Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Police Reports Generally Not Admissible in Auto Accident Litigations

In its recent decision in the case of Phillips v. Lock, 2014 PA Super 38, No. 1634 EDA 2013 (Pa. Super. Feb. 28, 2014 Shogan, J., Ott, J., and Platt, J.) (Opinion by Platt, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a trial court properly denied a Motion to Amend a Complaint to add a new and distinct party on the morning of trial after the statute of limitations had run in a motor vehicle accident litigation.   The Plaintiff was attempting to join an alleged owner of a vehicle under an negligent entrustment theory. 
This decision is also notable for the Court’s Opinion that a police report containing statements made at the accident scene were not admissible under Pa. R.E. 803(8) or as an official record exception to the hearsay rule at 42 Pa. C.S. § 6104.
In addition to essentially finding that the Plaintiff had waived the evidentiary issue regarding the police report, the appellate court nevertheless noted that Section 3751 of the Vehicle Code specifically provides that a police report “shall not be admissible as evidence in any action for damages… arising out of a motor vehicle accident.”   75 Pa. C.S. §3751(b)(4).  
The Court additionally noted that “[a] police report prepared by an officer who is not a witness to the accident is inadmissible hearsay evidence and should not be admitted into evidence.  Nor should a party be able to get such a report into evidence in an indirect manner.”   Phillips at p. 23 citing Rox Coal Co. v. WCAB (Snizaski), 807 A.2d 906, 914 (Pa. 2002) (other citations omitted).  
Here, the Court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court in precluding the police report given that the police report did not witness the accident and the Motor Vehicle Code otherwise precludes the admission of such a report into evidence.  
The Court in Phillips additionally precluded evidence of a Social Security Disability award as such information was found not to be admissible under Pa. R.E. 803 (pertaining to a declarant’s then-existing state of mind exception; medical diagnosis of treatment exception).
The Plaintiffs in this matter were asserting that their medical expert should have been permitted to testify to records reviewed from the Social Security Administration Disability record and from a disability insurance carrier.  
In so ruling, the Court noted that the records at issue did not reference the subject motor vehicle accident.   Moreover, according to the disability records, the first date of disability was not until nine (9) months after the accident and it was indicated in those records that the Plaintiff’s symptoms had developed the night before that date of the onset of the disability.  
This decision is also notable for the court's reiteration of the rule that a  party must present a Motion for a Directed Verdict at the close of the case or a proposed binding jury instruction in order to support the presentation of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) after the entry of an adverse verdict.

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion may click HERE.

Source: "Court Summaries" by Timothy L. Clawges in the Pennsylvania Bar News (4/7/14).

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