After a car accident, it's likely that a law enforcement officer will come to the scene and prepare a report of the accident. The report typically documents who was involved in the accident, how it happened, who was injured, and the extent of vehicle damage. The report might also include the officer's opinion about who caused the accident. People tend to think of police reports as reliable. But what if the report contains a mistake or leaves something important out?
A written police report is usually not admissible in court, but it can be a crucial tool when it comes to figuring out who is to blame (liable) for the accident. Reports also preserve key facts surrounding the crash, including contact information of all people involved in the crash and witness statements.
If an insurance claim or lawsuit is filed after a car accident, the police report is likely to be the first piece of evidence that insurance adjusters and lawyers review. So, it's no surprise that once a fact or observation is included in 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 minor 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, you can ask an officer to change ("amend") or add to ("supplement") a police report.
Information in a police report usually falls into one of two categories: factual information and disputed information. It's typically easier to change factual information than disputed information. Let's take a closer look.
An error of fact is a mistake involving objective information. An officer who transposes digits in a social security number or telephone number, or confuses the make, model, or color of a car that was involved in the accident makes an error of fact.
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, and the like. The police officer can easily attach an attachment to the report explaining the error, or might 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 example, 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 says that Driver 1 entered the intersection while the traffic signal was still green, but you think the traffic signal was red at the time.
It's very difficult to amend a police report in situations like this, because Witness 2's statement might not be 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 won't be able to have the actual police report changed. So what can you do? You can 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 up to the officer to decide whether to add your information to the existing report—in other words, you can make your case that the requested change be made, but it's not up to you.
If you want to know how to get a police report amended or whether it's a good idea to try to add new information to an existing report, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you figure out what is in your best interest and nail down a course of action.
Learn more about how to find the right lawyer. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with an auto accident lawyer for free.