Picture yourself cruising down the road, minding your own business, when suddenly you get hit by another car. From your point of view, the other driver clearly broke traffic laws by rolling through a stop sign. But when the police arrive on the scene, the other driver insists that the opposite actually happened. As a result, the police report says you were at fault.
In California, car accident cases get settled based on who is at fault for causing the accident. And an official police report can be used as evidence in a car accident case. If the police report says you’re at fault, does that mean you’re out of luck?
Not necessarily – and not if you have good legal counsel on your side. The other driver is likely to use the police report against you in a case for damages. But a police report is not the be-all-end-all of evidence. You can show your own evidence to prove that the police report is wrong, but you must act quickly because time is of the essence when it comes to evidence.
The first step is to get a copy of the police report as soon as possible.
How Do Police Determine Fault in an Accident?
Car accident cases can be complex puzzles, especially when there are multiple cars involved. Even the tiniest details – for example, the angle of tire marks on the road or a shadow cast by an overhanging tree – help put together the larger picture.
When police officers arrive at the scene of a car accident, their job is to collect information, identify and interview witnesses, record the physical evidence, and provide an analysis of what happened. Officers will take into account the following to help determine the facts:
- Statements from the people involved – Gathering accounts of what happened from each of the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists who were involved in the crash. While these types of first-hand statements can be valuable as evidence, they can also be influenced by the stress of the situation or personal biases.
- Physical evidence – Noting any tire marks, damage to vehicles, weather conditions, road hazards, and the final positions of the vehicles involved. You should try to take photos of the physical evidence whenever possible for your own records.
- Bystander witness statements – Independent witness accounts can offer unbiased perspectives because bystanders don’t have any personal interest in the crash. But even bystanders can be affected by adrenaline or shock from what they witnessed.
- Traffic regulations – What traffic rules applied to the scene of the crash and did any traffic violations occur, such as speeding, running a red light, or failing to yield?
- Surveillance footage – Some footage, such as dashcam footage, can be accessed immediately after an accident. However, you may not be able to get footage from security cameras belonging to nearby businesses right away.
The confusion, stress, and adrenaline of a car crash can cloud even the clearest minds. Even if someone isn’t intentionally lying about what happened, the people involved in the accident may be genuinely confused or going through shock while they give their testimony.
Meanwhile, police officers are human. Even if no one meant to put incorrect information in the police report, they may have made mistakes during the process of submitting the paperwork. An officer may have misheard or misunderstood a witness’s testimony. Police reports often include errors of omission as well as factual errors or disputed facts.
Still, it can be alarming to see yourself put at fault in a police report, even if you know that’s not the truth of what happened. Fortunately, the police report is just one piece of the puzzle.
Does a Police Report Determine Fault After an Accident?
While a police report can be a strong piece of evidence, they are not infallible. Ultimately, a police report is the professional opinion of the officer who arrived on the scene. Insurance companies and even courts will often consider additional factors before determining fault.
For example, insurance companies often conduct their own investigations. They may consider the police report a part of the greater body of evidence, but they will make their own assessment of the crash. After all, if you’re at fault, your insurance company will have to foot the bill. So they’re just as interested as you are in making sure that doesn’t happen.
Still, you have to remember that insurance companies aren’t necessarily on your side – they’re on their own side. The best way you can make sure that you’ve covered your back is by hiring a car accident attorney to help you prove your case.
For example, an experienced lawyer can help you bring on expert witnesses to testify that the facts are not as they are in the police incident report.
Can a Police Report Be Changed After the Crash?
Amending a police report can be done in California – but it’s not necessarily a straightforward process. For the best chance of success, you must move quickly before the report is finalized. That may require contacting the officer who took the report and requesting an amendment.
However, the officer may not be willing to change their assessment of a situation. You will have to show them convincing evidence such as photographs or witness statements to get them to amend their report. If you’re unable to convince the officer to change their report, you could ask to record a supplemental statement as a follow-up to the main document.
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you decide how to move forward in these complex situations. While a police report is a valuable tool, it’s not a final verdict. Determining what exactly happened in a car accident is a multifaceted process that requires careful examination of all the evidence. Judgment calls made on the scene in the chaotic aftermath of a car accident may not necessarily reflect the truth – and you can gather the evidence to prove it.
Remember: the truth matters and seeking justice is your right. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help. Contact us now for a free consultation with no legal fees due unless we win.