Every day in Texas, many people are injured or killed in car accidents, and a driver’s negligence causes the crash.
A Texas crash report is generally admitted into evidence in a personal injury trial as a “public record.” But, because the crash report probably contains “expert opinions,” how much of the report comes into evidence is the real question.
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Expert Testimony Generally
Texas Rules of Evidence 702 states: “If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.”
In many personal injuries or wrongful death accidents, the parties will hire accident reconstruction experts to testify regarding the crash’s reenactment and who is generally at fault. The expert must be qualified and have used the appropriate methodology for the opinions offered to testify. It is well established that the admissibility of an expert’s testimony is generally within the trial court’s discretion. Sometimes a Texas personal injury attorney can use the investigating officer’s opinions, and sometimes they can’t.
Police Officer Testimony
A police officer may testify as to factual observations and may be able to testify about traffic laws that may apply. Whether the officer will be permitted to testify regarding an accident reconstruction issue, such as causation opinions, generally depends upon the degree of training and experience in accident investigation and reenactment they have received and whether or not they reenacted the crash.
Admitting the Police Report- a Hearsay Exception
Under Texas Rules of Evidence – 803(8), a hearsay exception is provided for admissibility for public records such as accident reports. Some courts have also admitted the police report under the business records exception under 803(6). See Sciarrilla v. Osborne, 946 S. W. 2nd, 919 (Tex.-App. Beaumont 1997).
Rule 803 (8) creates a presumption in favor of admissibility, and the burden falls on the party opposing admission to show the lack of trustworthiness.
The Mcrae Crash Report Admitted
In McRae v. Echols, 8S.W.3d 797, the court allowed the full accident report to be admitted into evidence in a personal injury case trial even though the officer did not testify. The court admitted the CONTRIBUTING FACTORS and INVESTIGATOR’S NARRATIVE. The court followed Federal Rule 803(8) and the United States Supreme Court ruling in Beech Aircraft Corp. v. Rainey 488 U.S. 153, which stated that “portions of investigative reports otherwise admissible under rule 803 are not inadmissible merely because they express a conclusion or an opinion. The form is shown below.
As long as a conclusion is based on the factual investigation and satisfies the Rule’s trust with a requirement, it should be admissible along with other portions of the report.” Id at 170. The defendant did not raise objections to the report’s trustworthiness at the time report’s admission.
Other Courts Exclude Parts of the Crash Report
In Griffin v. Carson, 2009 WL 1493467, (Tex.App-Houston (Ist Dist.) 2009, a trial court required a redaction of the police report, which contained the officer’s opinion of the cause of the accident. In Griffin, the officer did not testify, and there was no evidence of the officer’s qualifications. The court held that the opinion testimony contained in the accident report should be excluded. See also First Transit, Inc v. Hector Alfaro et al., In the Fourteenth Court of Appeals No 14-14-00063CV, 2015.
There, one officer relied on factual observations of another officer at the scene, and the crash report admitted into evidence was redacted as to the narrative opinion. In Texas, it is well settled that a trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude this evidence.
Bottom Line on Admissibility of a Crash Report
Police officer opinions regarding the cause of the crash may or may not be admissible in a personal injury trial and may or may not be admitted via the crash report. Whether or not the officer is qualified to render such opinions and how much of the crash report comes into evidence is an issue for the trial court.
There are many cases in which the investigating officer’s opinions were admitted as proper and many cases in Texas where the officer’s opinions and conclusions were not admissible and required to be redacted from the crash report.
Texas crash reports contain factors and conditions, including the officer’s observations and opinions. The trial court will have broad discretion regarding the admissibility of an accident report in Texas.