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What to Know About Police Reports for Motor Vehicle Accidents

By
Daisy Rogozinsky
/
April 13, 2022
Last reviewed by
Boruch Burnham, Esq.
/
February 16, 2023

If you have been in a motor vehicle accident, it may be the first time that you have had to interact with police reports. A document created by law enforcement officers who respond to the scene of a car accident, police reports are often important pieces of evidence in auto insurance claims,  civil lawsuits, and criminal proceedings. In this article, we’ll explore a number of things you should know about motor vehicle accident police reports. 

1. What Is a Motor Vehicle Accident Police Report?

A police report is a document written by a law enforcement officer who responds to any given car accident. In short, it is a summary of the investigation of the accident. Usually written at the scene, police reports contain:

  • Date, time, and location of the accident
  • Details of the accident 
  • Identifying information about the people, vehicles, and property involved in the accident including names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information
  • A diagram of the accident
  • Weather, roadway, and visibility conditions of the scene
  • Statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses
  • Citations and/or violations of law
  • The officer's findings of how or why the accident may have happened

2. How to Get a Copy of the Police Report 

For your own records and for use as evidence in any insurance claims, or in connection with civil or criminal proceedings, it’s important to get a copy of the police report of your accident. 

To get a copy of the report, you can make a request to the local law enforcement officer of the officer who drafted the report. Before you leave the scene of the accident, you should obtain the investigating officer’s information and an ID number for the police report. Then you can contact the officer’s department to request a copy of the report. Note that you may be required to pay an administrative fee, although, in many states and counties, the authorities will be required to provide one for free. 

Another way to potentially get the report for free is to ask the insurance adjuster handling your claim if they requested the report and ask for a copy. This method isn’t always guaranteed to work but can be worth a try. 

Note that it can take weeks for the report to be completed and available.

3. How Insurance Companies Use Police Reports

When you make a claim to your insurance company, they will assign an adjuster to investigate and determine exactly what happened during your car accident and who was at fault. A central piece of evidence in this investigation will likely be the police report, which contains a lot of information about the car accident that they will take into consideration. 

Note that police reports will likely contain  facts, as well at the officer’s conclusions or and opinions formed based on those facts. The police officer may offer their thoughts about who was at fault, but the insurance company does not always agree with this assessment. Consequently,  it is possible that a a police report may indicate lack of fault on your part, yet the insurer may  still attempt to deny your claim. That’s why it’s advisable to gather your own evidence independent of the police report, as well as work with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney who can help advocate for you.

4. Police Reports in Court Cases

Police reports are not only commonly used in insurance claims, but may sometimes be used as evidence in connection with legal proceedings. The rules of evidence regarding their use will vary significantly based on the jurisdiction, as well as the purposes and the extent they are being used. For example, they are generally admissible in federal cases (although the extent to which differs based on whether the proceedings are civil or criminal), but inadmissible in many states which characterize such reports as inadmissible hearsay. In other states they may be admitted under exceptions to rules prohibiting hearsay, such as the “public records” exception, which is premised on the presumption that officers who fill out reports in the course of their duties are bound to accurately report the facts without bias. In other states, only certain portions of the report may be admitted (such as the facts observed and recorded by the officer at the scene of the accident), and others may not (such as the officer’s opinions and conclusions regarding who was at fault).

5. Getting Help After a Motor Vehicle Accident Case

The process of obtaining a police report and navigating subsequent insurance claims and/or civil lawsuits can be confusing. It can help to have an experienced attorney on your side who is familiar with motor vehicle accident cases. 

Not only will they be able to assist  you in obtaining a copy of your  police report, but they will also understand how the report’s contents will affect your ability to be fairly compensated for the loss and damages you suffered as a result of your car accident, as well as how it can affect any subsequent criminal or civil proceedings. 

In order to have support throughout the entire process of seeking compensation after your accident, it’s recommended to get in touch with and retain legal counsel from the outset.

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