Let’s say you are in a car accident with another driver and suffer a broken arm. You call the police, and after accessing the scene, he writes a car accident report. To your surprise and dismay, when you get a copy of the report, you see the responding officer blames you for the accident. Can you still sue the other driver for your broken arm? The short answer is, yes.
As a Long Beach Car Accident Lawyer I have seen more inaccurate police accident reports than you can imagine. So just because a police report says you are at fault for the crash doesn’t mean you don’t have a good legal case. Regardless of what the report says, you can still prevail in your claim and receive compensation for your injuries.
Putting Police Reports in Perspective
A few days after the accident, the police report should be available. You should request a copy and review it for any errors. If there are mistakes, you can request the report be changed. But even if the report is not corrected, the status of your case does not change. The key thing to remember, is that the report prepared by an officer at the scene of an accident is only informational.
The officer was not a witness to the accident. The officer is not an expert in reconstructing how an accident happened. Therefore, although his opinion about who was at fault can help or harm settlement discussions with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, it does not determine the outcome, especially if the case goes to court.
A car accident report is most useful as a roadmap for the investigation your attorney will conduct. The report will state what the drivers, passengers and witnesses told the officer. The attorney will follow up with witnesses to make sure the officer properly reported what they said. Sometimes a police officer misunderstands what the witness told him. The attorney will also ask questions that can help verify your version of the accident or challenge inconsistent facts.
In addition to witness statements, the report will include any accident related evidence the officer found at the scene. This can help the accident reconstruction expert your attorney uses.
What Information is Typically in a Police Car Accident Report?
The police report usually includes the following information:
- Date, time and where the accident happened
- Injury descriptions
- Personal information for each driver
- Statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Details about the vehicles involved
- Diagram of the accident scene
- Officer’s opinion about who caused the accident
- Extent of property damage
- Any contributing factors to the accident
Not every police report will contain a determination of fault. Police at a crash scene have limited information and perform limited investigations. So sometimes it can be impossible to form an opinion about who was at fault for the accident.
I represented a client who lost his leg in an intersection auto accident. Both drivers swore they had a green light. The police report said no determination could be made about who was at fault. Had the officer looked at the traffic light, he might have seen that the timing was off.
When I went to the scene of the accident I found that each time the light changed, for a few seconds, there was a green light in both directions. My further investigation revealed that not only was the light negligently and dangerously programmed, but the City knew about it and hadn’t fixed it! The city was determined to be at fault, and they compensated my client.
Why is a Police Report Not Allowed to Be Used As Evidence?
As a general rule in California, car accident reports are not admissible as evidence of who was, or should be, liable for an accident. A police report is considered hearsay. That means the report itself cannot be admitted as evidence in a court. Why is this the case? Because the officer did not personally observe the accident. He arrives on the scene after the accident. His opinions and conclusions are based on what other people tell him, not on his own knowledge.
Police accident reports are considered hearsay because they are:
- unsworn statements
- made outside of a courtroom
- prepared by someone without direct knowledge of the incident
- describing a statement or action of another person
How Can a Car Accident Report Be Wrong?
Police reports are prepared based upon what the officer sees and hears at the accident scene. There is no detailed investigation, so conclusions are sometimes made from incomplete information. Let’s look at a specific example: Say you are rear ended in an accident. The police report states you are at fault because one of your tail lights was not working. On it’s face, it can be argued that the policeman’s conclusion is incorrect. If both your brake lights were not working, maybe that could cause an accident. But why would one broken tail light be the cause? And is it possible that the tail light was broken during the accident?
In addition, as your attorney investigates the accident he obtains the other driver’s cell phone records. They indicate that the other driver was texting at the time of the accident. The policeman didn’t know that when he was at the scene. If he had, his conclusion about who was at fault might have been different. That is the reason police reports do not determine the outcome of personal injury lawsuits.
Injured in An Accident That Wasn’t Your Fault?
Your Injuries Are Personal To Me
If you were hurt in a car accident and the police report says you were to blame, that is not the end of your case. Police officers make mistakes and sometimes overlook key evidence at the accident scene. As a Long Beach Auto Accident Attorney, I have over 30 years experience working with accident reports to gather evidence that contradicts the officer’s conclusion.
I will visit the accident scene; interview witnesses about what they saw; review photographs taken at the time of the accident; and consult with experts like doctors and accident reconstructionists in order to prepare a solid case.
If you were injured in an accident caused by another person, I can help ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Schedule a free consultation with me today. Contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks. Call me at 888-394-1174 or fill out the online contact form..
You are under no obligation and you will never pay any money unless you recover damages for your injuries.
I offer bilingual services and I am available 24/7 to talk to you about your case.
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