In some injury cases—most notably, insurance claims after a car accident—a police report may have been generated in connection with the underlying incident. While these reports are generally inadmissible if your case gets to court, they can still be have a big impact in many kinds of personal injury cases. Let's look and how to get a copy of a police report, and how to use it to bolster your side of an injury claim.
As we'll discuss later on, you aren't typically able to introduce a police report in court—to try to "prove" that someone did something to cause your injury, for example. But here's how to obtain and use a police report earlier on in your injury claim (ideally as soon after the incident as possible).
If you are injured and you know which law enforcement agency came to the scene and prepared a report (county sheriff, highway patrol, state police, etc.), you can simply call the department's non-emergency number and ask how to obtain a copy of the police report. It helps to have the responding officer's name and/or badge number, but it's not usually required. There are also online records request services in many jurisdictions. Regardless of how you make the request, you may need to pay a small administrative fee in order to get a copy of the report.
Settlement Negotiations. Although police reports are not admissible in court, they can be very useful in personal injury settlement negotiations, especially in car accident cases.
Prior to filing a personal injury claim, you might want to gather all medical reports, police reports, and other important records together, and if you're comfortable doing so, draft a demand letter to the at-fault party's insurance company. This letter summarizes the facts of the case, describes your injuries, and demands a certain figure as compensation for your losses ("damages"). If a police report indicates that the other driver or entity was at-fault, you can use the report as an effective settlement tool, as a car insurance company is likely to give a considerable amount of weight to the report.
For example, in the below-referenced car accident case between Carl and Robert, Robert can use the police report as leverage to obtain a good settlement offer from Carl's insurance company.
Police Reports Can Provide Important Facts. A police report will often provide important information about your case. The police report will likely specify the date of the incident, the weather, names of witnesses to your injury, and other information surrounding the circumstances. So, though you cannot use statements in a police report as evidence in court, you can try to contact those same witnesses and ask them for an informal statement about their observations, which you can then use as leverage in settlement talks.
Wondering why you can't use a police report in court in most situations? In personal injury law, a police report is considered "hearsay," which is usually inadmissible evidence (unless one of several exceptions apply).
For example, Steve is called to testify in court. Steve states that Mary said that Carl tripped and injured Robert. Steve's statement is hearsay because he does not have direct knowledge of Carl's tripping of Robert. However, it would not be hearsay if Steve stated that he saw Carl trip Robert. In the second version, Steve's statement is made in-court, he has direct knowledge of the incident, and his statement is subject to cross-examination from the other party in the lawsuit.
So, why is a police report considered hearsay? Generally, it's because the police officer did not personally observe the incident. Let's alter the facts above. Suppose that Carl rear-ended Robert's car. Mary was walking along the street and observed the car accident. Mary told the police officer that Carl was driving very fast when he rear-ended Robert's car. The police officer makes notes from his conversation with Mary and places them in the police report. The police report is hearsay because it is an out of court statement containing the police officer's opinion about a car accident that he didn't actually observe.
A major rationale for the inadmissibility of police reports is that the report is not subject to cross-examination in court. A key tenet of a civil court trial is that the other party in the case should be given a chance to question any evidence presented in court, and with a police report, that kind of scrutiny is not possible.
If you're involved in a car accident or any other kind of incident where someone else's actions caused you injury, getting a copy of the police report (and knowing how best to utilize it), is just one way an attorney can help with your case. Get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer and learn when to hire a lawyer after a car accident.