Police Reports as Evidence in Your Car Accident Injury Case

If you're making a personal injury claim after a car accident, the police report could play a big role.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

In some injury cases—most notably, those stemming from car accidents—a police report may have been generated in connection with the underlying incident. Here's what to know:

  • You can't usually use a police report to establish who caused the car accident, if your case gets to court.
  • Police reports can still have a big impact during the insurance claim settlement negotiation phase of a car accident case; insurance adjusters for every driver involved in the crash will use the police report to at least get an initial sense of how and why the accident happened.
  • Getting a copy of a police report is easy; getting any information in the report changed or corrected can pose a significant challenge.

What Is a Car Accident Police Report?

If a law enforcement officer comes to the scene of your car accident, chances are a police report will be prepared. This report will contain a wide spectrum of information about the crash, usually including:

  • details about the crash
  • information about (and statements from) those involved in the accident and those who saw what happened, and
  • the responding officer's own observations.

How to Obtain a Copy of a Police Report

As we'll discuss later on, you aren't typically able to introduce a police report in court—to try to "prove" that the other driver was at fault for the accident, for example. But here's how to obtain a copy of the report for use earlier on in the car accident claim process (during insurance settlement negotiations, for example).

If the law enforcement officer who prepared the report gave you a receipt or a report retrieval number at some point at the scene of the car accident, you can use that as a reference when calling the relevant law enforcement agency (at a non-emergency number) and asking to obtain a copy.

If you don't have a receipt or report number, but you know which law enforcement agency came to the scene (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. You can give them details like the date, time, and location of the accident. It helps to have the responding officer's name and/or badge number, but it's not usually required if you've got enough other relevant data.

Some law enforcement agencies might have an online record request system in place. 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.

If your car insurance company is investigating the accident as part of a claim filing, they'll probably obtain a copy of the police report on their own. If so, you can ask the insurance adjuster for your own copy.

What's Included In a Car Accident Police Report?

Every law enforcement agency is different, but generally speaking, if a police report (or "traffic collision report" or similar document title) is generated after your car accident, it will include:

  • details about every person involved in the accident, including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, driver's license numbers, and car insurance information
  • a summary of the nature and extent of injuries suffered by anyone involved in the accident
  • details about the location of the accident, the direction-of-travel of the vehicles involved, the point of collision, the position of the vehicles post-collision, the location of any vehicle debris, and location of any stop signs or traffic signals (all of which is often detailed on or accompanied by a diagram)
  • summary of road conditions, weather conditions, any potential traffic hazards, or anything else that might have caused or contributed to the accident
  • statements of anyone involved in the accident, and of any witnesses who saw any aspect of the accident, and
  • any findings and impressions of the responding officer based on investigation at the scene of the accident.

Will My Car Insurance Company Get the Car Accident Report?

Almost certainly. When you report the car accident to your car insurance company, they'll usually locate and request any police report related to the crash. They'll certainly do this once you (or the other driver) file a car insurance claim under (or against) your coverage. At that point, the car insurance company is on the financial hook for losses resulting from the accident, and they're going to want to understand everything there is to know about the crash.

There are a number of ways that car insurance companies investigate a car accident, but there's usual no better starting place than a report prepared by an experienced law enforcement officer who had the benefit of being at the scene shortly after the crash.

How Will My Insurance Company Use the Car Accident Police Report?

As discussed elsewhere in this article, a police report isn't usually admissible in court, but that doesn't mean this document doesn't play a big role in the out-of-court settlement process.

If something in the police report indicates that one of the drivers was pretty clearly at fault, or if some other significant piece of the car accident puzzle can be all but proven based on the report (one of the drivers was cited at the scene for driving under the influence, for example), that's going to push one or more sides pretty hard towards settlement (more on this below).

The insurance adjuster for your claim will also want to reach out to anyone else involved in the accident (drivers or passengers) and any witnesses who might have anything at all to add to the story of how the crash happened.

Using a Car Accident Police Report Outside of Court

If you can't use a police report in court, how can it come in handy in a car accident case?

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.

A Police Report Is Usually Considered Inadmissible "Hearsay"

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 she saw Carl's vehicle rear-end Robert's at a stoplight. Steve's statement is hearsay because he does not have direct knowledge of Carl's car hitting Robert's. However, it would not be hearsay if Steve stated that he saw Carl's vehicle rear-end Robert's. 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.

One key exception to this rule is a small claims court case. If your car accident lawsuit is being heard in small claims court (as opposed to in the main civil court system), the judge is likely to let you use the police report as part of your presentation of your side of the case.

Getting Help After a Car Accident

If you've been involved in a car accident that caused you injury, getting a copy of the police report (and knowing how best to utilize it when negotiating a settlement with the other driver's insurer), is just one way an attorney can help with your case.

When you're ready to discuss your situation with a legal professional, you can use the tools right on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer in your area. Answer a few initial questions and receive a free case evaluation. You can also check out more of our articles, including tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer and when to hire a lawyer after a car accident.

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