After a minor car accident, calling the police may seem like a waste of time. But some injuries have latent symptoms, and vehicle repairs often cost more than expected. In either scenario, a police report will serve as valuable evidence to strengthen your case.
Even if the other driver admits fault at the scene, there’s no guarantee they will accept blame when you file the claim. In fact it has been my experience that defendants will often change their recollection about how the accident occurred if it is not recorded in a Police Report. If there’s a liability dispute, the police report will be far more convincing as evidence than your own account of what happened or that of the other driver.
The bottom line—you should get a police report after any accident assuming that the police will agree to prepare one. It will provide an unbiased third-party account of the crash that won’t be construed as hearsay.
What Information Does the Police Report Include?
The police report will include key details about the crash including where and when it occurred, whether there was property damage or injuries, and perhaps information about the weather and road conditions. Police will also record their opinions regarding what caused the crash, as well as statements from drivers and eyewitnesses. If the other driver committed a traffic violation, the police report will provide a description of the infraction.
Should I Get a Police Report If I Caused the Wreck?
Yes. Getting a police report is essential regardless of who caused the accident. It may turn out that the other driver intentionally caused the crash to collect insurance money. The police might find signs of fraudulent behavior when they investigate the scene.
Also, it is not uncommon for accident victims to exaggerate their injuries or property damage. If this happens, you may be able to use the police report’s description of the scene to support your version of events.
When Am I Legally Required to File a Police Report After a Car Accident?
Although you should contact the police after any collision, you are not always required to do so. In the state of California, you must report an accident to the police within 90 minutes if a person was injured or killed and you were one of the drivers. If police do not arrive at the scene, you must go to a police station and file the report yourself, but if an officer attends the scene and creates a written report, you do not have to file one.
Under some circumstances, you have 24 hours to report an accident to the police. This applies when:
- There was more than $3,000 in property damage sustained in the crash;
- You and the other driver did not exchange information;
- Police did not attend the scene; or
- A car was towed from the scene.
You are also required to report an accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles if it results in a death, injury, or property damage in excess of $1,000. You, your attorney, or the insurance company must file this report (Form SR-1) within 10 days of the crash. It will include:
- The physical addresses, names, driver’s license numbers, and license plate tags of the drivers involved;
- The insurance companies and policy numbers of the drivers involved;
- Their policy expiration dates;
- The address and name of your insurance company;
- The address and name of the person who owns your vehicle; and
- Details about the property damage and injuries sustained in the accident.
You can deliver your SR-1 form to the DMV or mail it to:
Mail Station J237
PO Box 942884
Sacramento, CA 94284
If you fail to report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles, you may face a driver’s license suspension. You do not need to report a crash if the vehicle involved was leased or owned by the United States or any U.S. state. You also are not required to report a crash that happened on your property and either did not result in an injury or death or did not involve another person.
What Other Steps Can I Take at the Scene to Strengthen My Claim?
What you say and do at the scene of an accident can have a huge impact on your subsequent claim. You should never admit fault—even if you think you caused the crash. The process of determining liability is complicated, and after further investigation, it might turn out that the other driver was responsible.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind while at the scene of a crash:
1. Don’t Wait to Call the Police
Besides creating an accident report, the police can also direct traffic and prevent altercations with anyone else involved in the crash. You should call law enforcement before you even exit your vehicle.
2. Take Photos of the Scene
If the other driver disputes liability or if something in the police report seems unclear, pictures may help corroborate your version of events. Take photos of property damage inside and outside the vehicles, the road and weather conditions, traffic signs, skid marks, and injuries.
3. Stick to Simple Facts
When the police arrive, don’t provide any unnecessary details about the collision. After such a traumatic event, it is not uncommon for drivers to inadvertently admit fault. Try to stick to simple facts about the crash: what you were doing just before the collision, how it occurred, etc.
4. Gather the Other Driver’s Information
You will need information from the other drivers involved to report the accident to the DMV and to file your insurance claim. Be sure to record their driver’s license numbers, license plate tags, full names, phone numbers, physical addresses, insurance companies, insurance policy numbers, and insurance policy expiration dates. You should also ask if they own the vehicle they were driving, and if not, write down the name and contact information of the owner.
5. Talk to Eyewitnesses
If anyone witnessed the crash, write down their full names and phone numbers. You should also record their statements regarding what happened. If the witness gives you consent, record his or her statements using your smartphone.
Call (562) 206-1939 to Speak with a Long Beach Car Accident Lawyer
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
At the Law Office of Michael D. Waks, we can help you with every step of the claims process—from gathering evidence and interviewing eyewitnesses to handling settlement negotiations. Even if you did everything right at the scene, the insurance company will still look for reasons to dispute your claim. Attorney Michael Waks can handle all negotiations with the claims adjuster and make sure you are treated fairly.
Our law firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call. If you cannot come to us, we will come to you.
Download Our Car Accident Emergency .PDF
It’s not always easy to think clearly after a sudden accident. Stay prepared by keeping our Car Accident Emergency .PDF in your glove compartment. This handy guide will help you document the scene and gather all the information you will need to file a claim.
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