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Can government accident reports be used as evidence in personal injury litigation?

Government investigation of traffic accidents is an important public service, and the reports government agencies produce as a result of these investigations usually contain valuable information. For accident victims, these accident reports can prove useful, though there are certain limitations on their use in motor vehicle accident litigation.

First of all, government accident reports are only admissible into evidence insofar as they reflect factual findings resulting from the investigation. Legal conclusions, especially conclusions about fault, are not admissible in court as this is a determination that needs to be reached as a result of a trial on the evidence. Carefully distinguishing between factual findings and legal conclusions is, therefore, an important task for those seeking to use these reports in litigation. 

One important point about the admissibility of factual findings presented in government accident investigation reports is that they must be reliable in order to be admitted as evidence in court. There are several factors that can affect the trustworthiness of accident investigation reports. One is the timeliness of the investigation itself with respect to the accident. A timely investigation is more likely to be accurate since the evidence is fresher.

Another factor is the skill and experience level of the officials conducting the investigation. In some crashes, special issues arise which require expertise not possessed by all investigators. Yet another factor that can affect the trustworthiness of factual findings is the presence of bias or other issues affecting the motivation of the investigators. The finality of the findings and the extent of compliance with standard agency procedures are other factors to consider.

We’ll pick back up on this issue in our next post, and the importance of working with an experienced attorney in building the strongest possible personal injury case