Crusoe v. Davis – Hearsay in Motor Vehicle Accident Litigation

Courts are very particular about the kinds of evidence they will allow for consideration. Judges have to ensure the science being presented is solid, the arguments match the facts and that courts don’t become a he-said-she-said war of words – even if sometimes, it comes down to which side you believe more.
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One type of evidence courts seek to avoid is hearsay. This is information received from other people that can’t be adequately substantiated. What surprises many people in car accident litigation is that many times, police reports – or at least significant portions of them – are considered hearsay. In many cases, even when the reporting officer is called to the stand, he or she can only attest to the information he or she personally observed – not what other people told them at the scene.

Because information-gathering from third parties is a lot of what officers do at the scene of a crash, that can mean big chunks of the crash report get excluded from evidence – both in criminal and civil cases.

This was the issue Crusoe v. Davis, a case recently reviewed by the Alabama Supreme Court involving injury to a grandmother and her 9-year-old granddaughter. As a result of the accident, plaintiff suffered various injuries, while the little girl suffered a broken arm. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and seeking collection of damages for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages.

There was a central dispute in the case as to whether the other vehicle involved in the collision was actually in motion at the time, as plaintiff alleged, or was stationary, as defense alleged.

A police report indicated the second vehicle was in motion during the crash. However, that report was stricken from evidence as hearsay. Although the officer was called to testify, he could not talk about or make references to what was in the report. This was over plaintiff’s objections.

Later, a jury decided in favor of defense, and plaintiff appealed, specifically citing the court’s refusal to allow the police report to be entered into evidence.

As appellate court pointed out, plaintiff did have another option, of which she did not avail herself. As it turned out, the responding officer was an experienced accident reconstructionist who had investigated hundreds of crashes and reconstructed dozens personally. However, rather than certify the witness as an expert and seek his opinion for a reconstruction of exactly how the crash occurred, plaintiff continued to focus on the report itself.

The state supreme court ruled the trial court judge was well within his discretion to omit the crash report on the basis of hearsay. In fact, trial courts have wide discretion in their determinations on whether to exclude or omit evidence. This is one reason our car accident lawyers drive home the importance of having a legal team with extensive experience. Having a lawyer who can make a strong argument on these matters even before trial can help ensure you go to court with the best possible case.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Crusoe v. Davis, Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Piltch v. Ford Motor Co. – Injury Lawsuit Fails for Lack of Expert Witness, Feb. 26, 2015, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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