Plaintiff Loses Case When Judge Keeps Out Police Officer’s Opinion of Who Caused Accident

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virginia denied a plaintiff’s appeal in a car accident case that requested a new trial based on the lower court’s failure to allow the plaintiff to submit the responding police officer’s opinion as to which party caused the accident into evidence. In the case, Browning v. Hickman, the court had to consider two alleged errors made below and determine if either was sufficient to grant a new trial to the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

to-protect-and-serve-542937-mThe case arose when the two parties were involved in an accident at an intersection. The defendant was traveling straight through the intersection and the plaintiff was making a left turn in front of the defendant when the accident occurred. Both parties claimed to have had the right of way. The plaintiff said he had a green arrow at the time, and the defendant claimed he had a green light.

A witness to the accident called 911, explaining that the plaintiff pulled out in front of the defendant’s car. Police arrived at the scene and, after a brief initial investigation concluded that it was the defendant who failed to yield to the plaintiff. However, that officer later told the attorneys that he wasn’t actually aware of whether the plaintiff did, in fact, have a green arrow.

Before the trial began, the defendant asked the court to not allow the plaintiff to mention the police officer’s initial opinion that the defendant was at fault because, as the police officer later admitted, he didn’t know who had the green light. The judge determined that the witness’ 911 call would be admissible, but the officer’s opinion would not be admissible. The plaintiff objected and asked for a mistrial but was refused. A verdict was returned in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

On Appeal

At issue on appeal was the admission of the 911 call by the witness and the admission of the police officer’s initial assertion that the defendant was the one who failed to yield. The court began by noting that a lower court’s ruling on whether to allow testimony will not be reversed on appeal unless they clearly made the wrong decision. This is called the “abuse of discretion” standard, and it applies often when discretionary decisions are made by a lower court and then reviewed by an appellate court.

The appellate court ultimately concluded that the lower court’s ruling should not be disturbed because it was not an abuse of discretion. Regarding the officer’s initial opinion, the court noted that it was important that the officer essentially took back the opinion in later communications with the attorney. The court agreed that, at the time of the officer’s initial decision, there was little to no knowledge of who was at fault, so his opinion was without basis.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary damages. While this case took place in West Virginia, the very same legal issues may arise in Maryland court. These issues, and many other issues that may arise in a personal injury case, are not black and white. Thus, the assistance of a dedicated and experienced personal injury attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of a case. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Mother of Child Born with Cerebral Palsy Claims Doctor Was Negligent, Maryland Accident Law Blog, May 11, 2015.

Maryland Woman’s Medical Malpractice Claims Dismissed After Missing Statute of Limitations, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 8, 2015.

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