When you think of police reports, you might think about the official version of events surrounding the commission of a crime. However, a police report is a significant element in filing an insurance claim after a car accident.
Let’s discover why a police report is an essential element for filing a convincing auto insurance claim.
What is a Police Report for an Auto Insurance Claim?
The lead office responding to an auto accident completes a report that includes information that describes the accident. Facts related to the accident and the professional analysis of the investigating officer or officers comprise the bulk of a police report. The report should include witness accounts of the accident, as well as forensic evidence that includes photographs of tire marks.
How to Obtain a Police Report
You have two ways to obtain a police report. You can receive a paid copy from the law enforcement agency that investigated the scene of the auto crash. After completing an investigation, the officer in charge of the accident scene should hand you a receipt that contains the identification number associated with the official police report. If you do not know the identification of the police report, you can provide the traffic division of the responding law enforcement agency with the date, time, and location of the car accident.
Obtaining a free copy of the police report involves requesting a copy of the report from your auto insurance company. Your insurer might not have a copy of the police report on file, but asking for the report can save you money. The important thing to remember that regardless of how you obtain the police report, it takes the responding law enforcement officer a few weeks to complete the report.
What is in a Police Report?
When the responding officer arrives at the scene of a car accident, you should notice several tasks the officer completes in a timely manner. The officer inspects every vehicle involved in the crash, as well as interviews witnesses, measures traveling distances, and takes photographs of the forensic evidence. After completing the analysis stage of the police report process, the responding officer should provide you with contact information and an explanation about the rest of the process.
A police report should contain the following information:
- Date, time, and location of the accident
- Contact information for each driver
- Contact information for each witness
- Statement from each witness
- The extent of damage done to each vehicle
- Weather conditions at the time of the crash
- Diagram of the accident scene
- Tickets handed out for traffic law violations
- Opinion as to what caused the accident and a determination of fault
The Legal Distinction Between Facts and Opinion
Inside a police report should include a series of facts such as the date, time, and location of the accident. Determining fault in a car accident is based mostly on the opinion of the investigating officer. Your insurance company conducts its own investigation to determine fault. This means your insurer might not agree with the opinion stated by the responding officer. The responding officer might feel the fault lies with the other driver, while your insurance company determines that neither driver was a fault because of poor weather conditions.
Although it is difficult to argue with the legitimacy of facts, a car accident attorney can contest the validity of the opinion issued by your insurance company.
The Power of a Police Report
Although a police report carries significant influence in determining the outcome of the negotiations conducted with your insurance company, it does not have as much influence when introduced during a civil lawsuit. For a small claims court case, litigants typically are allowed to introduce a police report as evidence for their car accident cases. If you decide to file a small claim in a civil court, you should work with a state-licensed personal injury lawyer who understands the rules of submitting evidence.
The same principle applies to the filing of a civil lawsuit. Rules of evidence for civil cases are different than the rules of evidence for a small claims case. The judge ruling on a civil lawsuit must determine whether a police report falls within the category of “hearsay” evidence, which prevents the introduction of statements made outside the courtroom.