Crusoe v. Davis , Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court
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