A car accident is a traumatic event. Immediately after a wreck, your thoughts race as you check yourself for injuries before tending to any passengers, the other driver, and finally, your property.
If the personal injury and property damage are minor, you may just exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver before moving on about your day. It’s possible, though, that you may have suffered an injury that won’t present pain for several days or weeks to come.
When you don’t contact the police or highway patrol to file a police report, you risk a potential denial of a future insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Read on to understand the importance of a police report after a car accident.
- A police report is a basic document that an officer completes for any number of incidents, such as a car wreck or traffic incident, arrest, investigation, or any number of events. In California, responding officers file a Traffic Collision Report to document a car accident.
- While the form of the police report varies from state to state – and even from city to city – the substance is generally the same: the officer reports on their findings regarding their investigation of the scene.
- The responding officer’s statement on the police report represents their take on the information they’ve observed. Like everyone else, officers are human and make mistakes – it’s possible that there’s an error in your accident report. Though, you can dispute it and have it corrected.
If you are involved in a collision, it’s in your interest to file a police report. A police report contains all the pertinent information necessary for an insurance claim or lawsuit.
The responding officer completes the report. Whether the officer is from a local department or the California Highway Patrol depends on where the accident occurs. For example, the highway patrol only responds to incidents that occur on state highways or interstates.
In either case, the responding officer will gather the same information:
- Location of the accident scene
- Date and time of the accident
- Details about the property damage to the car(s) involved
- A description of the injuries sustained by any parties or witnesses
- Statements of witness(es) and driver(s)
- Which driver was at fault
- Any citations issued
After collecting this information and investigating the scene, the officer will also provide their own written assessment of the scene. The officer’s statement provides an unbiased, third-party view of the accident.
The Importance of Filing a Police Report
While the report itself is usually inadmissible as evidence in court, the report is still useful in an insurance claim or legal dispute.
1. Useful for a Legal Claim
First, the responding officer may testify in court about their actions and investigation. Although they can’t read from the report itself, the report’s contents provide an outline of the officer’s expected testimony.
2. May Contain Statements Admissible in Court
Second, the report may contain statements of the other driver.
In that case, you could use that driver’s statements against them in court. But be careful! The other party could do the same to you if you made any damning statements to the officer. You should provide truthful information to the officer as needed, but be careful not to say more than is needed.
3. Shows Proof of Injury or Property Damage for Insurance Claims
Third, your insurance company may use the report as proof of fault.
The claims reviewer will read the report and emphasize the responding officer’s statement. This person will also note any injuries listed on the report and follow up to determine whether you sought medical care. That’s another reason that seeking care – even if you feel fine – is important.
After all, you could develop delayed pain symptoms later on.
How to File a Police Report
You may wonder not only how to file but also the timeline.
The most common way to file a report after an accident is by calling police to the scene of the wreck. As explained above, the responding officer will complete a Traffic Collision Report.
But what happens if you don’t call the police and want to file later? Some jurisdictions allow you to file a police report online. It usually depends on the type of report. Otherwise, you can file in person at the local police station.
When to file?
How long do you have to file a police report after an accident? Under California law, you must file a police report within 24 hours if the wreck resulted in injuries or death.
You must also submit the Form SR-1, Report of Traffic Accident in California, to the DMV within 10 days when there’s an injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000. Noncompliance could result in a revoked license and a fine.
Therefore, if someone is seriously injured in a collision, you should file a report immediately. Similarly, if you hit an unattended vehicle or object and cause damage, you should still file a report in case the damage exceeds $1,000.
It’s also important to note that the police report will not automatically go to your insurance company. But you should still send the company your report because a delay could result in a denied claim or a more difficult claims process.
Even if you were the at-fault party, filing a police report with your insurance company can protect you during the claims process. For example, if the other party acts untruthfully, such as faking an accident, the police report will show what injuries were documented at the scene.
Obtaining a Copy of the Report
Once the responding officer files their report – or you file your own – you’ll want a copy for your records or potential litigation.
How long it may take depends on a few factors:
- The law enforcement agency responsible for the report
- The severity of the injuries
- Whether an ongoing criminal investigation exists
For example, which agency is responsible depends on the nature of the injuries and the car accident itself. The precise location will dictate whether local officers or state police are involved. If the crash occurred in a rural area, then it may take longer for the report to be completed than in a large city.
The nature of the injuries may also affect how long it takes to get the report. The more serious the injuries, especially if there were a death involved, the longer it could take. This is because the responsible agency must conduct a more thorough investigation.
Similarly, the existence of an ongoing criminal investigation would also hinder the report’s availability.
If a driver under the influence of alcohol or substances caused the wreck, for instance, the responsible law enforcement agency must follow certain procedures. If the police were investigating you, then you may not be able to get a copy of the report at all.
Once the report is completed and on file with the local law enforcement agency, you may obtain a copy by:
- Requesting it online – some police departments provide online access
- Visiting the police station in person
- Requesting the report by mail
In any of these instances, you’ll likely have to pay a fee.
Get Help from Personal Injury Attorneys at Adamson Ahdoot
Experiencing a car accident is a trying time. From worrying about the physical health of your passengers and your own body to stressing about property damage to your car, the days after a wreck bring many questions.
If you’ve been injured with a catastrophic injury, you may wonder how you’ll return to work or take care of your family. That’s where an experienced personal injury attorney comes in. At Adamson Ahdoot, our attorneys have experience navigating the difficult questions that come after the wreck.
If you’ve experienced a car accident, contact or call us at (800) 310-1606 for a free consultation.