One of the most important pieces of evidence following a car accident is the police report. Police reports are used by both insurance companies and lawyers as a starting point in determining the liability, i.e. fault, of every case.
The most common questions our personal injury lawyers get from prospective clients deal with the police report and mistakes therein. Some of the most common questions follow:
“The report says that my car only has $500.00 in damage but that isn’t right?”
The dollar amount listed in a police report is not admissible in a court of law. In general, police officers are not trained estimators in property damage. As such, their opinion of the amount of property damage is irrelevant and not admissible in court. During a trial the police report would be redacted to remove this information. However, officers are trained to provide a range of damage, called a TAD value. The TAD values range from 0, no damage, to 7, the most severe damage. These TAD values are admissible in court and influence how insurance companies value your claim.
“The accident report has the wrong speed for the car that hit me. How can I change that?”
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. First, most times the officer is not a witness to the car accident. As such, his opinion as to speed is irrelevant and not admissible in court. The speed of the vehicle and the speed at impact would be redacted if the case goes to trial. It cannot be used and, as such, is irrelevant.
“The police report is blaming me for the car accident and it is all wrong. What can I do?”
The first thing to understand is that the officer’s opinion as to fault is not admissible in court. His opinion is irrelevant. If an officer’s opinion is included in the police report (i.e. driver one failed to reduce their speed and struck unit 2) it will be redacted from the police report at trial.
Other mistakes in the report can be amended. Many times a police report can be amended after meeting with the police officer. If the amendments are simple like adding a passenger or changing a date of birth they can usually be amended fairly quickly. Sometimes, however, for more substantial changes the officer won’t change the report but will add a supplemental section.
An important point to remember is that while the police report is an important document, and a starting point for any car accident case, it is not the deciding factor on whether your case will be successful. Our personal injury lawyers have won numerous cases when our clients were the party found at fault in the police report.
“I don’t understand why the other driver didn’t get a ticket for hitting me?”
It is fairly uncommon for a police officer to give a traffic ticket to an individual following a car accident. As in the previous explanations the reason is because the officer is not a witness to the accident. As such, he or she would be unable to testify in court as to the basis for the ticket (i.e. whether the defendant failed to yield the right of way, was speeding, etc.)
Even in situations wherein the other driver was given a ticket that would be inadmissible in court. The reason is, as stated above, the officer’s opinion as to fault is irrelevant and inadmissible. There are exceptions to this rule, including when the other driver pleads guilty to the infraction.
In many situations individuals are charged with Reckless Driving. In these situations we will speak with the District Attorney to try to force the defendant to plead guilty to the offense. This serves two purposes. First it allows us to try to get punitive damages for our clients for the car accident case. This significantly increases the value of the car accident case and increases the amount of money our clients will receive. Second, if there is any claim of contributory negligence brought by the defense it will be defeated by the reckless driving of the defendant.
“It has been a week and the report is still not available. When can I get it?”
Depending on the investigating authority, (CMPD v. NCHP) it can take more or less time for the report to become available. For example, a car accident handled by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police will typically be made public in two to three business days. If it has been longer than that there may be a mistake made by the officer. Typically, the officer is required to submit the report to his or her sergeant for approval. Upon approval of the sergeant the report is uploaded to the NC DMV. If the report is accepted by the DMV it is made public. If, however, the NC DMV rejects the report (usually for a technical mistake) it gets returned to the submitting police officer. Once the mistake is corrected it can be resubmitted to the NC DMV and made public.
Charlotte Police reports can be accessed on the Internet here.
Reports made by the NC Highway Patrol or State Troopers after a car accident can also be accessed on the Internet as well. These reports take much longer to become public, sometimes 7-10 days. However, the State Trooper goes through the same process of getting the report approved by the NC DMV before it can become public. North Carolina Highway Patrol reports can be accessed here.
“My accident just happened and I am getting a ton of letters and phone calls from Lawyers, doctors, and people who want to fix my car. How did they get my information?”
Police reports are public. Many lawyers, doctors and body shops will contact people in an attempt to solicit their business. We do not approve of this behavior and do not participate in this type of advertising. Further, it is unethical for a lawyer to call or visit a potential client following a car accident unless requested by the individual or someone on their behalf. Our accident lawyers have met with numerous individuals following their car accidents who have described this behavior by lawyers in and around Charlotte. We encourage clients to report these lawyers to the NC Bar, as this behavior is highly unethical.
Individuals are not required to use or even speak with the people who solicit their business following a car accident. We encourage people to take care of their health first before speaking with anyone about their case, including and especially any insurance company.
At Rosensteel Fleishman we have handled thousands of car accident cases for individuals across North Carolina. We are regularly requested by other attorneys to assist or handle their client’s personal injury cases. By choice, we do not advertise our services on TV, radio, Yellow Pages, billboards or use direct mail. We believe the best advertising is a successful client. If you wish to discuss your case please contact our office. You will speak directly with a lawyer for free about your case.