After a car accident, any finding of fault that might be included in a police report is probably not as significant as you might think. A police report is generally not admissible in court in a car accident case, so it's not conclusive proof of anything. At the same time, the contents of the police report can be detrimental to your case, since any unfavorable details or findings can be used as leverage in a car accident settlement negotiation. Read on to learn more, including ways to fight the finding of fault in a police report.
Police reports are generally not admissible in a car accident lawsuit filed in court because they are "hearsay evidence." Hearsay is the legal term for an out-of-court statement offered as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. You can call the officer who wrote the report to testify as a witness, but you can't admit the report itself.
Although police reports are not admissible in court, there are ways to use the information to win your car accident claim. For example, you can use the report to gather the names of witnesses and begin your own investigation. Or you can potentially use the police officer's opinion about who was at fault for the car accident as leverage in your car accident settlement negotiations.
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 add 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 light 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 involving disputed facts. The report is a record of what Witness 2 said about the light. You can dispute Witness 2's statement that the light was green by asking Witness 2 questions during your own investigation of the accident or on the witness stand in court.
Likewise, even if you disagree with the way an officer summarizes your statement about the accident, 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. But before you request to amend or supplement your statement, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can talk you through the strategic advantages and disadvantages of making additional statements about the accident.
If a police report includes allegations that you received a traffic citation related to a car accident, you might be able to contest the ticket. The citation you receive will typically explain the procedure for contesting the ticket. You usually have to respond quickly, often within 30 days, or you'll lose your right to contest the ticket.
You will be required to appear in court, typically at a hearing, and testify that you did not commit the traffic infractions. You will appear before a judge, magistrate, or similar judicial officer. Your personal injury lawyer may attend the hearing with you, or you may choose to appear alone.
In most states, if the police officer who wrote the police report or issued the traffic citation does not attend the hearing, the charges will be dropped. The police officer's testimony is usually required when you contest a traffic infraction or police report. If the traffic infraction charges are dropped, you'll be in a stronger settlement position with the other driver's car insurance company.
Where the police officer does appear, you and the police officer will generally give testimony before the court. The judicial officer will then decide whether the traffic citation charge should stand. Note that if you testify in court and inadvertently admit fault or liability in the accident, your testimony may be admissible against you in your personal injury case.
For more details on how to get a police report changed, or how to dispute evidence that you caused a car accident, talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how to find the right car accident lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.