ADMISSIBILITY OF POLICE OFFICER OPINIONS IN A CRASH REPORT
Written by Greg on November 7, 2014
Every day in Texas many people are injured or killed in car accidents and the crash was caused by the negligence of a driver. A Texas crash report is generally admitted into evidence in a personal injury trial as a “public record”. Because the crash report probably contains “expert opinions”, how much of the report comes into evidence is the real question.
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”.
It is well established that the admissibility of an expert’s testimony is generally within the trial court’s discretion. In many personal injury or wrongful death accidents, the parties will hire accident reconstruction experts to testify regarding the reenactment of the crash and generally who is at fault.
In order to testify, the expert must be qualified and have used the appropriate methodology for the opinions offered.
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 actually 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 CASE- CRASH REPORT ADMITTED
In McRae v. Echols, 8S.W.3d 797, the court allowed the full accident report to be admitted into evidence in the trial of a personal injury case despite the fact that the officer did not testify. Both the CONTRIBUTING FACTORS and INVESTIGATOR’S NARRATIVE were admitted with the report. The form is shown below.
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 “portions of investigative reports otherwise admissible under rule 803 are not inadmissible merely because they state a conclusion or an opinion. 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 apparently did not raise objections to the trustworthiness of the report at the time reports admission.
OTHER COURTS EXCLUDE PORTIONS OF CRASH REPORT
In Griffin v. Carson, 2009 WL 1493467, (Tex.App-Houston (Ist Dist.) 2009, a trial court required reduction of the police report which contained the officers opinion of the cause of the accident. In Griffin, officer did not testify and there was no evidence of the officer’s qualifications. The court held that 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.
It is well settled in Texas that a trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude this evidence.
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 and are issues for the trial court. There are many cases in which the investigating officer’s opinions were admitted as proper and also many cases in Texas where the officer’s opinions and conclusions were not admissible and required to be redacted from the crash report.
The trial court will have broad discretion regarding the admissibility of an accident report in Texas.
If you have questions regarding a Houston car wreck, feel free to call the Baumgartner Law Firm for a no obligation consultation. (281) 587-1111.