If you are involved in a car accident, piecing what happened together can be difficult where there are disputed versions of how the accident occurred. Common sense may tell you that one crucial piece of evidence or testimony comes from the actual police officer that investigated the accident, especially if that officer gave a ticket and has an opinion about who was responsible for causing the accident.
But Florida law greatly restricts how and when information from a police officer can be used, and you may be surprised to learn that many aspects of an officer’s investigation may not be able to be used at trial at all.
Using Police Officer Testimony
Part of the reason that the law restricts a party from using an officer’s findings from an accident investigation or his/her reports is the great weight the average juror would give to an officer. To many jurors, it wouldn’t matter what the evidence at trial showed—if the officer said that one party was at fault, it would likely be so persuasive such as to make almost the entire trial unnecessary.
We also want officers to conduct their investigations fairly, without thinking that what they say or do will affect a party’s civil liability later down the road.
Allowing an officer to testify in trial as to who was at fault for an accident is therefore “prejudicial error,” meaning that if the testimony is let in, and a verdict is rendered for either party, that verdict is highly likely to be overturned on appeal.
A police officer can certainly testify independently about his observations at the scene of an accident if he has independent recollection. Saying that car A came to rest here, and car B there, and that a vehicle’s occupant said her neck hurt, is certainly admissible. But the officer won’t be able to give any testimony about who was at fault or who caused the accident, or to read directly from his accident report.
(Its also worth noting that if you receive a minor traffic infraction, sometimes known as “non-criminal,” and someone suffers a minor injury, if you mail in the amount of your ticket, the fact that you did so can’t be used against you at any trial later on.)
Using Accident Reports at Trial
Even accident reports themselves are inadmissible in court, as are statements by witnesses contained in the police report. Many people in car accidents fail to get the identity of witnesses, figuring that there’s no need to have them testify if they were interviewed by police. This isn’t the case. If a witness said something and its only in a police report, it won’t get into trial.
Of course, there is no restriction on deposing that witness, or having them testify. Just because they gave a statement that’s in a police report doesn’t prohibit them from testifying at trial. It just means you’ll need their independent testimony—you won’t be allowed to just read from the police report.
Understanding what kind of evidence can and can’t be used is crucial to winning your case. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.