Crusoe v. Davis – Police Report as Hearsay in Car Accident Lawsuit

In some civil cases, there may exist a relevant police report. An example would be an accident report generated by a police officer following a crash.
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Whether that report will be allowed admission into evidence will likely depend on whether the report contains hearsay. What the court does not want is a “he-said-she-said” situation involving statements made out of course.

In order to overcome these hurdles and secure admission into evidence, plaintiffs may need to seek a qualified exception. Per state and federal rules of evidence, this usually means it must be proven the report was prepared in the regular course of official business and soon after the crash. In many cases, it’s also necessary to have the author of the report – i.e., the police officer – testify in court.

Of course, different states have different requirements and precedent for this issue, and this was central to the recent car accident lawsuit of Crusoe v. Davis, reviewed recently by the Alabama Supreme Court.

In this case, there was a fundamental dispute about how the accident/alleged injuries occurred.

Plaintiff alleged she was in the process of turning when another vehicle suddenly lurched forward and struck her vehicle on the passenger side, causing her 9-year-old granddaughter to suffer a broken arm. The driver also reportedly suffered some injuries as well.

However, the driver of the other vehicle vehemently disputed this account, and stated her vehicle was stationary with the keys out of the ignition when plaintiff approached and sideswiped her vehicle.

A responding police officer indicated at the auto accident scene that he believed plaintiff’s version, and defendant vehicle was in motion. However, in Alabama, police reports are considered inadmissible unless there are portions containing information about which the officer has direct or firsthand knowledge. Otherwise, per the 1972 decision of Nettles v. Bishop, the general rule is the report of an investigating officer isn’t permissible in evidence as being hearsay.

Plaintiff sought exception to this rule, but that request was denied by trial court, which held the narrative portion of the officer’s report could not overcome the hearsay rule. Officer was called to the stand, but could not testify about portions of the accident report about which he didn’t have direct knowledge.

As would be pointed out on review, plaintiff did have the option of certifying officer as an expert witness. After all, he was a certified accident reconstructionist with 21 years of experience who had reconstructed hundreds of accidents and investigated thousands of others. However, plaintiff did not do this, and instead, continued to press the point of the information contained in the accident report, which was repeatedly denied.

Jurors ultimately sided in favor of defendant.

On appeal, plaintiff argued trial court erred in not allowing the officer to testify as to the contents of the report. However, the state supreme court affirmed, citing state rules of evidence and the court’s discretion in applying it.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Crusoe v. Davis, Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
South Florida Judge: Punitive Damages Ok’d in Paralyzing Crash Case, Jan. 20, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog