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State law requires the responding officer to a wreck to create a police report. States generally use a standardized report form. Different states may have different rules about the reports’ availability to the public.
The police officer’s accident report is not usually admissible as evidence, although some states allow them in small claims cases. Sometimes parts of the report are admissible but other parts are not. The officer who prepared the report may need to testify as a witness It is important to understand the local rules before deciding whether to use an accident report as evidence in a trial.
Even if the accident report cannot be used as evidence, it will contain important information that might have an impact on the outcome of a claim for injury compensation. Insurance claims adjusters will usually scrutinize the report to determine whether it contains information that can be used against the accident victim. The accident victim’s attorney from a car accident law firm will often use the report as the starting point for conducting a full investigation of liability.
Accident reports are usually accurate, but anyone can make a mistake, including police officers. For that reason, it is vital that anyone in a wreck obtain and review the report as soon as you can.
Contents of Wreck Reports
A police officer’s accident report is typically a form. Normal content on the report include:
- The date and time of the accident,
- The location of the accident,
- The name, address, telephone number, and driver’s license number of each driver involved in the accident,
- Insurance information for each driver involved in the accident,
- The make, model, and license plate number of each vehicle involved in the accident,
- The name and address of injured passengers, pedestrians, or bicyclists,
- A sketch showing where the vehicles made contact with each other and their position in the road or intersection when the collision occurred,
- An identification of areas of damage observed on each vehicle,
- A summary of statements made by drivers involved in the accident,
- Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of witnesses and a summary of their statements,
- Weather conditions,
- Lighting conditions,
- Road conditions, and
- Traffic violations for which citations were issued to any involved driver.
If the officer conducts more than a basic investigation, the report might be supplemented with a narrative report, witness statements, diagrams, photographs, and other evidence.
Availability of Wreck Reports
As a general rule, the report that the officer completes is usually available a few days after the wreck. In some cities, the police report is available on the police department’s website. In other jurisdictions, you have to order the report. If the report is not displayed online, there may be a fee for requesting and copying the report.
The officer who investigates the accident will usually write an incident number on a card and give it to the drivers who were involved. That incident number helps the drivers locate the correct accident report.
Most jurisdictions treat the basic accident report as a public record and make it available to everyone. Some police departments, however, will black out personally identifying information, such as telephone numbers or dates of birth, from copies that are made available to the public.
Information that supplements the available report may or may not be made available. For example, if the officer makes a drunk driving arrest in connection with the accident and writes a narrative about the drunk driving investigation, that report might not be available while the criminal case is still pending.
When full reports are not available, it may be necessary to wait until a criminal prosecution concludes before they can be obtained. It may be possible to get withheld reports and other information with a court subpoena.
Sometimes an accident report will have mistakes. Some errors are minor and others are critical. No error, however, should go uncorrected.
Victims should take the time to review the accident report for errors. If the officer made a mistake in preparing the report, contact the officer and point out the mistake. For instance, an officer may inadvertently check the box that makes the wrong person at fault on the report.
If the officer has a different recollection of the facts, the officer might not change the report, but the officer might write a supplemental report stating that you argued your case. If the officer agrees that the report is mistaken, most officers will file an amended report.