Admissibility of Police Officer’s Opinions in a Crash Report
Brian White | January 25, 2021 | Traffic Accidents
It can be confusing and frustrating when a crash report states that the other driver caused the car accident, but the insurance company disputes liability for an insurance claim. If the police officer who responded to the accident said the other driver was at fault for causing the crash, isn’t that enough evidence? Not always.
Accident reports are not always admissible in court. In some cases, only a portion of the crash report might be admissible as evidence. In Texas, trial courts have discretion when admitting crash reports as evidence. The party opposing the admission of the report must object immediately to preserve their right to appeal the decision if the court rules against them.
What Does an Accident Report Include?
Accident reports include a variety of general information about the accident. In most cases, the crash report includes:
- Names and addresses of all parties involved in the accident, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists
- The time, date, and location of the accident
- The general road, weather, and lighting conditions at the time of the car wreck
- A description of the vehicles involved in the accident
- The name and badge number of the police officer completing the report
- Insurance information for each vehicle
In addition to general information, the police officer might include a description of the accident and a diagram of the accident. The accident description is based on the information and statements gathered by the police officer at the accident scene.
If the police officer determines there is enough evidence to charge one or both drivers with a traffic violation, that information might also be included in the report. The police officer might also include a determination about which driver contributed to the cause of the collision.
Make sure you obtain a copy of the accident report as soon as possible. Review the report to ensure the information is correct. If the police officer made a factual error, such as the accident’s location or the crash date, contact the police officer to request a correction.
If you disagree with the information in the accident report, the officer is not likely to change the report. When you meet with a lawyer about your case, tell the attorney what information in the accident report you believe is incorrect and why.
Hearsay and Accident Reports in Texas
Under Texas Rules of Evidence §803(8), there is an exception to the hearsay rule for public records, including accident reports. Some trial courts have admitted crash reports under the business records exception contained in §803(6).
Hearsay is a statement made outside of court to someone. Generally, hearsay is not admissible in court. The person who made the statement must appear in court and testify as to the validity of the statement.
However, if an accident report is admitted as evidence at trial, the party objecting to the report has the burden of raising the hearsay objection or showing that the report is not trustworthy.
Testimony by Police Officers
Typically, the responding officer does not witness the traffic accident. The officer can only testify about factual observations. The court might allow an officer to testify about traffic laws that could apply in the case.
Whether a police officer can testify about opinions related to causation depends on several factors. The court might allow the police officer to testify about the evidence presented by experts, such as accident reconstructionists. However, the court would carefully review the officer’s experience and training to determine if the officer’s testimony could be admissible.
How Can I Protect Myself After a Car Accident in Texas?
Whether or not a crash report or police officer testimony may be allowed in court depends on numerous factors. It would be best if you did not rely on a crash report as your only evidence to prove fault for a car accident.
Instead, protect yourself by not discussing the crash with anyone other than the police officer and your attorney. Anything you say could be used against you if your testimony in court does not agree with the statements you made outside of court.
If it is safe to do so, take pictures, and make a video of the accident scene before the vehicles are moved. Capturing the vehicles’ positions, damage to each vehicle, skid marks, debris, and the surrounding area can help experts reconstruct how the accident occurred. Video and photographic evidence is also difficult to dispute when the other driver tries to change how the collision occurred.
If there are witnesses at the accident scene, try to get their names and contact information. They could leave before the police officer arrives, or the officer might not take their statement. Testimony from an eyewitness could be the evidence needed to prove you did not cause the car accident.