After a car accident, any finding of fault the might be included in a police report is not as significant as many people may 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, such a report can be detrimental to your case, since it can be used as leverage in a 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 court in a personal injury case. For the most part the inadmissibility of a police report stems from its status as "hearsay evidence." Hearsay is a legal term that is defined as an out of court statement made by a person without direct knowledge, used to describe an action or statement of another person. A police report is hearsay because the police officer did not personally observe the accident. The police report is an out-of-court statement containing the police officer’s opinion. However, if the police officer did observe the accident first-hand and testifies about it in court, his or her testimony would be admissible in court.
Although police reports are not admissible in court, there are ways to utilize a police report outside of court. If you are found at-fault in a police report, the insurance company can use the report to refuse settlement or to offer a low settlement amount. On the other hand, if the police report finds the other driver at-fault, it will provide you with significant leverage during car accident settlement negotiations.
If you are found at-fault in a police report or a traffic citation related to a car accident, you may be able to contest the ticket or get a police report amended.
Where you are issued a citation, there is typically a time period in which you need to respond. The period is usually between 20 to 30 days. If you fail to contest the citation within the time period, your right to contest it is generally waived. The citation will contain language explaining the procedure for contesting the charges.
Going to Court. 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.
If the Officer Does Not Appear. In most states, if the police officer writing the police report or issuing the traffic citation does not attend the hearing, the charges will be dropped. The police officer’s testimony is required when you contest a traffic infraction or police report. With the traffic infraction charges dropped, you should have a stronger settlement position with the other driver’s car insurance company.
Testimony in Court. Where the police officer does appear, you and the police officer will generally give testimony before the court. The judicial officer will then make a determination of 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.
Real World Example. Suppose that your car was clipped after you made a right-hand turn. The police report stated that you did not make a complete stop before making the right turn. The police officer spoke with the other driver and her passengers and they stated that you did not make a complete stop. You did not make a statement to the police officer because you were transported from the accident scene by paramedics due to neck and face injuries. The police officer also issued you a citation for failing to stop at the stop sign. You contest the ticket within 30 days, as required by your state law. At the hearing, the police officer does not appear. At this point, the failure to stop at a stop sign charge will be dropped.
Getting the Police Report Changed. In some cases, you may be able to change or clarify information contained in the police report. Learn more in our article How to Amend a Police Report After the Fact.