Find out how the police investigation and car accident report can affect your insurance claim and potential compensation.
There are two types of car accident reports.
The first is the official police report, created when officers investigate a vehicle accident. The second is an unofficial report, created by one or more parties to the accident.
Here’s what you need to know about accident investigations and how police reports can influence the adjuster handling your insurance claim.
Police Auto Accident Investigations
Police officers are typically dispatched to accident scenes when:
- The accident involves reported injuries or fatalities
- The accident is blocking traffic
- One or more drivers are intoxicated
- Participants are being disruptive or fighting
Check for injuries and call 911 after an accident.
Tell the dispatcher your location with a description of any landmarks; if you or anyone else is injured, feeling sick, or trapped in the wreckage; or if there are any immediate dangers, like leaking fuel or downed power lines.
Police officers receive training in vehicle accident investigation. 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 prepare and file the official report.
The officer will gather a variety of information:
- Date, time, and location of the accident
- Personal information and statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Descriptions of injuries to drivers and passengers
- Vehicle descriptions: year, make, model, and color
- 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.
The investigating officer may take photographs of the scene and damage to the cars.
Police will conduct field sobriety tests if they think alcohol or drugs contributed to the accident, and make arrests for DUI, if necessary. When traffic laws have been violated, the officer may issue tickets to one or both drivers.
The officer will call for a towing company if any of the cars aren’t driveable, or the driver was incapacitated.
Tip: Both drivers should get the service number of the police report from the investigating officer. You’ll use the service number when requesting a copy of the final police accident report.
If you don’t have a service number, you’ll need to provide the exact date and location of the crash along with your personal identification information to get a copy of the report.
After clearing the accident scene, 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 will include the officer’s written opinion of the details and causes of the accident, including a description of the at-fault driver’s actions that caused the accident, and a drawn diagram of the accident scene and the point of impact.
Within a few days after the accident, the police accident report should be complete. Some jurisdictions make crash reports available to the general public and some states limit access of crash reports to the involved drivers, the drivers’ representatives, and the drivers’ insurance companies.
Police Reports for Different Accident Types
When you’re in an accident with another car, call 911. Always call the police when you’re in an accident involving another vehicle. Don’t let the other driver talk you into settling the accident without notifying the police or insurance companies.
It’s too easy for someone from the other car to later claim injuries and blame you. You’d be setting yourself up for a tremendous financial risk, not to mention you’d be in violation of your insurance policy’s notification clause.
When you’ve hit an object, notify police. The police report may help your insurance company defend you against a lawsuit or claim from the property owner. On the other hand, the police report can support your claim for compensation from the property owner, for example if you hit a cow that got loose and wandered onto the road.
Uninsured motorist claims against “phantom” drivers are difficult to prove without the support of a police report and independent witnesses. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run, or your car was stolen, damaged, or broken into while unattended, call the police.
Get a Copy of the Police Report
Your car accident paperwork won’t be complete without a copy of the police accident report. The police report can have a huge impact on the outcome of your injury claim. It’s important to carefully read the report so you can correct any errors.
Contact your own insurance company to ask for a copy of the police accident report. When a claim is opened, one of the first things an adjuster will do is request an official copy of the police report. If the report is available, the claims adjuster should be willing to send you a free copy.
For a small fee, you can request a police report copy directly from the law enforcement agency who investigated your claim. Most agencies now handle accident report requests online, or you can call the police department for instructions. Be ready to provide:
- The service number from the investigating officer, if you have one
- The accident location
- The accident date and approximate time
- Your identification
If you’re not used to reading police reports, you may find parts of the report confusing. Some sections, 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.
How the Police Report Affects Your Injury Claim
After you file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, a claims adjuster will begin collecting statements from you, their insured, the passengers, and any witnesses. Even if the police report clearly shows their insured was at fault, the adjuster will still investigate the claim.
Police officers aren’t perfect. Occasionally, a thorough investigation by the claims adjuster may uncover something the officer missed. But in most cases, the insurance adjuster relies on the police accident report for determining fault.
Police reports are very persuasive in personal injury claims. Unlike the adjuster, the police officer was physically at the scene of the accident. The officer’s special training provides a reliable evaluation of the accident and its causes, especially each driver’s fault.
Claims adjusters can disagree with police officers, but it’s uncommon. If the adjuster disagrees with the officer’s assessment, and the case ends up in court, most juries will take the officer’s opinion over the adjuster’s opinion. A police officer’s testimony has automatic credibility with a jury.
When the Police Report Blames You
Mistakes in police report can be fixed, especially if it’s a factual error, like an incorrect address or name spelling. But changing the officer’s opinion of fault in the crash is much more difficult.
Learning abut the traffic laws in your state can help you convince the claims adjuster to take a closer look at your claim, instead of solely relying on the police report.
The other driver’s insurance company will not accept liability for their insured if they feel the accident was clearly your fault. Your injury claim will be denied.
By the same token, your insurance company may go ahead and pay claims made by the other driver, even when you insist it wasn’t your fault. If your insurance company accepts liability on your behalf, it makes your claim against the other driver that much harder to prove.
Fault and liability aren’t always clear-cut, no matter what the adjuster says. Many states have comparative negligence rules, meaning you can pursue compensation from the other driver’s insurance company, even if you are partly to blame for causing the accident.
Don’t give up, even if the police report implicates you for causing the collision. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your compensation options.
When the Police Don’t Assign Fault
Police officers don’t always assign fault in a car accident. When that happens, it’s usually because the accident was caused by bad weather, road conditions, or some other intervening factor.
When the police don’t assign fault, you still may be able to convince the adjuster the other driver caused the accident. 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 their 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: Additional Evidence of Fault
Nancy’s car slid on a slick road and crashed into John. John called the police. At the accident scene, the police didn’t have an opportunity to speak to witnesses.
John spoke with two people who saw the accident and stayed to help. He asked the witnesses to write down what they saw and to sign and date their statements. John also got their contact information.
The police report described the slick road surface but did not assign blame for the accident to either driver. The adjuster from Nancy’s insurance company told John they would not pay a claim when their insured wasn’t at fault for the accident.
John told the adjuster he had additional evidence in the form of witness statements. Both witnesses described seeing Nancy texting on her cell phone right before the accident.
The additional evidence proved Nancy’s negligent actions caused the collision. Her insurance company paid John’s claim.
Car Accidents Without Police Reports
The police aren’t always able to respond to a car accident scene. If the police don’t investigate your accident, it’s up to you to create your own accident report. You’ll need the report to help convince the other driver’s insurance company that their insured, and not you, caused the accident.
We’ve made it easy with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies of the form in your car, in the same place you have your proof of insurance. You’ll always be ready to gather the information you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Fill out the accident information form. Described what caused the crash and draw the vehicles’ locations before and after the collision.
Include the names and contact information of the other driver, passengers, and any witnesses. Be sure to get the other driver’s insurance information. Use your phone or another device to take pictures and videos, if you safely can.
Send a copy of your completed form, witness statements, and photographs to the insurance adjuster handling your claim. If the other driver doesn’t admit to causing the accident, your detailed report and pictures may convince the adjuster to accept your claim.
If the insurance company refuses to cooperate or denies your claim, you have nothing to lose by contacting a personal injury attorney. It costs nothing to find out the potential value of your claim and what a good attorney can do for you.
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