When law enforcement is called to the scene of a car accident, the officer will generate a report on the crash. It will contain important information on the facts of what happened as well as the officer’s impression of who was at fault, among other key issues. You can get the police report for an accident in which you were involved, usually by requesting a copy from the law enforcement agency to which the officer belongs. The officer probably will give you the identification number of the report at the scene, which you will need to make this request. Otherwise, a claims representative at your insurance company may be able to help you get the report.
Understanding a Police Report
A police officer usually will investigate the scene thoroughly so that they can include many types of information in the report. Some of these pieces of information are facts, while others are merely the opinions of the police officer. Examples of factual pieces of information include the date, time, and place of the crash, the identifying information of drivers and any witnesses, weather and road conditions, and areas of the vehicles that were damaged. The police officer also may create a diagram of the accident scene and collect statements from parties and witnesses.
By contrast, statements about what caused the collision and who was at fault for it are opinions. These are not binding and may not align with the views of insurance companies, which will undertake their own investigations.
Using a Police Report
Whether a police report is admissible in court in a car accident case can be a complicated question. The answer may depend on the rules of evidence in your state. A police report may fall within the definition of hearsay, which is not admissible. Hearsay generally consists of an out-of-court statement introduced to prove the truth of the statement. In some states, however, there is an exception for public records or business records when a statement otherwise would be hearsay. This may cover a police report or parts of it.
If your case proceeds in small claims court, you probably will be able to use the police report. Small claims courts apply a much more lenient standard for admissibility of evidence than do regular courts.
Disagreeing with a Police Report
Police officers are human and can make mistakes. If you feel that the police report contains a factual error, you might be able to get the report changed. For example, if the police officer misstates the vehicles that were involved or the intersection where the crash occurred, you can send evidence of the error and the correct information to the law enforcement agency that generated the report. They should change the report if the evidence is sufficiently clear.
On the other hand, if you disagree with the officer’s legal conclusions or opinions about what caused the accident, you probably cannot get this part of the report changed. You may be able to have your version of the disputed events added to the report, but this is not always possible and depends on the discretion of the law enforcement agency.