In many states, like Florida, it is required that anyone who is involved in a motor vehicle accident submit a report to a police officer. This helps law enforcement create a comprehensive and thorough crash report for the accident. However, some state laws also recognizes the right against self-incrimination by establishing that no accident report that is compelled under the statute can be used as evidence in a trial–and this statutory privilege applies to all of those involved in the accident, as a skilled lawyer Tampa FL trusts can attest. However, does this accident report privilege extend to those who merely witnessed the accident?
That was one of the questions at the heart of Stewart v. Draleaus, Reagle and Vincent. The underlying personal injury action in this case involved a motorcycle accident in which liability was contested. The defendant sought to introduce an important piece of evidence: a statement provided to the investigating police officer by someone who witnessed the accident. However, this witness was involved in a separate car accident that was related to accident at issue in this case; the witness had swerved to avoid hitting the plaintiffs, resulting in her rear-ending a parked car. The trial court concluded that both accidents were part of a “continuous chain of events,” and so the witness’ statement was inadmissible due to accident report privilege.
In reviewing the case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal found that the trial court made an error in applying the accident report privilege to the witness’ statement. The appellate court disagreed that the accidents should be considered part of the same chain. Second–and more importantly–the witness’ statement at issue here was provided to the law enforcement officer who was investigating the motorcycle accident only; the witness provided a separate statement to a different officer regarding her own fender bender. The appellate court noted that the second statement would be privileged, but the witness’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were not at issue in her statement regarding the motorcycle accident; therefore, it should have been admissible.
In short, while accident report privilege does apply broadly to anyone involved in the accident at issue, the statements of witnesses who voluntarily provide information to the police are not covered.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Mckinney Law Group for their insight into accident report privilege.