Police reports are an important part of any accident claim, but they are often not admissible in court for car accident cases in Arizona. This is because they are hearsay unless the officer directly witnessed the crash.
An Arizona personal injury lawyer can still use these reports to negotiate your claim, understand what happened, and use them as a lead to find additional evidence to support the reporting officer’s conclusions that is admissible to the court.
What Is Contained in a Police Report for a Car Accident?
When you’re in an accident, the police may be required to file a written report. They must do this if there were injuries or death, a driver was cited for breaking the law, or if the collision caused over $1,000 in property damage.
The contents of the report are based on an investigation by the officer. It should include:
A report will contain the date, time, and location of the crash, which can prove to an insurer that a crash did actually happen. It will also contain the contact information for all the drivers, their insurance companies, and any eyewitnesses to the crash.
Your lawyer will use the information to contact the right insurer and to follow up with eyewitnesses to confirm their statements to the police.
The officer will interview the drivers and witnesses at the scene to understand what happened and summarize them for the report. These statements can help with negotiations, especially if the other party admits fault for the accident.
Conclusions About the Accident
Based on the statements and the evidence at the scene, the officer will make a narrative report about what they believe happened. They’ll make a note of factors that caused the crash, including road and weather conditions, along with the injuries suffered by all parties.
They may draw a diagram of what happened to explain the flow of events. This may also include the direction of travel and the direction of impact.
Finally, they will state who they believe was at fault. An officer’s statement that the other driver was at fault is a powerful negotiating tool with the insurance companies.
Finally, the report will contain information about any traffic laws that the drivers violated and the citations they issued. Proof of a citation can show an insurer that a driver acted negligently.
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Why Are Police Reports Hearsay?
Hearsay is a statement made outside of court that cannot be challenged through cross-examination. If we questioned the police officers about what happened in an accident that they didn’t witness themselves, all they could say is what they heard from other people.
The officer must have direct knowledge of the accident for a report to be admissible in court. Though a police report for a car accident is an official record of what happened, they are excluded under hearsay rules.
If an officer did directly witness your car crash, then an accident lawyer can question them about what happened or call them as a witness in court. They will also be able to be cross-examined by the opposing side.
How a Lawyer Will Use a Police Accident Report
A police report is often the starting place for negotiations with the insurance company, and it contains information that can lead to other pieces of evidence that can be used at trial.
A simple example is an eyewitness statement. The officer may not have seen the accident, but the report will have information about any eyewitnesses. Your lawyer can reach out to them for information about what happened. That information would be admissible in court because they saw what happened.
Here are some other things the report is used for:
- Identifying which insurance companies are involved in the case.
- Locating security camera footage that may have observed the accident based on the location information in the report.
- Proving that the other side broke the law in a way that caused the accident.
- Reinforce medical record evidence to show that an injury happened because of an accident. Officers may not see the crash, but they often see the injuries.
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Potential Problems with Accident Reports
Officers write police reports from memory, so sometimes they are inaccurate. These inaccuracies can affect your insurance claim, but it may be possible to get the officer to revise their statement based on other evidence. Things we will look for include:
- Simple mistakes, like misidentifying a witness or inaccurate contact information
- Omission of facts, which can happen when too much time passes between the accident and writing the report
- Incomplete reports, which may happen if the officer does not fully complete the investigation because of the chaos of the accident
- Failure to follow up with witnesses which could make the officer miss important details
Even if a report looks bad for your case, we can look for errors like these to show that the accident report isn’t showing the entire story. Our accident lawyers conduct their own investigation to prove or disprove what the official statement says.
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Contact an Attorney for More Information
Police reports are not considered admissible in court for a car accident case because they’re hearsay according to evidence laws. The exception is if the officer directly witnessed what happened. Nevertheless, police reports form the basis for negotiations with the insurance company and for building a claim.
The information in a police report can lead a lawyer toward evidence that is admissible in court, like an eyewitness statement, camera footage, and more. Therefore, if you have a copy of your report, bring it with you to your consultation for Zanes Law to review. If you don’t, your lawyer certainly will later if you hire them.