If you’ve been involved in an accident, chances are that a police officer responded to the scene.
Depending on the severity of the collision, the officer may write a report or simply fill out an exchange of information form.
If liability is disputed in your case, for example, it’s a lane change or a red light dispute, a police report in your favor can be helpful, but it is not a silver bullet.
People are frequently surprised to hear that the other driver’s insurance company has denied liability despite a police report finding the other driver at fault.
This is not uncommon, because ultimately, it will be up to a judge, not the police officer, to determine who is at fault for the accident.
What the officer has to say about the accident may be important at trial, but the judge will make a decision about who is at fault based on all the evidence presented at trial – the clarity of the testimony, the credibility of the parties and any independent witnesses, as well as photographs of the scene and the property damage.
If your personal injury case is going to trial because the fault is disputed, the following are some things to keep in mind regarding ways in which the police officer can help you at trial, and ways in which he or she will be limited.
(1) Keep in mind that 99% of the time, the officer didn’t witness the actual accident. This is important because the officer can only testify from their own personal experience – what he or she saw and heard at the scene.
The officer can help you by testifying about the location of the vehicles after the accident. If they haven’t moved, this can assist in proving how the accident happened. Similarly, if the officer can recall the location of the debris field, this can also assist a judge in determining where, or in what lane a collision occurred.
The officer can also testify about any statements made by either driver at the scene. This will be most useful if the other driver admitted fault to the officer.
(2) If there were witnesses to the accident who told the officer that the other driver, for example, ran the red light, but he doesn’t get their information or the witnesses are unavailable at trial, the officer won’t be allowed to testify about what those witnesses said to him (hearsay).
(3) Sometimes, the officer’s determination of fault just isn’t supported by the objective evidence. It’s extremely common for an officer to depict an accident as being 100% rear-end collision, but the actual property damage may not actually be head-on. If the other driver claims the accident was caused by a lane change, the officer’s conclusion about fault really isn’t as helpful.
(4) If the other driver is ticketed or arrested for DUI, the officer will be limited in what he can say about that unless it resulted in a guilty plea or a conviction.
While a police report in your favor is certainly an advantage, you should be prepared to rely on other evidence, such as the photos of the scene and the property damage to win your case.
This goes both ways, though. If the officer made a mistake and found you at fault, it’s not the end of your case. You can still win at trial.
If you or a family member has been injured or killed in a car accident in Virginia caused by the fault or negligence of another person and would like to consult an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney for free, contact us at (855) 954-4141 to schedule an appointment at one of our office locations in Manassas or throughout Virginia or visit us online.