A police accident report is a summary of the police officer’s investigation of an accident. Filing an accident report with the police is an essential step to take after a car accident. This police report can provide valuable information for your car insurance company, and it can help protect you in the event of an accident-related lawsuit. When filing a report, it is essential that it contains as much detailed and accurate information as possible.
The Value of a Police Accident Report
You should always ensure that a police report is filed whenever you are involved in a car accident. Even if the accident is a minor one. Every single minute detail in a such a report is important and it should describe the accident in as much information as possible. Once the report is ready, the law enforcement officer will collect your personal details and then submit the report to their department. While at the accident scene, you should be sure to ask for a card with the officer’s name on it, to allow you contact him or her later if you later find out that there is some incorrect information contained in the report.
Having said that, while not exclusive, a police report helps you in the following ways:
- Helps you when you begin the process of filing a car accident claim with your insurance company.
- It can mean a faster payout time on your claim, as fault and accident details will be easier to determine with the report.
- Should your accident escalate into in a court case, your car accident lawyer will need a copy of the police report to help with that process.
Information Contained In The Report
Some of the very critical information that should be contained on any police accident report include:
- The date and time of the accident.
- The exact address and/or location of the accident, being sure to include any unique or specific road markers or intersections; railroad crossing I.D. or any distinguishing landmarks.
- The report should also describe the weather conditions at the time of the accident.
- A diagram or sketch of the accident scene: A diagram of the accident is useful when dealing with opinions as to cause of the collision and/or a fault determination.
- Pertinent information for each party to the accident. Including name, address, phone number, driver’s license number and insurance details.
- Vehicle details: Such as the color, year, make, model and the license plate number.
- Witnesses details: The full contact details of any witness to the accident should be included. Including any statements they may have to make regarding what they witnessed.
- Injuries: A description of any known or physical injuries to any parties to the accident.
- Any other relevant information.
If the report is being taken by a responding officer, be sure to read over what he/she has written down and confirm its accuracy on the spot. Review what the other parties and witnesses put down in their statements.
It is important not just in regard to an insurance claim, but also as evidence in a civil or criminal court action should it get there. If you review a police accident report and discover an error, let them know immediately and insist that the correction be made. A factual mistake, such as a misspelled name or incorrect license number could harm the credibility or even validity of your report.
Obtaining The Police Report
You can obtain a copy of the report to review within one or two days. There are two ways to get it. To obtain a paid copy of the police report, request a copy from the local law enforcement office that drafted the report. Before leaving the scene of the incident, the investigating officer must hand you a receipt with the identification number for the police report. Call the traffic division of the local law enforcement agency that responded to the scene of the car accident and pay the administrative fee. If you do not have or do not know the identification number for the police report, you can provide the date, time, and location of the car accident along with your name to assist in locating the report.
To obtain a free copy of the police report, you can ask the claims representative of your insurance company to see if they requested the report from the police, and ask the representative for a copy. It may take a few weeks for the investigating officer to complete the report, and for it to become available.
Accidents on Private Property
More often than not, you will find that the police may be less inclined to issue a police report for accidents that happen on a private property. If your vehicle is damaged in a private parking lot for instance, the police will likely not want to come out to investigate and file a police report. You will however likely need to push for this to happen one way or another, remembering that at a worst case scenario, you will likely need in dealing with your insurance.
Facts Versus Opinions
The information contained in the police report can be fact or opinion. For example, the date, time, and location of the collision are facts. Fault determinations, who caused the collision are the opinions of the police officer. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The insurance company, through its own investigation, will come to their own conclusion as to who is at fault. Sometimes the insurance company and police officer’s opinions are different. This is why there are times when the police report is in your favor in terms of a fault determination, but the other driver’s insurance company still denies your insurance claim.
Admissibility in Court
In small claims courts, litigants are permitted to use police reports as evidence in their car accident case. Judges typically will allow plaintiffs and defendants to use the police report in explaining what happened.
If your car accident case goes to trial in your state’s court of general jurisdiction, parties in these cases are held to the rules of evidence. The parties must contend with whether the police report falls within the rule against “hearsay” evidence, which keeps out many out-of-court statements.