After a car accident, especially when someone was injured, it's likely that a law enforcement officer will come to the scene and prepare a report of the accident -- who was involved, how it happened, who was injured, extent of vehicle damage, and in some cases, information on who was at fault. So, a police report can paint a pretty authoritative picture of a car accident, but what if the report itself contains a mistake, or you want to change information contained in it?
This written police report is usually not admissible in court, but it can be a crucial tool when it comes to determining liability for the accident and preserving key facts surrounding the crash -- including contact information and statements from parties involved in the accident (drivers and passengers) and anyone who may be able to help piece together what happened (witnesses).
From a legal standpoint, if an insurance claim or lawsuit is filed after a car accident, the police report is one of the first pieces of documentary evidence that everyone will look at -- including attorneys and insurance claims adjusters. So it's no surprise that once a fact or an observation is entered into a police report ("Witness 2 states that Driver 1 entered the intersection while the traffic signal was still green", for example), that information instantly carries a lot of weight. Learn more about police reports and fault for a car accident.
Any law enforcement officer who prepares a police report is human, and it's not unheard of for errors to pop up in the report. These mistakes can range from negligible errors to major blunders. So, what can you do? It may seem like the police report and everything in it is set in stone once you get your hands on it, but that's not necessarily true. In some cases it's possible to have changes made to a police report -- in legalese, this is called "amending" the report, or requesting that a supplemental police report be prepared.
Information in a police report usually falls into one of two categories: factual information and disputed information. The former is an easier fix than the latter when it comes to amending the police report. Let's take a closer look.
An error of fact is a mistake involving objective information. An error of fact can occur in a police report if the officer preparing the police report transposes digits in a social security number or telephone number, or confuses the make, model, and/or color of a vehicle that was involved in the accident.
Usually, an error of fact can be corrected by simply producing proof of the correct information, typically through documentation. If you notice an error of fact in a police report, you can typically just contact the officer who prepared the report, and provide proof of the correct information -- vehicle registration records, your driver's license, insurance forms, etc. The police officer can easily attach an addendum to the report explaining the error, or may actually change the error on the report itself, depending on departmental policy.
The more difficult task is to amend a police report when you or your attorney simply don't agree with something contained in the report -- not because of a mistake of fact, but because you'd reach a different conclusion or you'd characterize something in a different way.
For instance, let's say you disagree with the details of the accident as described by a witness or another party to the accident. In the report, Witness 2 states that Driver 1 entered the intersection while the traffic signal was still green, but you think the traffic signal was already red at the time.
It's very difficult to amend a police report in situations like this, because Witness 2's statement may not be technically incorrect (or at least it may not be possible to prove it's an incorrect statement).
Likewise, even if you disagree with the wording of a statement that the officer claims to have taken directly from you, or if you feel that your statements were mischaracterized in some way, you probably will not be able to have the actual police report changed. So what can you do? Your remedy is probably to write up your own account of the accident or your observation as to certain key details, and ask that this evidence be attached to the police report. Under most department policies, it will be within the officer’s discretion whether or not the new information is included in the existing report -- in other words, you can make your case that the requested change be made, but it’s not up to you.