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Georgia Court Reviews Suitability of Expert Testimony in Car Accident Case

police-car-1515955The outcome of virtually every auto accident case depends in large part on the relevancy and reliability of the evidence presented. In many instances, the parties will provide “experts” whose testimony serves to shed light on certain integral aspects of the case. Georgia law sets forth restrictions on the use of expert testimony in a civil proceeding. Parties must adhere to these standards or otherwise run the risk of losing the opportunity to present the testimony. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, it is important to talk with an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area – someone who is fully aware of the laws applicable to negligence cases.

A section of the statute mentioned above governs the admission of scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge. If such knowledge will assist a juror to determine a fact at issue or to understand the evidence, a witness qualified as an expert may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise. Under the statute, the testimony must be based upon sufficient facts or data, it must be the product of reliable principles and methods, and the witness must have applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case that have been or will be admitted into evidence before the trier of fact.

In a recent case, Clayton County v. Segrest (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), James Segrest died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident during a police pursuit. His surviving spouse brought a wrongful death action, claiming that the County’s Officer exhibited reckless disregard for the proper law enforcement procedures when he initiated and continued pursuit of the suspect – Lance Locke. According to the facts, Locke was driving on I-75 when he noticed a County Officer pull onto the road and accelerate behind him. At some point, the Officer turned on his patrol car’s blue and red lights, signaling Locke to pull over and stop. While the Officer alleged that Locke violated traffic safety laws and exhibited reckless driving, Locke asserted that he did not.

The Officer pursued Locke in a 45 mph zone, driving up to 110 mph. During the pursuit, Locke’s vehicle struck the motorcycle driven by the decedent – Segrest. Locke claimed that had the Officer not initiated or discontinued the chase, he would have slowed down. During the trial, the plaintiff provided two expert witnesses who testified regarding the specific law enforcement procedures and practices at issue. The County moved to disqualify the experts and for summary judgment. The trial court denied both motions. On appeal, the County argued that the court erred in denying the motions to disqualify, claiming that the experts’ opinions were not reliable, did not assist the trier of fact, and amounted to legal conclusions.

The court of appeals affirmed the court’s denial of the County’s summary judgment motion, pointing out that there were issues of fact for the jury to decide. Regarding the motion to disqualify the experts’ testimony, the court upheld the decision to allow the experts to offer opinions as to the proper law enforcement procedures in the context of a police pursuit, as well as their authority to offer opinions as to whether the Officer violated the pursuit policy. But the court reversed the decision allowing the experts to testify as to whether the Officer acted in “reckless disregard,” or whether the pursuit “proximately caused” the death, since these opinions constitute legal conclusions, which would not assist the trier of fact.

This case illustrates a court’s authority to monitor the admission of expert testimony in car accident cases, and the need to understand the legal standards applicable to such situations. An experienced injury attorney who handles auto accident claims would be able to assess your case and provide the best strategy for a recovery.  Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling motorcycle accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another’s negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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