There are basically two types of car accident reports. The first is the official police report, created when officers respond to an accident scene. The second is an unofficial report, created by one or more parties to the accident.
Due to the high number of car accidents, and the limited number of police officers available, police are seldom dispatched to non-injury car accidents. Therefore, it’s always best to create your own unofficial accident report at the scene.
Police officers are dispatched to accident scenes when:
- Participants or bystanders have been injured
- The accident is blocking traffic
- One or more drivers are intoxicated
- Participants are being disruptive or fighting
Car Accidents with Injuries
If you’re injured in a car accident, call 911. The dispatcher will ask you questions about the type and extent of your injuries. If she decides the injuries require paramedics, she will dispatch them to the scene, along with the police.
When police arrive at an accident scene, they first decide if anyone needs medical attention. If so, they’ll radio for assistance. Their next step is to make sure the participants are out of danger, moving them away from traffic. They’ll set out flares and cordon off the area, if necessary.
Assessing the Accident Scene
Police officers receive training in auto accident assessment. Once they secure the scene, officers will investigate the accident and its causes. Police don’t normally create their official accident report at the scene. They use a worksheet, then later write-up the official report based on that.
Information police gather at the scene includes:
- Date, time, and location of the accident
- Personal information and statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Descriptions of injuries to drivers and passengers
- Detailed description of the cars involved: year, make, model, and color
- Officer’s written narrative of the details and causes of the accident
- Officer’s diagram of the accident scene and the point of impact
- Description of the at-fault driver’s actions that caused the accident
- Weather and road conditions at the time of the accident
- Type and extent of property damage to the vehicles and their contents
- Contributing factors, such as speeding, non-working brake lights or turn signals, etc.
In addition, the police may take photographs of the scene and damage to the cars. They will conduct field sobriety tests if they think alcohol or drugs contributed to the accident, and make arrests for DUI, if necessary. Depending on their assessment of the accident and its causes, they may issue tickets to one or both drivers.
If any of the cars aren’t drivable, the officer will call a towing company, either contracted with the city or designated by the drivers. Both drivers should get the service number of the police report. This is the reference number you will use when requesting a copy of the actual police accident report.
Once the scene is cleared, the police may drive to the hospital to follow up on more serious injuries sustained by drivers or passengers. When their follow-up is complete, the officers will return to the station and begin transferring the information from their worksheet to the official accident report.
The accident report can be confusing to a layman. Some items, such as roadway and weather conditions, may be shown as code numbers. Usually, the forms and their details are self-explanatory, but you may need to ask what some of the codes mean.
Three to five days after the accident, the formal police accident report should be complete. After being reviewed by the on-duty sergeant, it’s available to the public. Most police departments charge a nominal fee for copies of the report.
The Police Report and Your Injury Claim
A few days after the accident, once a claim has been filed with the insurance company, a claims adjuster will begin collecting statements from you, their insured, the passengers, and any witnesses. Even though the police report may clearly show their insured was at fault, the adjuster still has to investigate the claim.
Police officers aren’t infallible. A thorough investigation by a claims adjuster may uncover something the responding officer missed. But in most cases, the police accident report is the deciding document for determining fault. It’s usually accepted by the adjuster as the most accurate assessment of the accident.
Police reports are very persuasive in personal injury claims. Unlike the adjuster, the police officer was actually at the scene of the accident. Their training enabled them to properly evaluate the accident and its causes, especially each driver’s fault.
Claims adjusters can disagree with police officers, but they usually don’t. If the adjuster disagrees with the officer’s assessment, and the case ends up in court, there’s a 90 percent chance the jury will rely on the officer’s opinion. A police officer’s testimony has automatic credibility with a jury.
When the Police Don’t Assign Fault
Sometimes, police officers fail to assign fault in a car accident. When that occurs, the accident report may indicate:
- Adverse weather or faulty road conditions were the cause
- The accident resulted from an independent intervening force
When the police don’t assign fault, you still may be able to convince the adjuster her insured caused the collision. You’ll need some evidence that either contradicts the officer’s assessment, or supplements and clarifies it.
By coming up with additional, non-contradictory evidence, you may have a better chance of persuading the adjuster her insured was at fault. If the claim goes to trial, you wouldn’t necessarily have to contradict the police officer. Instead, your newfound evidence would only enhance his testimony.
Example: Gathering Additional Evidence
John was in a car accident and called the police. At the accident scene, the police didn’t have an opportunity to speak to witnesses. John took it upon himself to speak with some people who saw the accident and stayed to help. He got a couple of statements, including names and contact information.
John told the adjuster he had new evidence in the form of witness statements. The statements directly accused the insured of texting on her cell phone right before the accident. This is direct proof that her negligent actions caused the collision.
Car Accidents without Injuries
Because the police probably won’t be dispatched to a non-injury accident, it’s up to you to create your own accident report. You’ll need the report to help convince the claims adjuster their insured, and not you, caused the accident.
Download a free car accident report form here.
When filling out the report, you’ll write a short narrative describing the accident and the events leading to it. Include the names and contact information of the other driver, passengers, and any witnesses. Be sure to get the other driver’s insurance information. It’s also helpful to draw a diagram of the accident scene.
Make sure you send a copy of the completed form to the at-fault party’s claims adjuster. The adjuster won’t pay your claim unless there’s proof of her insured’s negligence, and unfortunately, your unofficial car accident report won’t be enough. But, because the at-fault driver will give the adjuster his own version of the accident, your report is necessary.
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