Can Police Officer Say Which Driver Is At Fault in a Trial?

Ticket for Texting and DrivingWhat if you have been in a car accident in Fort Worth and it was clearly the other driver’s fault for rear-ending you? But when the police officer arrives, the other driver argues loudly that you slammed on your brakes. The officer finds that you — or both of you — are at fault. What do you think will happen when you make a claim against the other driver to recover your damages? When the insurance company denies or minimizes your claim and you have to file a lawsuit, can the police officer testify in court that you were at fault? This is a problem that a personal injury lawyer sees often and it requires immediate attention so that you get paid for your damages.

How important is the report of the police officer?

A police report is required to be written for any car crash where a driver reports physical injuries or the property damage appears to be at least $1,000.00 under the Texas Transportation Code. This must be 99% of all wrecks. But we see many officers leaving without writing reports, even when there is  substantial vehicle damage or someone was injured.

Without a police report, your case is jeopardized. Important details that identify the other driver, what he admitted to, the name of his insurance company and his policy number, the names and phone numbers of eyewitnesses and what they observed, how the car accident happened, the location, speed limits, lighting, weather, obstructions to vision, the name, badge number, and city employing the officer, and other critical information can be lost.

The police report is heavily relied upon by insurance company adjusters and attorneys when determining fault and deciding if they will fight the claim or pay it.  The police report is Exhibit A. The officer is the key witness, even though he didn’t actually witness the wreck. When he testifies in uniform at trial, the jury will rely upon his findings.

Can’t the report be kept out of evidence as hearsay?

Like with many legal answers, the answer is complicated. Generally, statements that are made outside of the courtroomn are hearsay and are not admitted. But the police report can be admitted as a government or business record, exceptions to the hearsay rule in the Texas Rules of Evidence. However if the report is untrustworthy, it will not be introduced.

The officer can testify as to what the involved drivers said to him, but not eyewitnesses since that would contain hearsay.

Is everything in the report admitted?

No. These two key pieces of information in the report must be redacted:

(1) Liability insurance and

(2) Citations issued.

Liability insurance, or the lack of insurance, is kept from the jury because it is considered prejudical. Courts are concerned that if jurors find out that if a driver is covered by a State Farm policy, they may award the injured plaintiff more compensation than if the at-fault driver is not insured.

Further,whether a traffic ticket was issued is not allowed. But there is a fine line regulating which negligent acts can be admitted by the trial court to prove liability. This issue can be a conundrum for the judge to determine.

This is an involved topic that depends on whether a negligent act is reviewed under an “ordinary care” standard or whether a statute has been violated (negligence per se).

The court can determine fault that the defendant driver was

  • Exceeding the speed limit
  • Failing to yield the right of way at an intersection;
  • Failing to maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of your vehicle;
  • Driving while intoxicated; and
  • Motor carrier failing to inspect its commercial vehicle and ensuring it is safe operating condition before the trip

On the other hand, the following are statutory violations:

  • Not driving on the right side of the road;
  • Allowing an driver without a license to operate a vehicle;
  • Not stopping for a red light;
  • Not exercising care and colliding with a pedestrian; and
  • Allowing an employee without a driver’s license to operate a company vehicle

Can the police officer testify in court?

Again, the answer is not simple. There is a split in legal authorities, with some Texas court decisions supporting the officer testifying and and others not allowing him to. The officer has to be proven to be a qualified expert. His experience, training, certification level as an accident reconstruction training expert, and other criteria are used.

Under the landmark 1990’s decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms. and the Texas Supreme Court  in E.I. du Pont de Nemours v. Robinson, there are six factors for a scientific expert’s testimony to be reliable. It is up to the trial court to use these six factors or use other means to determine the officer’s credibility.

Berenson Injury Law immediately gets the police report at no cost to our clients and scrutinizes it. We try to talk to the officer and see if there are other notes or photos that we can obtain. If there are errors made, we ask him to correct them. We immediately investigate the case and do everything possible to get our clients the compensation they deserve.

Contact us if you have any questions about your automobile or truck crash.

For more on this topic please read:

How Police Report Can Make or Break Your Case

 

 

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