David P. Miraldi
People in auto accidents often claim that the other driver was going over the speed limit. Sometimes one driver is allowed to give an opinion about the speed of the other car and sometimes he or she cannot. When will this testimony on speed be allowed?
A recent Ohio case spells this out. Ordinarily people are not allowed to give opinions unless they are experts in the field and can explain the technical reasons for their opinions. An exception to this rule is that ordinary lay witnesses can give an opinion about the speed of a car if that person had a reasonable time to observe the car and reach an opinion.
In the recent case, the defendant was pulling out of a private parking lot onto the public road. The other driver had the right of way on the public road and struck the defendant’s vehicle. The defendant wanted to testify that the other driver was speeding. However, the defendant did not see the other car until it was just 30 to 50 feet away. The court would not allow the opinion on speed because this was not sufficient time to determine the speed.
The defendant also argued that due to the skid marks and the amount of damage to the cars that the other driver had to be speeding. The court said that the defendant needed to hire an expert in accident reconstruction if the defendant wanted to take into consideration these factors.
Thus, although people in accidents can testify about speed, they have to have observed the other car for a sufficient length of time to be able to gather an opinion. I recently concluded a case where the defendant driver claimed that my client had to be speeding because he never saw him and he was a careful driver. This type of testimony will never see the light of a courtroom.
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