Police Officer With A Level II Certification In Accident Reconstruction Not Qualified As Expert

The Texarkana Court of Appeals recently issued its’ opinion in Lopez-Juarez v. Kelley.  The Court of Appeals held that a police officer with a Level II certification in accident reconstruction was not qualified to testify as an expert witness in a negligence action that involved a multi-vehicle accident.

Specifically, the Court of Appeals held:

1.  As a general rule, police officers, based on their position as police officers alone, are not qualified to render opinions regarding accidents. However, police officers are qualified to testify regarding accident reconstruction if they are trained in the science and possess the high degree of knowledge sufficient to qualify as an expert.

2.  There is an inconsistency in the caselaw in Texas because different accidents require different levels of expertise; whether a police officer is qualified depends on the facts of each case. While a police officer may possess sufficient knowledge, skill, or expertise for one case, another case might require a greater degree of expertise. There are no definite guidelines.  In this case, the expert attended a police academy conducted by the Tyler Police Department and completed a Level II certification in accident reconstruction through the DPS in Austin.  However, the expert admitted his expertise was limited to measuring and diagramming an accident site. He further admitted he had no training in physics and did not like math. The Court of Appeals held that he qualified to testify concerning his measurements and diagrams, but that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to conclude he was qualified to testify as an expert in accident reconstruction.

3.  There is not a per se rule that the testimony of a police officer with a Level II certification is always admissible expert testimony; this is because whether a police officer possesses sufficient expertise must be evaluated under the facts of each case and the specific issue on which the expert testimony is proffered.  This holding creates a circuit split, as it is inconsistent with the Waco Court of Appeals ruling in Lingafelter v. Shupe, a case which the Texarkana Court of Appeals admits is factually indistinguishable.