The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently remanded a truck accident case for re-trial, after the plaintiff presented a strong case for how elements of a crash report, previously deemed inadmissible, were inappropriately entered into evidence and improperly prejudiced him.
The trial court jury entered a verdict apportioning no fault to either party, essentially creating a situation wherein the plaintiff received no compensation for his serious and life-long injuries.
Our Naples truck accident lawyers understand the primary concern of the trial court in refusing to admit the police crash report in the first place was that it amounted to hearsay because the officer was unavailable to testify at trial.
In its review, the appellate court noted the trial court hadn’t given any extensive basis for why, but noted broad discretion on such matters and the fact that the defendant hadn’t challenged. The challenge upon appeal was whether the trial court improperly allowed elements of the crash report to be entered into evidence through other means, without giving the jury the benefit of seeing the full report.
According to court records in Valedez v. Watkins Motor Lines, et al., the plaintiff was working as a delivery driver at the time of the crash. He was required to pick up vehicles purchased at auction and deliver them to a location in Texas.
In February 2006, the driver and his co-worker picked up their respective vehicles and hitched them onto a tow dolly. Each said they attached a simple tow light kit to the plaintiff’s vehicle, allowing the brake lights to be visible on the back of the vehicle being transported.
Around 2 a.m., the pair merged to exit the highway. The plaintiff testifies he slowed from about 65 mph to 55 mph. From behind, a semi truck struck the vehicle he was towing, causing his vehicle to be pushed off the roadway and into a ditch. He suffered severe injuries that resulted in him having to quit his job.
The semi-truck driver claims he never saw the tow light vehicles, and that the plaintiff was completely stopped in the roadway at the time of the crash. No tow lights were recovered after the crash, with the plaintiff asserting they had been totally destroyed.
The plaintiff filed suit against the trucker individually and the trucker’s employer. Prior to trial, the plaintiff filed a motion requesting to exclude portions of the report that included the opinions and conclusions of the investigating officer. The court instead excluded the entire report.
During trial, the plaintiff questioned a sergeant who had reviewed the accident report. He was asked whether there was any indication in the report that the plaintiff’s vehicle was stopped. He responded in the negative.
The defense took this as an opportunity to press for other details included in the report. Specifically, there were questions pertaining to “other probable circumstances” as concluded by the officer. These were made despite the repeated objections by the plaintiff.
After the jury returned a verdict of no-fault, the plaintiff appealed on the grounds that evidence regarding the officer’s conclusions and opinions were improperly entered, despite the court’s determination that such evidence was hearsay.
The appellate court agreed, reversed the verdict and remanded the case.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Valedez v. Watkins Motor Lines, et al., July 11, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circut
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Phelps v. Herbert – ATV Injuries and Duty of Care, July 12, 2014, Naples Truck Accident Lawyer Blog