Documenting Your Claim: Accident Reports
Getting Your Police Report
One of the first documents you will obtain is the police report for your accident. It is the single piece of information the adjuster will normally rely on figuring out whose fault the accident was along with the severity of the accident and any aggravating circumstances.
Calling the Police Department
The investigating officer may give you a card at the scene of the accident with a phone number and accident/report number. You should wait 2-3 days before calling to get the police report because it will take a couple of days for the officer to submit the report and for the report to make it into the police department’s records system. If you did not get a card, call the local police station that investigated your accident and ask for the records department. Police departments file accident reports by date/time, street where the accident occurred, or by the last names of the drivers.
When you speak to the records department, you want to get several pieces of information:
- Get the police report number if you do not already have it.
- Determine if there are any “supplemental reports.” If your accident involved a DUI driver, the police department will create a supplemental report to the main police report that will have the blood alcohol content, etc. Many times a records custodian will not send this to you unless you ask and will default to just sending you the standard report.
- Ask if there is a copying fee for getting a copy of the report.
- Find out who to make your check out to. Some police departments will give drivers a free copy of their report while others will require a small fee to pull and copy the report.
- Confirm the correct mailing address if you are planning on requesting a copy of your police report by mail.
Actually Getting The Accident Report
You can get the police report in one of two ways. You can:
- Go to the police department and pick up a copy in person (take money for the copying fee); or
- Mail a letter/request along with check for the copying fee and a self addressed stamped envelope for the records clerk to mail back the report.
You will also want to ask for a “key” when you get the report. Many police reports use numbers as short codes for certain information. Without your State’s key, you will not be able to read all the information on the report. Many States make their police report keys available online too, in case you forgot to get one with the report.
Analyzing the Police Report
Once you get a copy of the police report, make a working copy and keep a clean copy. Put the working copy in your ClaimClinic Binder behind the Accident Report tab. Now you want to carefully read over the working copy of the police report and analyze it for the following…
The police report will at a minimum tell you the other driver’s name, address, and age. If your car accident is just a typical one, i.e. no DUI, then the only thing to take note of is whether the other driver is really old or really young. Of course you will already know this from seeing and interacting with the driver at the scene. But the adjuster won’t have seen the at-fault driver so noting this will permit you to bring it to the adjuster’s attention.
The other information contained in the police report in the driver information area is the fact of who owned the car. Sometimes, the at-fault driver will not own the car. This could be because he/she is driving a parent’s or friend’s car. The driver not owning the car may affect insurance coverage in that the insurance companies will need to figure out whose insurance is going to pay – the driver’s or the car owner’s. Usually the insurance companies will figure this out on their own and tell you who is stepping up to handle the claim.
If your accident involved a DUI driver, then you may want to use the at-fault driver’s name and address to do some investigating to see if the driver has multiple DUI’s. This can be a value multiplier for your claim. Investigating will entail finding out what county the driver lives in and then calling the solicitor’s office in that county and asking the clerk whether that driver has multiple DUI’s. Tell the clerk you are going to send an Open Records Request (ORR) but wanted to talk to them verbally prior to see if there was even any information to be had. Some clerks may not tell you over the phone, in which case just send the ORR letter.
If you want to be really thorough in investigating the other driver’s prior DUI’s, you need to repeat this process for all the surrounding counties. A repeat DUI often has DUI offenses in surrounding counties because of the fact they are driving around those counties as part of their daily activities. The reason you need to explore each surrounding county is because some states do not share DUI records across counties.
Other Driver’s Insurance
The same area of the police report that has the other driver’s information will also have his/her insurance information. Typically the report will list the insurance company and the policy number. If you didn’t get this information from the driver at the scene then you will use this information to call his/her insurance company and open a personal injury claim.
Sometimes the other driver does not have insurance or is driving with an expired/lapsed insurance coverage. In these cases, you are going to have to examine your own car insurance coverage to figure out if you have uninsured motorist coverage. If you do have this type of coverage, you need to open your claim with your insurance company.
Speed & Skid Marks
The speed limit for the street where your accident occurred will always be listed on the police report. The speed limit is important because it infers how fast the other driver was going at the time of the collision. An accident in a 25 MPH zone is going to be a lot different in the adjuster’s eyes then an accident in a 45MPH zone. Just highlight the Posted Speed Limit on the report so that you can quickly find it when you go to right your Demand, because you will the speed at impact argument in the Collision section.
Skid marks can tell you a couple of things. If there are no skid marks you can argue the other driver did not brake before the collision, meaning they hit you at full speed. If there were skid marks, you can use a Skid Speed Calculator to get an approximation of how fast the driver was going before impact.
The police report at a minimum will list the name, address and phone number of each witness. You can use this information to locate and interview the witnesses. Witnesses can not only help prove liability (i.e. other driver’s fault) but also lots of times give you good statements about the severity of the impact, which the adjuster will read as supporting injuries and your claim.
Every police report will have a spot where the officer writes out what happened, their observations at the scene and sometimes (hopefully) notes your injuries at the scene and their reasons for giving a traffic ticket to the other driver. You want to highlight or make a note of every fact in the officer’s narrative that either helps or hurts you.
If the officer indicated the accident was your fault you are almost guaranteed the insurance adjuster is going to deny your claim on the basis their driver was not at fault. (See Figuring Out Fault). You only have one option here to try to fight through this for purposes of trying to negotiate a settlement. Of course, you can always file suit and let a jury decide whose fault the accident was. Your one option is to call the investigating officer for explanation. You need to do this in a very careful and professional manner. You need to accept going in that you will not convince the officer to change his conclusion. If you try to do this, you can forget getting anything favorable out of him. When you talk to the officer, take good notes. You want to begin by explaining that you are handling your own case and the insurance company is relying solely on the police report to determine liability. Then ask the police officer to explain why he thinks you and not the other driver was at fault. After listening to him, ask if he can testify for certain that it was only your fault. Ask if he is 100% convinced it was your fault. What you are after is some sort of admission or concession from the officer that he is not 100% certain. Once you have completed the call, call the adjuster and tell them you just interviewed the officer and he declined to state fault in the case.
Obtaining the disposition of the at fault driver’s traffic ticket can help you prove liability. Usually a person paying his/her traffic ticket or pleading guilty is an admission the accident was their fault. Even if you think liability is not at issue (i.e. the insurance company has admitted liability), it is still worth your while to obtain a copy of the disposition and include it in your Demand Package because it shows the adjuster how thorough you are and that your claim is thoroughly prepared.
To obtain and analyze how the other person handled their traffic ticket:
- Examine the Police Report to see if the officer noted the ticket number for the ticket he gave the other driver. If he/she did not, then you will need to work with the records custodian using the date of the accident and the Police Report # to identify the citation.
- Call the clerk of the Court in your area that handles traffic tickets. This could be a municipal court, a magistrate court, a recorder’s court, or some other “small” court. Ask them to pull up the traffic citation number and tell you what the “final disposition” was.
- If the other driver has not yet handled his/her ticket, kindly ask the clerk when the court date is and make a note to follow up with the clerk after the date has passed.
- If the driver pled guilty and/or paid the fine, request that the clerk send you a copy of the “final disposition.” As always when dealing with a clerk, offer to send them a letter with a self-addressed stamped return envelope for their convenience.