A vehicle accident report, more commonly known as a police report, is a detailed record that is written by a law enforcement officer who was present at the scene of an automobile accident. In general, most vehicle accident reports will typically contain an account of the events leading up to, during, and occurring after the accident. A vehicle accident report will normally be available approximately two to five business days later.
There are a number of reasons as to why police keep written, detailed reports about car accidents. One reason is so that they can use it to open an investigation into a particular accident. This is especially true when an accident involves a crime (e.g., a stolen vehicle). Another reason is so they can provide information to communities, which can help in deterring future accidents and/or criminal activity.
In addition, this report can be used as a key piece of evidence by the drivers or victims of a car accident in two particular scenarios. First, the report can be extremely important when filing a claim with your auto insurance company.
Second, you can use the report as physical evidence if you decide to bring a lawsuit against the driver who was responsible for the crash. It should be noted, however, that a police report can only be used as impeachment evidence if it is a criminal case due to the rules of evidence.
Finally, if you need help obtaining a police report or have any questions about vehicle accident reports in general, you should contact a local personal injury lawyer for further assistance.
What Does a Vehicle Accident Report Include?
Vehicle accident reports tend to vary by jurisdiction and on the procedures used in a specific precinct. They can also differ based on the type of police report that is submitted. For example, if the accident was the result of a hit-and-run, then the officer may draft a report that corresponds with their precinct’s guidelines for a criminal incident.
On the other hand, if the accident was just a fender-bender and both drivers are still present, then they may use a standard motor vehicle accident report.
As previously discussed above, the main purpose of a vehicle accident report is to provide an accurate and detailed account of a motor vehicle accident. Although there may be various types of reports and different procedures used in each jurisdiction, a vehicle accident report will generally include some of the following details:
- The name and contact information of the drivers, passengers, witnesses, and/or property owners (note that at the very least it must contain the names of the drivers to the crash);
- The place, time, and date of when the car accident occurred;
- A description of the drivers that were involved in the accident, along with their driver license and registration numbers, auto insurance information, and license plates;
- Whether any injuries were sustained by the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, etc., and what those injuries were;
- Statements about the accident from all parties involved;
- The weather and/or road conditions at the time of the accident (e.g., sunny, rainy, icy, slippery, etc.);
- Whether there was any damage done to the cars or the surrounding property (e.g., mailboxes), and if so, a description of what that damage was;
- A description of the motor vehicles involved in the accident; and
- What laws were violated if any (e.g., speeding, drunk driving, hit-and-run, etc.).
Can I Sue the Driver Who Caused My Car Accident?
If another driver was negligent in causing the car accident, then the individual who was not responsible for causing the accident may be able to recover damages from them. They can do this by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Every driver has a basic legal duty to operate their vehicle in a manner that is mindful of and not harmful to other persons or objects. These include other drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, passengers, property, and so forth.
In general, the standard of negligence applied in car accident cases is a failure to use the same level of care that a reasonable ordinary person would use in the same situation or under similar circumstances as that of the car accident. However, this may change slightly depending on the laws of the jurisdiction hearing the case.
If the individual who did not cause the accident (i.e., the plaintiff) can prove that the other driver (i.e., the defendant) breached this duty and standard, which in turn, caused the accident and any resulting injuries, then they may be able to collect damages. Some common types of damages that a prevailing plaintiff may receive include economic, non-economic, and/or punitive damages.
In other words, the plaintiff will need to prove the four elements of negligence to be eligible for compensation: duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual damages. These elements may be demonstrated by a variety of different kinds of evidence, such as witness testimony, photos, video recordings, and so on. A police report can sometimes serve as valuable evidence as well.
How Can a Vehicle Accident Report Help Me?
One of the primary ways in which a vehicle accident report can help an individual is that it can prove that the accident actually took place. Another reason as to why a vehicle accident report may be useful is because it can be used to identify which insurance carrier to contact. It will also put the insurance carrier on notice that an accident occurred and that they should be on alert that a claim may soon be submitted.
In some states, the law enforcement officer who is present at the scene of the accident will declare who is at fault based on the surrounding evidence. In such states, the vehicle accident report can then be used as evidence to support the causation element of a negligence claim. In other words, it can be used to show that the driver was both the actual and proximate cause of the resulting accident.
For instance, a vehicle accident report may state that the driver was the actual cause of an accident because if not for the driver crashing into the plaintiff, then the accident would not have occurred.
In addition, a vehicle accident report can be used to document injuries immediately after they occur and can link those injuries to the accident. This can be very beneficial for an individual who is trying to claim damages because it is sometimes difficult to recall how a person was feeling if they are in shock right after an accident. Such injuries that may be documented in the report include:
- Head and/or neck injuries;
- Injuries related to whiplash;
- Spine or back injuries;
- Lacerations or broken bones; and
- Various other conditions that might require medical attention.
On the other hand, a defendant can sometimes attempt to use the same vehicle accident report to prove that they are not liable for causing the accident. For example, if the plaintiff’s injuries have changed or do not match the statements contained in the police report, then it could hinder the plaintiff’s ability to recover damages.
One last note that is important to keep in mind is that it is illegal to provide false information in a vehicle accident report. If an individual does provide false information to the police, it can lead to serious legal ramifications.
Should I Contact a Lawyer about a Police Report?
If you need assistance with obtaining a vehicle accident report, you should speak to a local car accident lawyer immediately for further guidance. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you get your police report from the right law enforcement sources. If there is still an issue in getting the police report, your attorney can hire an outside investigator to look into it.
Your attorney can also review the police report to make sure it is accurate and can advocate on your behalf if anything included in the report is inaccurate. Additionally, your lawyer can also help you file a lawsuit against the other driver and can assist you in recovering monetary damages.