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Why Your Accident Report Is Important

Calling the police when there’s been a car accident is always a good idea, even if you think the crash was minor. The police will secure the scene and make sure everyone is safe. They will call for emergency medical services to attend to anyone who is injured. Another thing they will do is fill out an accident report.

The police accident report documents your crash and contains valuable insights about what happened. It’s an important source of information about traffic crashes used by agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when compiling statistics. It can also play an important role in determining how much financial compensation you receive for your injuries.

Insurance companies use the accident report as part of their determination of fault for an accident. In addition, if the investigating police officer is called to testify about the accident in a deposition or trial, the report will likely form the basis of that testimony.

That’s why it’s important to get a copy of the report as soon as possible following your accident – and to talk to an experienced car accident attorney about it.

What’s in an accident report? 

The officer who responds to the accident will conduct a brief investigation and talk to the people involved about what happened. A report will then be completed. The contents of the report vary from state to state, but in general, you can expect to see:

Accident details

This includes information such as the date, time and location of the crash (often including the exact GPS coordinates). There will be additional information about the location, such as whether the crash took place at an intersection or if there are any traffic signs or signals. The officer will also note how many vehicles and people were involved, as well as the number of injuries and fatalities.

Vehicle information

The officer will record identifying information for each vehicle involved in the accident. This includes the year, make and model, vehicle type, VIN and license plate number. There will also be an indication of the direction each vehicle was traveling, the position of each vehicle at the time of the crash, and the location and severity of vehicle damage.

Information about people involved in the accident

The officer will write down the names and contact information for all drivers involved in the crash. License and insurance information will also be recorded. The officer will also note if the driver appeared to have been impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue. If any drug or alcohol tests were conducted, the results will be recorded in the report. There will be names and contact information for any passengers or pedestrians who were involved in the crash.

Information about injuries and fatalities

The report will note whether emergency medical services were called and if so, which hospital they were taken to for treatment of injuries. The officer will also give an indication of how severe injuries appeared to be and record any fatalities.

Witness information

The officer will record the names and contact information for any witnesses to the accident.

Commercial vehicle information

If your accident involved a tractor-trailer or another type of commercial vehicle, there will be information about the trucking company and the cargo.

Citations

If one of the drivers involved in the accident broke the law, the officer will note any citations that were issued (such as a speeding ticket).

Narrative and Diagram

The officer will include a written narrative describing how the accident happened based on the initial investigation. There will also be a diagram showing the approximate positions of all vehicles involved at the time of the crash.

How an accident report can help – or hurt – your claim

The report will usually be available in a few weeks. The officer should give you instructions on how to get a copy, or you can contact the law enforcement agency that responded to your accident. Usually, you can order a copy online, via mail or in person. There is often a fee to obtain a copy of your report.

Carefully review the report when you get a copy. Check the codes used by the officer to note accident factors. If any information seems incorrect, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. Talk to an experienced car accident attorney about your concerns. Most lawyers offer a free initial consultation.

The insurance company will also get a copy of the accident report. A claims adjuster will review it closely. Sometimes an accident report will be quite clear about which party was at fault for causing the accident. But if the insurance company is able to prove another party was also partially responsible for what happened, they may be able to save money by paying less.

Other times, an accident report is not clear about which party was at fault. An insurance company will investigate the crash to look for evidence that protects their interests. Often, their goal is to pay as little as possible. So they will dispute a claim against a policy if there is a chance it can reduce their financial obligation.

Remember, in most cases, the investigating officer did not see the crash when it happened. Sometimes, the police don’t arrive for many minutes or even hours after the accident itself. The police report is an important piece of evidence, but it’s not the final word on what happened.

A car accident lawyer can move your case forward 

That’s why it is always a good idea to get legal advice if you were hurt in an accident. A lawyer can carefully review your accident report to determine what it says about which party was at fault – and help you correct the record if it is inaccurate. If you haven’t obtained a copy of the report yet, your attorney can even handle the request for the report itself on your behalf.

A lawyer can also investigate your crash to get additional information. This often involves gathering evidence, such as photos and any existing traffic camera footage. Medical records and other documentation will be carefully reviewed. Your lawyer can identify and interview witnesses. If necessary, accident reconstruction experts and other specialists can provide additional insight.

Your attorney can use the results of the investigation and the accident report to build a strong case for financial compensation. Even if the insurance company does not agree with your attorney, many insurance companies are often willing to negotiate a higher settlement offer to avoid going to court.

An accident report is an important document that can help – or hinder – your ability to recover damages, the legal term for financial compensation. If you’ve been injured, get a copy of your report and contact an experienced car accident attorney in your area to schedule a free consultation.

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