Car accidents are all too common. If you’ve been in a fender bender, you know how stressful it can be — and more severe accidents are only more overwhelming. You don’t just have physical and emotional injuries to deal with — from broken bones and head trauma to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder — but you also need to navigate the confusing process of filing an insurance claim and, potentially, a lawsuit.
When claiming on your insurance or filing a personal injury claim to recover damages from another person or party, showing how the accident happened is vital. One document that can help you do just that is a crash report (known in some states as a police report).
What Is a Crash Report?
A crash report is a document filed by law enforcement officers that details the facts surrounding a car accident. It includes details such as when and where the accident happened, what the weather and road conditions were like (such as if it was snowing or a fallen tree was obscuring the road), and who was involved. It also includes details of any witnesses to the crash, any injuries sustained, and citations issued by the police officer to any driver.
Why a Police Report Is Important
A police report is a vital piece of evidence, as it provides an objective record of a car accident. Insurance companies, attorneys, and courts use a crash report to determine what factors contributed to an accident and, ultimately, who is responsible.
If you’re in a car accident and the attending officer issues a citation to the driver who crashed into you because they were speeding, or a breathalyzer test shows they were driving while intoxicated, it’s not hard to see how this would benefit you in a personal injury claim. After all, one of the biggest hurdles to claiming compensation is proving another party is liable.
Without this information in your crash report, the other driver might claim they were not speeding, and without witnesses or other evidence, it would be your word against theirs. This can make it much harder for you to prove fault and get the compensation you deserve.
Similarly, a police report can also help prove the extent of your injuries. Let’s say you injure your leg in an accident, and you can’t put any pressure on it. You decide to rest at home for a few days to avoid paying medical bills, but your injury later gets worse, and you need surgery, which leaves you unable to work for several months.
If your injury is documented in your crash report, you can show you sustained it during the accident — even if you didn’t immediately seek medical treatment. This can prevent the other party from claiming you injured your leg after the accident in an unrelated event, which can significantly reduce your compensation — and potentially derail your claim entirely.
Ultimately, a crash report can provide leverage during negotiations, helping you secure the maximum possible compensation for your injuries.
Do You Need Other Evidence to Support a Personal Injury Claim?
We already know that a crash report is a critical piece of evidence in a car accident claim, but it’s not the only one.
Other evidence can help tip the scales in your favor and ensure you get a fair settlement, such as:
- Medical records showing the long-term impact of your injuries
- Medical bills showing your incurred treatment costs
- Payslips showing how much money you earn (to calculate how much income you’ve lost from being unable to work)
- Photos and videos of the accident scene and your injuries.
The more evidence you have to support your case, the more likely you’ll achieve a successful outcome.
Do You Need to Report Your Car Accident?
If you’re in a severe accident, you (or another driver or witness) will likely call the police right away, but what if you’re in a minor accident? Do you need to report it?
Car accident reporting requirements vary by state. For example, if you’re in an accident in Texas, you must report it immediately if it causes death or injury or within 10 days if it results in property damage of more than $1,000.
If you’re in an accident in Maryland, though, you only need to report the accident if it causes death or injury, and you have 15 days to do it.
If you decide not to report your accident immediately, you can still do it later — as long as you meet the deadline. Like the reporting requirements, the government agency responsible for crash reports varies by state. In some, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for maintaining reports; in others, you may need to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or state police.
However, if you have longer to report your car accident, that doesn’t mean you should wait, nor does it mean you shouldn’t report it if you don’t need to legally.
As we’ve covered, injuries sustained in a minor car accident can get worse, and if you didn’t report the accident or seek medical treatment at the time, you might have a harder time proving when you were hurt.
Similarly, if you wait to report your accident and the other driver has already done so, you might find they’ve blamed you.
How to Get a Copy of Your Crash Report
Whether you report your accident immediately or wait, you will eventually want a copy of your crash report.
You can obtain your crash report from the government agency that maintains crash reports. In some states, you may need to pay a nominal fee and provide identification to confirm you were involved in the accident.
You will usually be able to request a copy online, although you can also file a request by mail or in person.
If you have severe injuries that prevent you from securing a copy yourself — or you’d rather avoid the hassle — a car accident lawyer can get a copy for you. If you choose an attorney who works on a contingency fee basis (meaning you won’t pay legal fees until you receive a settlement), you won’t need to pay upfront.
The benefit of having your lawyer retrieve your crash report is that they can also explain how to interpret your crash report and advise you on the next steps if you believe any part of it is incorrect (for example, if you reported an injury to an officer that wasn’t documented in the report).
Of course, that’s not all an attorney can do for you. They will also gather evidence to support your personal injury claim, postpone your medical bills until you receive a payout, and negotiate a fair settlement that fairly compensates you for your injuries and losses, leaving you free to focus on your recovery.