Monday, May 12, 2008
Go Speed Go!: North Carolina Allows Accident Reconstructionists To Opine About The Speed Of Vehicles
An opinion from late last year indicates that North Carolina has recently changed its tune with regard to the permissibility of accident reconstructionists opining about the speed of a vehicle. Back in 1960, the Supreme Court of North Carolina rendered an opinion in Shaw v. Sylvester, 116 S.E.2d 351 (N.C. 1960), in which it concluded, inter alia, that
"one who does not see a vehicle in motion is not permitted to give an opinion as to its speed. A witness who investigates but does not see a wreck may describe to the jury the signs, marks, and conditions he found at the scene, including damage to the vehicle involved. From these, however, he cannot give an opinion as to its speed. The jury is just as well qualified as the witness to determine what inferences the facts will permit or require."
As the North Carolina Court of Appeals' opinion in State v. Hazelwood, 652 S.E.2d 63 (N.C. App. 2007), makes clear, however, in 2006 the North Carolina General Assembly enacted N.C. Gen.Stat. Section 8C-1, Rule 702-i, which ovverruled Shaw and allowed "[a] witness qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction...[to] give an opinion as to the speed of a vehicle even if the witness did not observe the vehicle moving." I think that North Carolina's change in course makes sense, and its decision appears consistent with the decisions of other states across the country. See, e.g., Bryant v. Buerman, 739 So.2d 710, 712-13 ((Fla.App. 4 Dist. 1999) ("An opinion of an accident reconstruction expert witness regarding the speed of a vehicle at the time of an accident is admissible, so long as the expert's testimony is helpful to the jury.").