When an accident occurs, an officer of the law is usually called to the scene to document the details of the incident. One of the most common reasons a police report might be made in Houston is in the event of a motor vehicle collision, particularly one involving serious property damage, injuries, or fatality.
A police report is one of the most essential pieces of evidence in any legal case, criminal or civil. But what happens if an inaccuracy makes its way into an accident report?
Does it really matter if the police report made at the scene of your personal injury accident contains an error?
How a Police Report Error Can Affect Your Personal Injury Case
Police reports are legal documents central to many accident cases. They can only be written by trained law enforcement officers, and the information contained within is considered to be factual. Insurance companies rely on police-written accident reports when making determinations about liability and compensation for victims. This makes a police report a critical component in your personal injury case.
In the example of a car accident, a police report is generally written and submitted by an officer who responds to the crash scene. It includes the most basic facts of the event, along with some of the observations made by the police officer. A car accident police report in Houston typically includes:
- The names and contact information of the involved parties
- Involved parties’ driver’s license information
- Auto insurance information for all involved parties
- Whether the officer believes there is at least $1,000 in property damage
- Date, time, and exact location of the crash
- Nearby intersections
- The posted speed limit on the road where the crash took place
- Involved vehicle(s) year, make, model, color, and vehicle identification number (VIN)
- The officer’s summary of the damage and injuries suffered in the accident
- The basic details of the crash, including a sketch of the collision
- Any observations of fault made by the officer (for example, if the officer notes one driver was texting and driving)
- Whether any arrests were made (such as a DUI charge)
- Any eyewitness information the police officer takes down
As you can imagine, a mistake made in a police report can completely change the outcome of your case. For example, if the responding officer reports that you were speeding at the time of the collision—when you know you were traveling well within the legal limit—you may be made to bear partial or full responsibility for an accident you did not cause. This error on the police report could then significantly reduce or altogether prevent you from obtaining the compensation you need for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.
This is a rather extreme example. Most officers of the law perform their duties with diligence, and few make such blatant errors when filling out an accident report. However, police officers are human beings who are not impervious to making mistakes. In the confusion of post-accident chaos, things may appear in a certain light, when, in actuality, the facts are different. Sometimes, a police officer is simply careless or eager to move on to other matters, leading to a lazy error in their summary of the accident.
Although police are trained to notice minor details, maintain impartiality, and avoid assumptions, it is not unheard of for erroneous information to creep into accident reports. Below we will look more closely at the most common police report errors.
The Most Common Types of Police Report Errors
While it is difficult to find concrete data on exactly how common police report errors are, we do know that there are certain types of mistakes and omissions that appear more frequently than others. Some of the most common types of police report errors are:
A factual mistake may be as simple as a misspelled name or the incorrect VIN for your car, or as serious as the wrong speed limit on the road where your accident occurred. Correcting any factual error on a police report will likely require that you provide concrete documentation refuting the mistake printed in the report.
If an important fact related to your case is not included in the police report, the insurance company can deny that it is relevant or even true. For example, if a police officer did not notice symptoms at the crash site, they may state in the official report that no parties suffered injuries. You may need to submit medical reports from your doctor, photos, and other evidence to prove that the officer failed to include an important fact.
Making assumptions is prohibited when writing accident reports, but some police officers may commit the mistake of falsely assuming the cause or outcome of the accident. Assumptions often lead to what is known as “disputed facts.” These are details the reporting officer assumed to be factual when not all parties agree that they are. These assumptions are most often related to liability and are difficult to contest without the help of a skilled attorney.
What To Do if You Disagree With the Police Report of Your Accident
If you were involved in a car accident, request a copy of the police report through the Texas Department of Transportation. Review the details of the report carefully. If you note that there is an error on the report, it is best to act quickly. Insurance companies will have already begun using this information in judgments regarding the amount of financial compensation you can receive for your losses.
Speaking with the officer at the scene of the crash is one of the best ways to prevent police report errors before they are set in writing. Sometimes, it only takes a bit of clarification to make sure the police officer does not misunderstand any of the facts pertinent to the case. However, even if you are able to offer your clear and correct account of events for the report, it doesn’t mean the document will necessarily be free from all errors.
Changing a police accident report is not an easy task. But if your ability to financially recover from an accident caused by another driver is put in jeopardy by a mistaken report, you and your car accident lawyer may need to fight to see that the error or omission is corrected.
It is best to be represented by an experienced lawyer when contesting the details of a police report. If you believe a police report error may be impacting your personal injury case, contact the office of Buckingham & Vega Law Firm. One of our attorneys can sit down with you to review the details of your case and offer practiced legal advice. There is no charge or obligation associated with a case evaluation at our Houston personal injury law firm.