Police officers are trained to document their observations and actions whenever they’re called to the scene of an accident. This documentation takes the form of a police report (sometimes called a crash report or accident report).
Outside of criminal cases, most people who request a police report do so after a car accident in the hopes that the report will help establish someone else’s liability for the accident.
In this article, we’ll look at what’s inside a police report, how it can be used to support your case, and how to request a police report online.
What information is contained in a police report?
If you’ve ever been involved in a car accident, you’ve likely seen the responding officer walking around the scene of the accident taking notes. These notes are used in the police report, which, for a car accident, contain some or all of the following information:
- Name of the responding police officer
- Approximate date, time, and location of the accident
- Name and contact information of the parties involved in the accident
- Name and contact information of any witnesses to the accident
- Location of any damage to the vehicles involved in the accident
- The weather, roadway, and lighting conditions at the scene
- A diagram of the accident
- Statements from the parties and witnesses
- Citations and/or violations of law
- Opinion of the officer as to the cause of the accident
Of course, all police reports aren’t created equal. The general rule of thumb is that the more serious the accident, the more detailed the police report.
How can a police report be used?
If you’re injured in a car accident, you may find yourself trying to prove that another party is at fault for the accident so that you can be reimbursed for your medical expenses.
A police report can help your case in 2 primary ways:
- The police report may include contact information for helpful witnesses.
- The police report may contain an explanation of the cause of the accident or even a statement about liability.
When you hire a car accident attorney to represent you, one of the first things they will do is reach out to the witnesses identified in the police report to see if they can support your version of events. If the witnesses are helpful to your case, your attorney will have them sign a supporting affidavit and may even take their deposition.
What’s more, the police report may contain a statement from the responding officer explaining the cause of the crash and maybe even identifying who was at fault for the accident.
Keep in mind that these statements are the officer’s opinions and just because an officer says a party is at fault, doesn’t mean the insurance company, judge, or jury will agree.
Can a police report be obtained online?
The process of obtaining a police report varies depending on your jurisdiction.
In general, you’ll need to submit a public records request with the police department responsible for the jurisdiction in which the accident occurred. Sometimes you can search for and request a police report online, such as in Washington State.
Other times, you may need to fill out the public records request online and submit it via email.
Go to the website of the police department responsible for the jurisdiction in which the accident occurred to see if the website outlines a specific protocol for requesting a police report.
In a few jurisdictions, you’ll need to actually fill out and submit the public records request through the mail.
Regardless, of how the public records request is completed and submitted, you’ll generally need to provide some or all of the following information in your request so that the appropriate department can locate the report:
- Name of persons involved
- Approximate date and time of the accident
- Approximate location of the accident
In most cases, there’s a small fee if the report exceeds a certain page limit.
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