Court of Appeal Upholds Ruling That “Incomprehensible” Police Report Was “Faulty Material”

where-there-s-smoke-there-s-fire-1313884-743x1024Sometimes a police report isn’t everything in a lawsuit as demonstrated by a recent incident in Bossier City, Louisiana involving a peculiar car accident. Physical evidence and eyewitness testimony in a lawsuit can trump a contradictory police report. Therefore, it is important that a person involved in such an incident immediately contacts an excellent attorney who is capable of sifting through mountains of information and presenting it in a way that exposes a potentially faulty police report.

This was the situation with regard to the car accident between Amanda Moreland and Dr. Abdullah Gungor.  Ms. Moreland and Dr. Gungor were driving on Benton Road in Bossier City when they crashed. Fortunately, no one was injured, but both cars were damaged.  The accounts of how the accident occurred differed significantly. The police report supported Ms. Moreland’s story, but the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony supported Dr. Gungor’s.  Based on the police report and an expert that she hired, Ms. Moreland brought a lawsuit against Dr. Gungor for the damages to her car.  However, the District Court was persuaded by the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony and ruled that Dr. Gungor was not at fault. The case was dismissed. Ms. Moreland appealed and argued that there was manifest error in the District Court’s ruling because it disregarded the police report and the interpretation of the accident by her expert.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeal found no manifest error and affirmed the District Court’s judgment as reasonable in light of the evidence.

The incident at issue in this case began when both Dr. Gungor and Ms. Moreland were driving on Benton Road. Dr. Gungor was ahead of Ms. Moreland as they both drove toward Benton Spur.  At Benton Spur, the cars collided just before a traffic light.  Both parties agreed to these facts, but who caused the crash was the matter of dispute and at the heart of the lawsuit.  Dr. Gungor’s BMW was damaged on the driver’s side rear while Ms. Moreland’s Cobalt was damaged on the passenger’s side front. This infers that Ms. Moreland crashed into Dr. Gungor from behind.  Despite the location of the damage, the police officer took statements from both parties and wrote in his accident report that Dr. Gungor crashed into Ms. Moreland.  He based his report on Ms. Moreland’s statement that Dr. Gungor “suddenly came into her lane and they crashed” and a statement allegedly attributed to Dr. Gungor that he “swerved into the left lane” because he had to avoid another car.  This police accident report was the basis of Ms. Moreland’s lawsuit against Dr. Gungor.  She also hired an accident reconstruction expert who, relying largely on the accident report, supported her argument that Dr. Gungor was at fault.

Dr. Gungor, however, disputed that he changed lanes and hit Ms. Moreland.  He argued that Ms. Moreland hit him from behind as he was waiting at a red light.  Ms. Moreland claimed that she was driving in the left lane and Dr. Gungor “jumped into the lane” and they crashed.  She admitted that she was speeding, going 40-45 mph in a 35 mph zone, to get through the yellow light as it was changing from green to red in front of her. Her expert relied on the accident report and testified that the locations where the cars came to rest after the accident were consistent with a car cutting across lanes and crashing into Ms. Moreland.  Dr. Gungor testified that he shifted into the left lane and stopped at the red light.  He testified that he was struck 4-5 seconds later from behind.  He also claimed that he never told the officer that he “swerved” into the left lane.  He even testified that English wasn’t his first language and “swerve” is not a word he would use.  Dr. Gungor’s testimony was supported by an eyewitness who was driving in the right lane and saw the accident unfold.  The witness testified that Ms. Moreland had been tailgating her as they approached the light and then passed her on the left and crashed into Dr. Gungor, who was already stopped at the light.  Furthermore, even Ms. Moreland’s expert testified that her version of events did not explain the damage to the cars. It only explained how the cars came to rest where they did.  Essentially, all the evidence pointed to Ms. Moreland being at fault.  The only evidence in her favor was the police report.

The District Court was swayed by the bulk of evidence supporting Dr. Gungor’s story.  It held that Ms. Moreland was at fault and dismissed the case.  The District Court relied on the fact that Ms. Moreland was speeding, that the evidence showed that Dr. Gungor was struck from behind, and that the eyewitness’s testimony corroborated Dr. Gungor’s recollection of events.  In the eyes of the District Court, the accident report was “totally inconsistent” with the majority of the testimony and evidence. The District Court further disregarded Ms Moreland’s expert because his reconstruction was based on the faulty accident report. Ms. Moreland appealed, arguing that the District Court erred in ruling in Dr. Gungor’s favor.  She argued that the weight of the evidence was not in Dr. Gungor’s favor and that the District Court substituted its own opinion of what happened at the accident for that of the police officer at the scene and her expert.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the District Court that Ms. Moreland was at fault and affirmed the District Court’s decision.  The standard of review was “manifest error,” meaning that the District Court’s findings would not be overturned “unless they are plainly wrong or manifestly erroneous.” Nolan v. Mabray, 51 So.2d 665 (La. 2010). Essentially, a lower court ruling will be upheld as long as it is reasonable based on the record.  Here, the Court of Appeal found nothing unreasonable about the ruling.  The law states that “a driver shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent” and a driver who crashes into another driver from behind is presumed to be at fault. La. R.S. 32:81. Ms. Moreland admitted that she was speeding, an eyewitness testified that she was tailgating and sped into Dr. Gungor from behind, and the damage was consistent with a rear-end collision. The Court of Appeal noted that the only evidence that contradicted a finding of Ms. Moreland at fault was an “incomprehensible” accident report. The Court of Appeal held that the District Court was completely justified in labelling the police report as “faulty material” and discounting Ms. Moreland’s expert reconstruction.  Thus, the District Court’s decision was affirmed.

This case demonstrates the importance of seeking legal counsel from an excellent attorney who can make sense of a confusing case with conflicting testimony.  A good lawyer can sift through the evidence and help you determine how to proceed. This is particularly appropriate regarding an appeal because appeals tend to be lengthy, costly, and difficult to win.

Additional Sources: AMANDA MORELAND VERSUS ABDULLAH GUNGOR AND FARMERS TEXAS COUNTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Aaron Osche

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Police Reports and Evidence: Summary Judgment in a Car Accident: the Complexities and Value of Police Reports/Record