If you or a loved one ever experiences a car accident or similar event, you may need to file a report with the police. Doing so is not only a good idea for a future insurance claim or lawsuit, but you may have a legal obligation to report the incident to the police, and failure to do so could lead to significant legal penalties.
When to File a Police Report
In most U.S. states, the law requires all drivers to report accidents resulting in significant property damage, bodily injury, or death. If you have a car accident and are unsure whether the incident qualifies for a call to the police, notify them just in case. It is better to call the police and have a record for an accident than to neglect calling and find out later the law required you to do so.
When you call the police about a car accident, wait at the accident scene until the police arrive. While you wait, try to take photos of the scene, the damage to your vehicle, and your injuries. If any witnesses saw what happened, ask them to provide you with a recorded statement and their contact information. The police will likely interview them as well.
Once the police arrive, remember a few crucial things to improve your chances of recovering from the accident and minimize the chance of any legal issues.
- Do not admit fault, even if you know you are partially responsible for the accident.
- Answer the police officer’s questions honestly and concisely and be careful of your word choice. Seemingly innocent phrases taken out of context could equate to you admitting fault needlessly.
- Ask the police officer how to obtain a copy of the police report. They may mail it, but most often you will need to visit the police station for a copy of the police report.
Once you obtain a copy of the police report, keep it for your records. If you need to file an insurance claim or take legal action against the other driver, you will need the police report to support your case.
What Does a Police Report Contain?
The police report from your accident will include the responding officers’ preliminary findings from the accident scene. The report will include the names and information for all parties involved, a description of the damages, and statements taken from involved drivers and witnesses.
The police report should also include the names of the officers involved in the crash response and a description of actions taken against the drivers involved, such as arresting a drunk driver involved in the accident.
Uses for a Police Report
Depending on your state’s fault laws for car accidents, you may need to file an insurance claim against your own auto insurance policy or against the at-fault driver’s policy for a recovery. In either case, the insurance company will want to investigate your claim to verify it before agreeing to a settlement. One of the first documents most insurers will want to see is the police report from the accident.
If you plan to take legal action against an at-fault driver, your car accident attorney will likely advise you to secure a copy of the police report as soon as possible. In case you missed any witnesses at the crash scene, the police report should contain their contact information and your attorney can compile all witnesses’ statements for use in your case. It is possible the officers who responded to your accident may also play roles in a lawsuit.
Many police departments allow citizens to request police reports digitally through online portals, mail in requests for police reports, or secure copies of police reports in person at police stations and precincts. Have your attorney verify the information included in the police report so you can clear up any omissions, errors, or other discrepancies as quickly as possible.