Admissibility of Police Officer Conclusions Contained in an Accident Report

As a general rule, police officers are not qualified to render opinions regarding causation or fault merely because they are police officers. Rather, a police officer can only provide opinions pertaining to causation or fault if they are trained in the science and possess the high degree of knowledge sufficient to qualify as an accident reconstruction expert. Absent qualifying as an accident reconstruction expert, the admissibility of accident reports is limited to the statements that reflect the officers' firsthand factual observations.

Opinions of Police Officers in Accident Reports

Generally in Texas, a police officer is not qualified to render opinions regarding causation or fault merely because they are police officers.[1] However, officers are qualified to testify regarding accident reconstruction if they qualify as an expert.[2] In Griffin v. Carson, the First Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to exclude an accident report without redaction.[3] The accident report contained the officer's narrative opinion of what happened:

Unit 1 traveled northbound 1700 Georgia inside lane. Unit 2 stopped at stop sign 1200 West X at Georgia inside lane facing west. Unit 2 failed to yield right of way stop sign and was struck in the left front quarter with the front of Unit 1.[4]

The investigator also stated an opinion the defendant “failed to yield the right of way”. The plaintiff requested the report to be admitted without redaction because it “would have provided documentary evidence regarding the cause of the automobile collision.”[5] The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to exclude the evidence and reasoned that when the investigating officer is not deposed, does not testify at trial, and nothing is offered in the way of qualifications, opinion testimony regarding causation may properly be deemed inadmissible.[6]

In Clark v. Cotton, the Court held accident analysts and reconstruction experts can be qualified if they are “highly trained in the science of which they testify”.[7] The Court further held:

As for regular police officers, sheriffs, etc., it generally may be said that they lack such training and experience as would qualify them to make a scientific analysis from physical evidence, regardless of how many accident scenes one may have examined.[8]

In Clark, the investigating police officer was prohibited from testifying as an accident analyst or reconstruction expert although the officer had eight and a half years of experience with the Department of Public Safety, 17 weeks of training received at the DPS Academy, and 350 accidents investigated during his career.[9]

Likewise in Lopez v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., the Court found the trial Court erred in admitting the testimony of a police officer regarding the cause of the accident and as an accident reconstructionist.[10] In Lopez, the officer had nine years of experience with the Southern Pacific Police Department, he had completed courses on accident investigation and reconstruction while in the police academy, he received in-service training on accident investigation and reconstruction, and he had previously investigated train-pedestrian accidents, although he had no formal training in railroad accident reconstruction.[11] Because the officer's testimony was not limited to non-technical aspects of accident reconstruction and because there was no evidence that he possessed any scientific, technical or specialized knowledge that the general layman does not possess, it was held the jury was in as good a position as the officer to form an opinion about what caused the accident.[12]

Conclusion

As the above case law shows, a party must establish the police officer possesses the requisite skill, knowledge, education, experience or training to qualify as an accident reconstructionist before the officer’s conclusions related to causation or fault are admissible. Police officers are not qualified to render opinions regarding accidents merely because they are police officers. A police officer can only provide opinions pertaining to causation or fault if they are trained in the science and possess the high degree of knowledge sufficient to qualify as an accident reconstruction expert. Absent qualifying as an accident reconstruction expert, the admissibility of accident reports is limited to the statements that reflect the officers’ firsthand factual observations.


[1] Pyle v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 774 S.W.2d 693, 695 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1989, writ denied).

[2] Bolstad v. Egleson, 326 S.W.2d 506, 518 (Tex. Civ. App. Houston 1959, writ ref’d n.r.e.); Walker v. Rangel, 2009 WL 4342505 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Dec. 3, 2009, no pet.) (mem. op.); Clark v. Cotton, 573 S.W.2d 886, 887 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 1978, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

[3] Griffin v. Carson, 2009 WL 1493467, at *1 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] May 28, 2009, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at *4.

[6] Id.

[7] Clark, 573 S.W.2d at 887.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Lopez v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 847 S.W.2d 330 (Tex. App.—El Paso 1993, no writ).

[11] Id. at 334–35.

[12] Id. at 335.

News: