BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT STATEMENTS MADE AFTER AN ACCIDENT

In a recent decision by the Second District Court of Appeal, the Court held that comments made by a person hurt in a car crash to a first responder at the accident scene were admissible even if the statement is later denied by the victim as being inaccurate. See Ring Power Corporation v. Condado-Perez, 2nd District, Case Nos. 2D16-35 & 2D16-397 (filed April 7, 2017).

A mattress in the northbound lanes of I-75 caused vehicles to stop or swerve unexpectedly. This resulted in a truck colliding with a Ford Expedition and then with a third vehicle. After this roll-over accident, the victim told a county fire rescue paramedic and emergency medical technician, who arrived on the accident scene shortly after 911 was called, that “he swerved to avoid a mattress in the road and lost control of the car and went off the road.”

The Court held that although the victim’s comments were not admissible as a statement for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment or as part of the business records exception, see Nat’l Union Fire, 754 So. 2d at 843, it was otherwise admissible as an admission, see State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Higgins, 788 So. 2d 992, 1007-08 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (“Ingalls’s statements to various physicians were admissible as admissions of a party under section 90.803(18)(a). It was not necessary to also qualify the statements under section 90.803(4), as statements for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment.”). See also Charles W. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 803.18 (2014 ed.) (“The evidence [meeting the requirements of section 90.803(18) as an admission] is admissible under the exception, and the party who made the out-of-court statement may offer evidence to dispute its truthfulness.”).

Consequently, it is very important that people who are injured in automobile or motorcycle accidents be very careful what they say to first responders. Further, if an inaccurate statement is made, all efforts should be undertaken as soon as practical to correct the first responder’s report, or at the very least, have on record the accurate statement or account. An inaccurate statement in a police or EMS report could make the difference between winning or losing at trial.