Why the Police Report Matters After a Traffic Accident

Most car accidents of any significance are investigated by the local police. Typically, the police officer will drive to the scene of the wreck, interview all involved drivers, interview any witnesses, inspect the vehicles, inspect the scene, and complete a written accident report that same day. While this may seem very routine, the police report can actually become a crucial document for establishing the initial facts about a wreck, especially if there is a later personal injury claim. To help clear up any confusion, here are some important things that accident victims need to understand about the police report.

What the Police Report for an Accident Includes

The police report usually includes a lot of important information, such as:

  • When and where the accident happened. The officer will document the time of the accident and where it happened. This means that the police report is often referred to again and again as an official document for establishing these kinds of basic facts.
  • A diagram of the scene. Many times, the investigating officer will include a rough diagram of the accident scene. For more serious auto crashes, the officer will take pictures and maybe even call in the police "accident reconstruction" team to do a detailed analysis of the crash.
  • Statements from the people involved. Usually, the officer will record what each driver says about how the wreck happened. Sometimes, an officer will also document what passengers or witnesses at the scene have to say.
  • The officer's conclusions. Typically, the officer will write a brief narrative of his or her opinion on how the accident happened and complete a "factors & conditions" section indicating who, or what, caused the wreck. Sometimes an officer will also record citations issued.
  • Property damage. Officers will document the location and extent of the property damage to all involved vehicles, as well as indicate whether or not each vehicle was towed from the scene.
  • Injuries. Police officers usually document whether anyone was hurt in the wreck, and he or she will usually also indicate the severity of any injuries.
  • Ambulance transport. If anyone is taken from the accident scene by ambulance, the officer will record the ambulance company and the hospital to which the person was taken.

What Accident Victims Need to Understand About the Police Report

The police report is the first document that establishes when the accident happened, what happened, who was involved, and even who may be at fault for the wreck, making it a key document if you later decide to file an injury claim. Police officers are typically viewed as neutral parties who are doing their job, and folks usually will generally defer to what a qualified police officer has determined in his or her investigation of a car crash. The police report is also a public document, and you should understand that your statements in that report will be available to the other driver’s insurance company, the attorneys involved, and nearly anyone else who wants a copy.

This all means that it really does matter what the police report says. Unfortunately, this also means that the other driver’s insurance company gets a chance to twist your words on the report and minimize your claim based on those statements—even if it’s clear that you weren’t sure what happened and may have been in shock at the time. 

Keep in mind that it is the police officer’s job to get the facts, not to help you win a later injury claim. While police and law enforcement officers are there to assist you at the scene and make sure those who are injured get transported for medical care, the responding officers are only interested in the facts. You will be asked to give facts and sometimes estimations, but you should be careful to note when you don’t know the answer or aren’t sure what to say. Don’t try to guess or give more information than is needed.

However, if the police report contradicts your case in some way, you don’t have to give up on your injury case. Many times, inconsistencies in a police report are something that an experienced attorney can handle.

What to Do If the Police Report Isn’t Accurate

The police report is sometimes the most important document that comes up in cases involving accident injuries, and it’s a legitimate concern if you think the report may be inaccurate. Two of the most concerning mistakes include situations where:

  • The police report faults you incorrectly. You have a good reason to be concerned about this, but your lawyer should be able to hire an expert in "accident reconstruction" who can show how the wreck was not your fault.
  • The police report says you were "not injured."  Of course it seems scary, but this is not something that typically destroys a car accident case. Many officers simply check "not injured" if the person does not request an ambulance. Most officers will acknowledge during questioning that they are not medical experts, and they will defer to what the doctors have to say. So, as long as your doctors support your injury case (if they don't, you don't have a case!), do not be too concerned about the officer's injury finding.

The bottom line is that it does matter what the police report says, but the report is definitely not the last word on all important case issues. An accident case is not based exclusively on what is contained in a police report, as there is so much more information out there that is important. However, there are some things you can do to make sure the document is accurate—or build supporting evidence of what really happened:

  • Request a copy of the police report. You can usually get a copy of the document by contacting the police station online or by phone and paying a small fee. Once you have it, look over all the details very carefully and think about what information might be missing or misleading.
  • Talk to an attorney who has experience winning accident cases for victims. If you notice discrepancies or statements that you’re worried about in the report, you can save a lot of time and headaches by contacting an experienced attorney directly. By talking over your concerns with an attorney, you can find out if the inaccuracies might be a problem and exactly what you can do to make sure it doesn’t wreck your injury case for compensation.

Are you ready to start learning more about your family’s rights after a serious accident? Get in touch with our law office at 877-724-7800, or use the Live Chat on this page to talk with a member of our team right now. For more information about taking action after an accident, as well as great tips for protecting your rights, you can also request a free copy of our book, How to Win Your Injury Case.