Using the Car Accident Police Report to Support Your Insurance Claim

The police report can be key evidence in a successful auto insurance claim. See how using a crash report can boost your injury compensation.

If you’re in a traffic accident, you expect the at-fault driver or their auto insurance to compensate you for your damages. But insurance companies don’t just hand over their money.

It may be clear to you that the other driver caused the crash, but you have to prove it to the claims adjuster. Police reports are powerful evidence that can help you meet your burden of proof.

Police accident reports are usually available within a week or two of the accident. Most reports can be ordered online for a small fee. If you need help requesting a report, contact the state or local law enforcement agency that handled your accident investigation.

Here’s where we unpack what’s in a car accident police report, how to use the report to support your claim, and what to do if you’re in a crash that doesn’t result in a police investigation.

How to Read What’s In a Police Report

Each state has its version of a police accident report or crash report. As soon as possible after a collision, request a copy of the report. It could be the most important piece of evidence in your settlement negotiations.

Be sure you get a final copy of the report. In accidents involving fatalities, or pending drug or alcohol testing from the hospital, the crash report will be amended to include vital information as it becomes available.

Review the police report carefully. It will contain several important facts, like driver names and insurance companies, as well as the officer’s opinion on who was at fault for the crash.

Police reports include basic facts about the accident, such as:

  • Date, time, and location of the crash
  • Weather, visibility, and road conditions at the scene
  • Make, model, year, and VIN of the vehicles involved
  • Driver addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information
  • Passenger information, including which car they were in and where they were seated
  • Short description of injuries to drivers and passengers
  • Drawn diagram of the accident and where the vehicles ended up

Elements of the police report that help prove liability include:

  • Description and location of damage to each vehicle
  • Witness names and information
  • Statements from drivers, passengers, and witnesses
  • Traffic citations issued
  • Driver alcohol levels
  • Officer’s opinion of fault and cause of the crash

The officer’s written opinion on how the accident happened and who’s at fault may be in a section of the report titled Contributing Factors.

Contributing factors can include bad weather, a blown tire, speeding, non-working brake lights or turn signals, and more. The most often cited contributing factors are violations of the state’s traffic laws, which are documented when the officer on the scene issues one or more traffic citations.

If you’re not used to reading police reports, you may find parts of it 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 call the local police department to ask what some of the codes mean.

Using the Crash Report to Support Your 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 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.

If you’ve recovered from minor injuries and didn’t miss much work, you can probably settle your claim on your own, without the help of an attorney.

Adjusters Give Weight to Police Reports

Adjusters generally accept police accident reports as credible, unbiased evidence of fault. Police officers receive continuing legal education to stay up to date with auto accident reconstruction, evaluation of contributing factors in accidents, and updated state traffic laws.

A police officer issues a traffic ticket only after a thorough investigation of the collision, and the factors directly or indirectly leading to it.

You’ll be in a stronger negotiating position if the at-fault driver was ticketed for a moving violation.

An accident investigation includes:

  • Interviewing drivers and witnesses
  • Noting the position of the vehicles at the time of the collision
  • Evaluating traffic conditions, weather, skid marks, property damage, and more

In many cases, car accidents are caused by one driver’s violation of state traffic laws. It’s common for the officer to issue a citation to that driver.

You can learn more about the specific laws the officer cited by looking up your state’s traffic laws online, at your county courthouse, or at your local public library.

Your knowledge of the traffic citations and laws sends two clear messages to the claims adjuster:

  1. You won’t accept attempts to downplay the citation’s relevance in the collision, nor the citation’s weight in proving who’s at fault
  2. If the claim turns into a lawsuit, you’d call on the police officer to testify that the at-fault driver’s traffic violation was the exclusive cause of the accident

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.

When the Police Report Blames You

Mistakes in a traffic collision 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 about 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 or contributory negligence rules, meaning you can pursue compensation even if you are partly to blame for causing the accident.

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.

Case Example: Additional Evidence of Accident 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.

Police Car Accident Investigation Procedures

Police officers are typically dispatched to accident scenes when:

  • The accident involves injuries or fatalities
  • The accident is blocking traffic
  • One or more drivers are intoxicated
  • Participants are being disruptive or fighting

What to Do After an Accident

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.

While waiting for emergency responders, pay attention to what’s going on around you. You can provide valuable information to help the officer’s investigation by reporting your observations.

Look and listen for:

  • How many occupants are in the other car, if they switch seats or anyone leaves the scene
  • Statements from the driver or occupants of the other car, such as “I really screwed up this time” or “I told you to slow down!”
  • Anything being tossed out of the other car, including paper bags, bottles, or anything else that could be evidence of drugs or alcohol
  • Attitudes and behavior of the driver, like arguing, cursing, stumbling, or other erratic actions
  • If the vehicle or any debris from the accident is moved

Police officers are trained in vehicle accident investigations. 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.

When Police Arrive on the Scene

The officer will secure the scene and see to the injured before talking to the drivers. When the officer is ready to speak with you, explain exactly what happened before, during, and after the crash.

Include what you saw, heard, and smelled, such as:

  • The other driver was traveling so fast, you didn’t have time to get out of the way
  • You saw the other driver using a cell phone
  • The other car came into your lane of travel
  • You only heard the screeching tires just before impact
  • The other driver came to your car after the crash, and you smelled alcohol
  • The other car didn’t have headlights on, or wipers running in the rain
  • You had the green light

Be as detailed as possible, but don’t say anything like “I’m so sorry this happened.” Your kindness and sympathy might be construed as an admission of fault.

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 is incapacitated.

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.

Get a Copy of the Police Report

Within a few days after the accident, the police report should be complete. Some jurisdictions make crash reports public record, and some states limit access to the involved drivers, the drivers’ representatives, and the drivers’ insurance companies.

Your car accident paperwork won’t be complete without a copy of the police accident report. The report can have a huge impact on the outcome of your injury claim. It’s important to carefully read the report to spot any errors.

Contact your own insurance company to ask for a copy of the report. When a claim is opened, one of the first things an adjuster will do is request an official copy of the report. If it’s available, the claims adjuster should be willing to send you a free copy.

For a small fee, you can request a copy of the accident report directly from the law enforcement agency that investigated the accident. Most agencies now handle accident report requests online, or you can call the police department for instructions.

To get a copy of the police report, you’ll need:

  1. The service number from the investigating officer
  2. The accident location
  3. The accident date and approximate time
  4. Your identification

Traffic Accidents Without Police Reports

The police aren’t always available to come to every car accident scene. In busy jurisdictions, an officer might not be available to respond to minor fender-benders with no reported injuries.

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. You’ll always be ready to gather the information you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.

Fill out the accident information form. Describe 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. In most states, the other driver must provide their driver’s license number, if asked. Use your phone 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.

Most car accident attorneys offer a free consultation. It costs nothing to find out the potential value of your claim and what a good attorney can do for you.

Video: Police Reports and Insurance Claims

 

Car Accident Police Report Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>