In a majority of car accident cases, a police officer arrives on scene to investigate the crash. The police officer will speak to the drivers of the vehicles and the witnesses, if any, to determine which party is at fault and if anyone requires medical assistance.
In Florida, a driver, owner, or occupant of a vehicle (and injured pedestrian) involved in a car accident are compelled to make a report to the police officer where there is bodily injury, death, or damage to a vehicle. As result, any statements and communications as the driver, owner, or occupant of vehicle (and injured pedestrian) to a police officer pursuant to an accident report investigation are privileged. Stated another way, subject to a few exceptions (i.e. criminal trial where the person’s privilege against self-incrimination is not violated, identity of the driver is not clear, or the driver makes an excited utterance), nothing you (as the driver, owner, or occupant) say to the police officer shall be used as evidence in any trial. Additionally, Florida Statute 316.066 states that the crash report may not be used as evidence in any trial, including a lawsuit for personal injury cases. As a result, even in cases where the police officer issues a citation (i.e. speeding, improper turn, etc.) to the “at-fault” party as a result of their admission, the “at-fault” party can contest liability at trial as their statements are privileged and will not be heard by a jury.
In Sottilaro v. Figueroa, 86 So.3d 505 (Fla. 2nd DCA, 2002), it was alleged that Ms. Sottilaro struck a fourteen-year-old pedestrian, Christopher Cepeda, with her motor vehicle causing his death. After a jury verdict, one of the key points on appeal concerned the interpretation of the accident report privilege that led the exclusion of impeachment evidence for a key witness. The defense wished to impeach testimony of a key witness with the accident report claiming that the witness advised the police officer that he observed Christopher Cepeda looking down at his phone as he crossed the street. The appeals court ruled that the trial court incorrectly concluded that the accident report privilege concerns statements made not only by the police by the driver, owner, or occupant of the vehicle but also uninvolved witnesses. The appeals court remanded the case for a new trial and held that the accident report privilege only applies to the driver, owner, or occupant of the vehicle as the privilege inures only to those required to make a report, not those who volunteer information to the investigating officer (i.e. witnesses). Even though the witness was friends with the Mr. Cepeda, he was not an “involved” witness who was required to make a report.
The accident report privilege can be tricky especially in cases of contested liability after a car accident. As such, if you are injured in a car accident, it is important to speak with an experienced car accident attorney. Plantation personal injury attorney Marc Lyons and Philip Snyder can help you aggressively fight your case and insure you receive compensation for your injuries. Call our Plantation personal injury attorneys today at 954.462.8035.