Police Reports In Car Accident Claims

A police report can be an important piece of the fault puzzle in a car accident case. Learn how to get a police accident report for your car accident claim.

If a police officer was at the scene of your car accident, chances are there was a police report generated in connection with the crash. Here are a few basics to know:

  • The law in your state may require you to call law enforcement to the scene of your car accident.
  • While police reports aren't usually admissible in court, insurance companies and lawyers give them a lot of weight.
  • It's easy to get your hands on the police report, but getting any of the information in it changed is another story.

Do I Need to Call the Police After a Car Accident?

Your state's vehicle code outlines your legal obligations after a car accident, so the answer to this question varies depending on where you live.

In some states, you're required to notify law enforcement of any motor vehicle accident that involves injuries (whether to a driver, passenger, bicyclist, or pedestrian). You may also be required to report any accident that resulted in property damage (whether to a vehicle or to real property, like a building) over a certain dollar amount.

If you're not sure what you should do (whether from a practical or legal standpoint) it's probably best to call the police after a car accident. Call the agency directly (don't call 911 unless it's a medical emergency) and tell them what happened. They will most likely let you know whether they will be coming to the scene.

If law enforcement does come to the scene of your car accident, remember to co-operate, provide any information they ask for, and answer their questions to the best of your ability. Be sure to get the name and badge number of the responding officer, so that you can follow up with the agency and get a copy of any police report that is generated.

How Are Police Reports Used In a Car Accident Case?

When insurance adjusters are investigating a car insurance claim or engaging in settlement negotiations, information in the police report will be given a considerable amount of weight, especially if the law enforcement officer made any observations or findings about who or what might have been the cause of the car accident.

If the report documents the officer's examination of the scene, discussion with witnesses, and other factors, and the officer indicates that the other driver may have been at fault for the crash, that's going to give you a lot of leverage at the car accident settlement negotiation table.

But if a personal injury lawsuit is filed in civil court, a police report can't typically be introduced into evidence. It might be a different story if your car accident case is in small claims court. Rules of evidence aren't usually as strict in small claims court, but it's up to the judge whether the police report can be considered.

How to Get a Copy of the Police Report

At the scene of your car accident, the responding law enforcement officer might give you a report number or receipt that you can use to get a copy of the police report. You would typically just call the law enforcement agency and request a report using the report number or whatever details are contained in the receipt.

If you reported the accident to your car insurance company, you might also get a copy of the police report from the adjuster who is handling your claim. They'll undoubtedly have obtained the report themselves as part of their investigation.

Can I Get a Police Report Changed?

The short answer here is that it's pretty hard to get the information in a police report changed, unless it's simply an oversight or fact-based error (the make or model of your car, the last name of a witness). If the officer who prepared the report made any kind of conclusion based on their own observations or findings, you're almost never going to get that kind of thing changed.

If you can produce proof of a factual error, and offer the correct information, you can usually contact the reporting officer and ask that the report be corrected. The officer can issue a corrected version of the report or just add a notation or addendum explaining the error.

But if you disagree with something a witness said, or the officer's interpretation of evidence at the scene, rather than trying to get that kind of thing changed in the report, your best strategy might be to come up with an effective argument refuting or reframing what's in the report.

No Police at the Scene Means No Police Report

It may be that you call law enforcement and inform them of the accident, and they let you know that they will not be responding to the scene. This is especially common in busy metropolitan areas, where police aren't sent to the scene of a crash unless someone is injured.

In this situation, make sure you exchange all relevant contact and insurance information with other drivers, get names and phone numbers of any witnesses, take pictures of the accident scene, and follow all other appropriate steps to take at the scene of the car accident.

Next Steps

Especially if the police report contains information that could hurt your chances of recovering compensation for your car accident-related losses, having the right lawyer on your side can be crucial to getting the best outcome for your car accident claim. You can use the tools on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer near you, or get more information on when you need a lawyer's help in a car accident case.

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