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Are government accident reports admissible in product liability cases?

Last time, we began looking at the issue of government accident reports and their potential value in the courtroom. This is a potentially important issue not only in personal injury litigation, but also in product liability litigation, since government accident reports can contain valuable information about the underlying causes of an accident.

For manufacturers, engineers and distributors of motor vehicles, it can be valuable in some cases to make use of a government accident report in building a strong defense against charges of product liability. In other cases, a government accident report may not be helpful. Whatever the case may be, it is important for motor vehicle manufacturers to work with an experienced attorney who can deal skillfully with evidence found in government reports. 

The first point to understand about government accident reports is that only factual findings contained in these reports may be introduced into evidence. Legal conclusions, particularly conclusions which touch upon fault, are not admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Findings which are based on third-party investigation or materials, which aren’t final, or which are closer to legal conclusions may not be admissible as factual findings. These and other factors must be taken into consideration when seeking to have these findings admitted or excluded from evidence.

In addition, the factual findings in the report themselves must be trustworthy. There are a variety of factors that can affect the trustworthiness of factual findings in a government accident report. In our next post, we’ll look at some of them and how this issue can come up in product liability defense cases. 

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