If police were called to the scene of your accident, you should know how a police report can impact your insurance claim. Police officers are usually dispatched to the scene of an accident when:
- Participants or bystanders have been injured;
- The accident is blocking traffic or creating a safety risk;
- Any of the drivers involved are under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and/or
- Participants are being disruptive or fighting about what happened.
Because of limited police department resources, it is possible that police may not be dispatched to the scene of your accident if there were no injuries, or if weather conditions are severe. If that is the case, you should create your own unofficial accident report at the scene. To learn more about what information to gather at the scene of an accident, click here.
This page contains general information about how police reports can impact the outcome of a personal injury claim, which is a claim filed directly with an insurance company after an accident. This information may not apply to you. Only an experienced personal injury attorney can give you legal advice about your situation.
Accidents Involving Injuries
If you were involved in an accident and you or anyone is hurt, call 911 immediately. The dispatcher will ask you questions about what happened and how badly you and/or anyone else is hurt. Based on what you tell the 911 dispatcher, he or she will send police officers or paramedics (or both) to the scene.
The first thing police officers do when they arrive at an accident scene is make sure all participants are moved to safety. Next, they will determine who needs medical attention. Depending on the severity of any injuries, they may radio additional paramedics to the scene for assistance. Then, the officers will secure the scene of the accident, setting out road flares and cordoning off the area if needed.
Assessing the Accident Scene
The police officers will most likely assess the scene of your accident. Police officers receive special training in how to investigate accidents and determine their cause. Typically, police officers do not create an official police report at the scene of the accident. They may take notes or use a worksheet, then write up their official report based on that.
At the scene of your accident, police may gather the following information:
- The date, time, and location of the accident;
- The name and contact information of everyone involved, including witnesses;
- Descriptions of any injuries that occurred as a result of the accident;
- Descriptions of any vehicles involved in the accident, including license plate numbers and vehicle identification numbers;
- Details about the accident and any potential causes;
- Accounts from participants and eyewitnesses;
- Conditions present at the scene of the accident; and
- The nature and extent of any damage to personal or public property.
In addition to this information, police officers may want to take photographs of the accident scene. If you were involved in a traffic accident, police may conduct field sobriety tests if they believe that alcohol or drugs may have influenced one or more of the drivers. If necessary, they may make arrests for DUI. Depending on their assessment of the accident scene, police officers may issue one or more tickets.
Once the scene of the accident is cleared, the police may want to conduct additional fact gathering. Officers may drive to the hospital to interview participants and to check up on anyone who sustained more serious injuries. Once any additional follow-up is complete, the officers will return to the police station and begin writing their official accident report.
You should obtain a copy of the police report as soon as it’s available. You may have to pay a small fee. Usually, police reports are self-explanatory. But some information, such as roadway and weather conditions, may be listed as code numbers. You may need to ask the police department about what the codes mean.
The police report may or may not state who the police believe was at fault in your accident. It is important to understand that even if the police report assigns fault to a specific person, this does not necessarily mean that this individual will be found liable for your injuries in a personal injury lawsuit or by the insurance company evaluating your personal injury claim.
The Police Report and Your Insurance Claim
Once the insurance company opens an investigation into your claim, the claims adjuster may ask you to provide a copy of the police report. Some claims adjusters will obtain the police report directly from the police department. Regardless, you should keep a copy of the police report on hand. You may want to include a copy of the police report with your demand letter, or show it to a personal injury lawyer if you are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Even if the police report clearly shows who was at fault in your accident, the claims adjuster still has to investigate your claim. Claims adjusters know that police officers make mistakes and sometimes overlook key evidence at the scene of an accident. Occasionally, claims adjusters uncover something a responding police officer missed. But in most cases, the police accident report is the most persuasive document for determining fault and claims adjusters accept the report as the most accurate assessment of the accident.
Police reports carry a lot of weight in personal injury claims made to insurance companies. In the event that a claims adjuster disagrees with the police officer’s assessment of fault and your case ends up in court, there is a strong chance that the jury will rely on the officer’s opinion. Because police reports can be so persuasive, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer right away if you disagree with an assessment of fault contained in a police accident report.
If Police Don’t Assign Fault in the Accident Report
The police accident report may not include a statement about who is at fault. You may still be able to convince the claims adjuster that his or her insured caused your accident. You will need to gather some evidence that either contradicts the police officer’s assessment, or supplements and clarifies it. You can gather additional evidence by talking to witnesses about what they saw, reviewing photographs of the accident scene, or consulting with professionals like doctors, engineers or auto mechanics. If you are having a hard time establishing fault, an experienced personal injury lawyer can conduct discovery into who or what caused your accident.
Disclaimer: Information provided on this site is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always get a formal case evaluation from a licensed attorney if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.