What Do Drivers Need to Know About Filing a Police Report?

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An average of six million car accidents occur in the United States each year. Some are minor fender benders, in which the drivers involved walk away without a scratch, whereas others are much more serious and can cause life-threatening or even fatal injuries. It is likely that every driver will be in a car accident at some point. Knowing what steps to take immediately following a car accident can make the ordeal far less stressful and overwhelming. One of the first things a driver should do after any type of car accident is to notify police, even if there were no injuries or property damage. The police officer will fill out an accident report, which will include important information about the accident, including who was at fault. If the driver intends to file an accident claim, an official police report can help the driver’s case and impact the amount of compensation they can collect. An experienced car accident lawyer can walk a driver through the claims process and ensure that they have all the necessary documents, including a copy of the police report.

When the police officer arrives at the scene of the accident, he or she will speak to both drivers involved, as well as any witnesses who may have seen the accident happen. Once the investigating officer has collected all the pertinent information, they will generate a police report, which will contain facts related to the accident and the opinions of the police officer. The report then gets filed with the traffic division of the local law enforcement agency.

What Information is Included in a Police Report?

There are several key pieces of information that should be included in every police report, including the following:

  • Detailed description of the accident. After a car accident, a driver may feel shocked, confused, and overwhelmed. It is important for the driver to write down every detail they can remember, even if it seems insignificant. Every police report should include the following:
    – Date and time of the accident
    – Whether the drivers were wearing seat belts
    – Weather conditions at the time of the accident
    – Road hazards, such as construction, potholes, or heavy traffic conditions
    – Estimated driving speed of both drivers when the accident occurred
    – If the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Witness accounts. If there were additional drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, or other witnesses in the area who may have seen the accident happen, the driver should ask for their contact information, including their name, address, and phone number. Even a seemingly small piece of information could be useful when pursuing an accident claim. It is always better to obtain a statement from witnesses as soon as possible after the accident, while the details are fresh in mind. Some witnesses will refuse to come forward after the accident.
  • Photos of the accident scene. If the driver is physically able to do so, they should take multiple pictures of the damage to their vehicle while giving the police officer room to conduct the investigation. If either driver has visible injuries, pictures should be taken as well. It is important to take photos at different angles and distances to provide perspective. The following are other details that should be considered when taking photos of the accident scene:
    – Skid marks on the road
    – Damage to other vehicles
    – Weather conditions at the time of the accident
    – Debris on the road, including shattered glass, broken car parts, or pieces of rubber
    – Damaged street lights, street signs, or curbs
    – Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, and other first responders who were called to the scene
    – If bruising or other injuries appear later, pictures of such injuries should be taken immediately; also, the police officer who was at the scene should be contacted so that he or she can add the photos to the report
  • A diagram of the scene. Even if photos are available, a diagram can serve as another visual representation of the accident. The driver should indicate the direction everyone was traveling, which vehicle in the diagram is the driver’s, how the cars impacted each other, location of witnesses in relation to the accident, and the posted speed limit in the area, if possible.
  • Details about the other driver. The following information about the other driver involved in the accident should always be obtained:
    – Name and address
    – Make, model, and license plate number of the vehicle
    – Driver’s license number and insurance information
    – The number of passengers in the vehicle, including children
    – Factors that could have caused the accident
    – Obvious vehicle defects
  • Details about the police officer. The driver should ask the officer for his or her business card as soon as they arrive at the scene of the accident. This will have their badge number and other contact information on it. If the officer does not have a business card, the driver should write down the officer’s name and contact information. Having this information will make it easier to track down the officer in case any problems arise. It will also be easier to find the report if the driver needs to obtain it online.

How Does a Driver Obtain a Copy of the Police Report?

One way to obtain a copy of the police report is to request a copy from the law enforcement office that drafted the report. In most cases, the officer who was at the scene of the accident will provide the driver with a receipt that has an identification number of the police report. The driver can contact the traffic division of the police department, request a copy of the report, and pay the administrative fee, which is usually $15. A driver can still obtain a copy of the report if an identification number is not provided. The driver can simply provide the date, time, and location of the accident, as well as their name, and someone should be able to locate the report.

If a driver wants to avoid paying the $15 fee, a claims representative from the driver’s insurance company may be able to obtain a copy. It generally takes a few weeks for the investigating officer to complete and process the report, so it is important to keep this in mind when requesting a copy.

How Does a Police Report Help a Claim?

After an accident claim is filed, a claims adjuster will begin to investigate the case by collecting statements from the driver, the other driver, and any witnesses. Even if the police report states that the other driver was at-fault, the adjuster will investigate the claim in case the officer missed something that could have an impact on the case. Ultimately, the insurance adjuster relies heavily on the police report when making a decision about the claim, since the officer was at the scene and police officers are specially trained to evaluate accidents to determine who was at-fault. If the claim goes to court, police reports cannot be used as evidence; however, an experienced car accident lawyer can use the report when negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company. A police report can help a case in several ways, including:

  • The insurance adjuster will request a copy of the police report before negotiating a settlement.
  • The police officer’s unbiased account of what happened, and his or her conclusions about who was at fault, is very persuasive.
  • The insurance adjuster may be more likely to agree on a settlement, rather than argue on behalf of their driver. The claim may be settled more quickly and for a higher amount.
  • The police report could bring attention to other witnesses who could provide valuable information that could impact the settlement amount.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Car Accident Victims with the Claims Process

If you or someone you know was in a car accident, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced legal team will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you have all the information and documentation necessary for a successful claim. We will work closely with you to protect your legal rights and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for any injuries or property damage you suffered as a result of the accident. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.