In an August 2023 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an important ruling clarifying when and how investigating police officers must meet certain evidentiary standards for expert testimony in civil cases arising from vehicle accidents. Under the old case law, Judges sort of gave police officers a hall pass and assumed they automatically qualified as experts in certain matters.
In Miller v. Golden Peanut Company, the relatives of a woman killed in a tractor-trailer collision sued the driver and the tractor trailer company. At trial, the judge allowed the investigating officer to provide expert opinions on the cause of the accident without analyzing whether his conclusions met the Daubert standard for reliability. The Court granted the motion for summary judgment, partially based on the officer’s opinions, and threw the case out of court. The plaintiff’s appealed the ruling and the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court, so it was on to the Supreme Court for justice.
On appeal, the central question was whether police officers are automatically considered experts based on their crash investigation training, or if the Federal standard for whether an expert is qualied as an expert, known as Daubert standards, still apply. After examining differences between lay and expert testimony, the Court concluded the officer was providing expert conclusions based on specialized knowledge and therefore should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other expert witness.