Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

The Accident Report Favors Our Driver. Liability’s A Lock! Or Is It?

Taxi Sign Close UpA taxi cab hits the back of a small pickup truck.  Witnesses place blame on the cab.  The officer tickets the cabbie.  The officer prepares a traffic accident report.  The report says the cab driver is at-fault.

When trial comes around, the judge admits the traffic report into evidence.  In the case of Frias v. Valle, 101 Nev. 219, 698 P.2d 875 (1985), the Nevada Supreme Court reviewed the evidence and sent the case back to be tried again.  But why?

The Court explained the traffic accident report should not have been admitted.  But liability was clear cut.  Why shouldn’t the jury have a chance to see the traffic accident report?

The court gives three reasons.

First, the traffic accident report includes third-party witness statements.  Generally non-party statements are inadmissible hearsay.  To get those statements into evidence, the parties would have to call the witness to testify about what they observed.

Second, the report includes the opinions of the officer.  The court explains, “The conclusions of Officer Sowder, based upon statements of third parties and a cursory inspection of the scene, did not qualify him to testify as to who was at fault.”  101 Nev. at 221.  The Jury gets to decide which party is at-fault.  Not the officer.

Third, the report identifies the cabbie as having received a ticket.  Evidence of who got the ticket is just a backdoor way of getting the officer’s opinion into evidence.  The court explained it was error to let in evidence of who got the ticket.

Consequently, the facts included in an accident report may be helpful in evaluating the case, but you can’t expect that all of those facts will be automatically admitted into evidence using the report itself.  Be prepared, if the case goes to trial, to gather the facts from the original source, such as from the witness himself or from photos, to get that evidence before the jury.

Please contact Mike Mills at Mills & Associates regarding questions related to Nevada Trucking, Nevada Coverage and Nevada Bad Faith suits.  Mike can be reached at 702-240-6060.  And be sure to subscribe to the Nevada Law Blogs.