If you are involved in a car accident you should immediately report the crash to the local police and request to have an officer sent to the scene. When the officer arrives, ask that they begin to complete a Traffic Collision Report. This report, often referred to as a police report, will be a great help to the personal injury attorney you hire if you decide to pursue a claim for damages.
Failing to request and obtain a police report could be a disservice to your case and ultimately reduce your eventual recovery. We’ve outlined some basic information about Traffic Collision Reports including what they could contain, why we think they’re important, and how attorneys use them when representing injured clients.
What is a Traffic Collision Report?
A Traffic Collision Report is a summary of information about an accident. The report may contain both facts and opinions of the officer, parties involved, and witnesses. Since these police reports are a third-party collection of information gathered shortly after an accident, they are often regarded as reliable and accurate.
What information is included in a police report?
The information contained in a police report will vary. However, the following list includes information that is usually included in a police report as well as information that may be included in a police report. There is no right or wrong way to write a report – it will depend on specific the situation in which it is written. You can request to have the police officer at the scene to include specific information if you think it may be important. Police reports may include:
- The date, time, and specific location of the accident;
- Weather and traffic conditions at the time of the crash;
- Road conditions (i.e., if roads were under construction, cracking, uneven, or contained hazards);
- The names, contact information, insurance information, and vehicle information for all parties involved in the crash;
- Names and contact information of witnesses at the scene;
- Information about damage to the vehicles and/or crash location;
- Statements from the parties involved in the crash;
- Statements from witnesses who saw the crash;
- Citations or violations of the law;
- Preliminary determinations of fault; and
- Any other information that may be relevant.
Are police reports admissible in court?
No, police reports are not admissible in California courts. They are considered to be inadmissible hearsay. Hearsay is an out of court statement that is then used to prove the truth of a matter asserted in court. Since the police report is the statement of an officer outside of the courtroom, it is considered hearsay. In California, it is “well established that traffic accident reports are not admissible in evidence.” However, they are fair game to attorneys who want to gather information about an accident.
How does an attorney use a police report?
As you can see, a police report could contain a significant amount of information. Even though a police report may be inadmissible evidence in California, a personal injury attorney can use the information to help create a persuasive case. The police report will help to give your attorney, at the very least, a general idea of what happened and who was involved. The more detailed your police report, the more information an attorney can gather. The more details your attorney has, the greater the chances of maximizing awards of compensation.
An attorney can use information contained in a police report to:
- Determine fault;
- Determine potentially liable third parties;
- Find and speak with witnesses;
- Analyze the crime scene;
- Support later research about potential causes (e.g., weather, hazards, traffic);
- Support later research about similar accidents and lawsuits;
- Determine which expert witnesses may be helpful (e.g., accident recreationist, medical professionals, weather experts); and
- Leverage insurance companies and at-fault parties into accepting fault and negotiating settlements.
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather an indication of just how helpful a police report can be. Since police reports are a snapshot of the accident almost immediately afterward, they can help to preserve information that generally fades with time. A witness’s memory may fade and weather conditions may change. Police reports can at least provide information to guide later attempts to recall this information.
If you are involved in a traffic accident in California you should contact an experienced attorney immediately. An attorney can be an invaluable resource when you are trying to recover from an accident-related injury. To learn more about how an attorney may be able to help you, contact the law office of Joshua W. Glotzer, APC today for a free consultation.