Police reports can provide important evidence for your accident injury case, but possibly not in the way you think.
If you are in a car accident that results in injury, major property damage, or death, the police will usually respond to the incident and complete a police report. Officially, this is usually termed a “Traffic Collision Report.” The purpose of this report is to provide an objective summary of the events of the accident and the damages and injuries involved.
A police report can be helpful to your accident injury claim, but it is important to understand how it is used, and what information it contains.
Here are the key facts you should know about police reports.
1. Police reports have a unique service number, which is already assigned at the accident scene.
Request this number from the police officer who responds; this will make it easier for you to request a copy later. Be sure to collect information about the specific police precinct or jurisdiction, so you know where follow up later.
2. The final assessment of fault is not usually made at the scene.
The police report captures information about the drivers, witnesses and others at the accident scene, and any factors that contributed to the accident. It may include the specific vehicle code the at-fault party violated, mechanical failure, weather or road conditions. It may also include the police officer’s initial assessment of fault.
Once the officers have gathered the relevant information, including photographs and witness statements, they will make a determination of fault and finalize the report. This is usually completed within about five days.
3. You can obtain a copy of the police report.
Police reports are public records, so once it is complete, you have a right to obtain a copy. Typically, you must make a report request with the relevant police department. The police department may charge you a small fee for processing the documents — but TorkLaw will provide you with a free, no-obligation copy of your police report. Fill out this online police report form. We will order your report and deliver it at no cost to you, whether or not you choose our firm to represent you.
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4. You should review police reports carefully to check all the facts, and make sure the information is accurate.
Check the following information to ensure nothing is incorrect or missing:
- Make Sure the Date Is Correct. One of the most important parts of the traffic collision report (TCR) is the date of the accident. This is critical when calculating specific deadlines (statute of limitations) set by law that can bar you from filing a claim or lawsuit. When you get your accident report, make sure that the date is correct.
- Make Sure the Location is Correct. Check the exact location indicated for where the incident occurred, to ensure it is fully accurate.
- Party Identification: This section identifies the parties involved as Party 1 (P1), Party 2 (P2), etc. Confirm that all this information is current. An important part of this section is the “Insurance Carrier” and “Policy Number.” This section is frequently left blank or has inaccurate information. If the other party’s information is out of date, a lawyer . An experienced personal injury lawyer can order a background check and find insurance information for defendants, even if the report indicates that none was available.
- Vehicle Information and Owner’s Information: First, check to make sure you own vehicle information is correct. Then, check the other party’s information. If the other vehicle owner is different than the driver, that information will be noted in this section. This is important in determining liability and finding insurance coverage. If the owner is different than the driver, you or your lawyer should investigate for additional insurance policies that either one may have.
- Primary Collision Factor: This section will indicate which party (1 or 2) was the primary collision factor and indicate a vehicle code violation.
Did the Police Take Pictures? If so, make sure you order copies of those photos. If this section left blank, contact the police department to confirm whether any pictures were taken. Photographs will be very important to your case.
- Witness and Passenger Information: The witness and passenger information is an important part of the traffic collision report, as these people may be able to testify on your behalf if needed.
- Other Associated Factors: The police report will also include information on whether the police officer believes other contributory factors may have caused the collision. You and/or your lawyer should pay particular attention to this section as it can play a critical role in your case, especially if liability is disputed.
5. You can petition the relevant police department to have police reports amended.
Of course, the police will not accept all proposed amendments. You need to provide proof of error. Errors in police reports fall into these categories:
- A factual mistake: Simple, easily verifiable mistakes, such as listing the wrong model of car, are normally easy to have corrected.
- Incomplete information: If you find additional or overlooked evidence that was not included in the police report, and it does not contradict the officer’s testimony, it may be easy to add.
If, however, you made an incorrect statement due to confusion or disorientation or feel the officer made a mistake in judgment, these will be more difficult to change. Your best course of action is to ask for your own version of events to be added. If you feel the statements you made immediately after the accident are not reliable because you were in pain or disoriented, you should provide medical records to support that.
If the police do allow you to add a statement or additional evidence, it is important to be as thorough and accurate as possible. If you are dealing with police report errors, an experienced car accident lawyer can help you make sure the police report is something that bolsters your case, rather than detracts from it.
Statements by parties, witnesses, conclusions, diagrams, drawings, calculations, measurements etc. are all important. Our law firm routinely handles cases with problematic police reports which we are able to overcome by properly conducting our own investigation, discovery, depositions and aggressive litigation.
6. The insurance company conducts its own investigation of the accident.
When you file a car insurance claim with the relevant insurance company, you will send them the police report. They will conduct their own investigation, as part of the claims process. This investigation will rely heavily on the police report, so it is important to ensure your police report is accurate.
While it doesn’t happen very often, the final assessment of fault by the insurer’s adjuster may differ from that of the police.
7. Possibly the most important thing to know about police reports: they are usually not admissible in district courts.
It depends on the jurisdiction, but generally, police reports are not admissible as evidence in district courts. Since the police officer typically did not witness the accident firsthand, police reports are considered “hearsay,” which cannot be used in courts, except for very specific circumstances. (Police reports may, however, be used in small claims court.)
If your police report contains inaccuracies or is incomplete, and the insurance company’s claims adjuster is using that information to deny or reduce your claim, your best course of action is to contact an experienced car accident attorney. The attorneys at TorkLaw can conduct our own investigation to ensure the insurance company pays you what you are owed.
Use the form on this page to schedule a free consultation with one of TorkLaw’s lawyers, who can help you navigate the road ahead. All consultations are free, and there is no obligation whatsoever.
For more useful information about how to deal with a car accident, read our book for free online: Accidents Happen: A Consumer’s Guide to the Personal Injury an Wrongful Death System.