Here’s what you need to know about accident investigations and how police reports can influence the adjuster handling your insurance claim.
Police Auto Accident Investigations
Police officers are typically dispatched to accident scenes when:
- The accident involves reported injuries or fatalities;
- The accident is blocking traffic;
- One or more drivers are intoxicated; or
- Participants are being disruptive or fighting.
The police may arrive at a scene of your accident but you must call 911 first. After an accident, check for injuries and call 911.
Tell the dispatcher your location with a description of any landmarks; if you or anyone else is injured, feeling sick or trapped in the wreckage; or if there are any immediate dangers, such as leaking fuel or downed power lines.
Police officers receive training in vehicle accident investigation. Once they secure the scene, officers will investigate the accident and its causes. Police officers don’t normally create the official accident report at the scene. They use a worksheet, and then later prepare and file the official report.
The officer will gather a variety of information:
- Date, time and location of the accident
- Personal information and statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Descriptions of injuries to the drivers and passengers
- Vehicle descriptions: year, make, model and color
- Weather and road conditions at the time of the accident
- Type and extent of property damage to the vehicles
- Contributing factors, such as speeding, non-working brake lights or turn signals, etc.
The investigating officer may take photographs of the scene and damage to the cars if the accident is a serious one. Also, more and more officers are using “body cameras” to film their investigations of accident scenes. Obviously, these do not capture the crash, but rather, the aftermath (vehicles and position), and interviews of those involved and witnesses to the crash.
The police officer will conduct field sobriety tests if he/she thinks alcohol or drugs contributed to the accident and will make an arrest for DUI, if necessary. When traffic laws have been violated, the officer may issue tickets to one or both drivers. The officer will also call for a towing company if any of the cars aren’t drivable or if a driver is incapacitated.
ZLF TIP: Get the report number from the investigating officer. You’ll use this when requesting a copy of the official police accident report. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses at the scene who may have information about the accident. Often, the police do not note witnesses in the report, and their identities are lost and usually never found.
After clearing the accident scene, the police may drive to the hospital to follow up on more serious injuries sustained by drivers or passengers. When the follow-up investigation is complete, the officer will return to the station and begin transferring the information from his/her worksheet to the official accident report.
The accident report usually includes the officer’s written account of the details and causes of the accident, including a description of the at-fault driver’s actions which caused the accident, and a drawn diagram of the accident scene showing the point of impact.
Within a few days after the accident, the police accident report should be complete. Some jurisdictions make accident reports available to the general public, while others limit access to accident reports to the involved drivers, the drivers’ representatives and the drivers’ insurance companies.
It is IMPORTANT to know that most police officers are not well-trained in accident reconstruction. A police officer may get everything right but very often they miss things, improperly draw a diagram or reach the wrong conclusion. This can negatively impact your case with the at-fault driver’s insurance company because insurance companies know that regardless of right/wrong, juries and judges put weight on a police officer’s opinion.
Often, the police report is not entirely in your favor, and it should be. This is when ZACHAR LAW FIRM can help.
We have experts in accident reconstruction who we work with on serious injury accidents. These experts are much better educated and trained than police officers. Our experts often need to rely on the police report with respect to evidence found at the scene, as well as the statements of the parties and witnesses, but the expert’s conclusion may be very different from the police officer’s.
When a case goes to court, the police officer may not be able to testify as to his/her “opinions” of what happened, according to the rules of evidence, or if the judge does not think the officer’s training is sufficient to testify about certain matters. The police officer can testify regarding their investigation at the scene and the evidence they found, but not necessarily regarding his/her “opinions” of what may have occurred. Experts usually can testify as to such matters because they have been trained to do so and they have had time to conduct a more thorough, technical investigation.
When the at-fault insurance company is evaluating your claim, it will not do so without a copy of the police accident report and for the reasons stated above, the police report can have a huge impact on the outcome of your injury claim. When a claim is opened, one of the first things an insurance adjuster will do is request a copy of the police report. If the officer’s conclusions favor the insurance company’s driver (right or wrong), it is likely that the insurance company will take the side of the insurance company’s driver and not you.
Again, that is where Zachar Law Firm can help you.
Fault isn’t always obvious and clear-cut. Even when it seems so, the insurance company will often find a way to fight it. Arizona is a “comparative negligence” state. This means that even if you are partly at fault for the accident, you can still pursue a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. The degrees of the fault of all drivers are determined; often disagreements on how that fault is divided occur, but our attorneys will fight for your position when this situation occurs.
If the insurance company refuses to cooperate or denies your claim, you have nothing to lose by contacting ZACHAR LAW FIRM. It costs you nothing to have our attorneys to assess whether your claim has merit and value. Often times, the insurance company will want to take your statement. This could adversely affect your claim with the insurance company if you are not advised of certain legal ramifications of your statement. It’s best to contact a skilled accident attorney before you give any such statement.
Don’t give up, even if the police accident report implicates you for causing the collision. Contact ZACHAR LAW FIRM to discuss your case and your options. Quite often, the police have it wrong!