You can obtain a car accident report by requesting it online in many states. Since this police report is an integral element of your car accident claim or lawsuit, you will need a copy as soon as possible.
This document contains valuable information that can help your car accident attorneys find eyewitnesses, evaluate the consequences of the crash, determine at-fault parties, and build a strong case in court. While filling out an online form is the easiest way to request a police report, it’s not always the fastest. Your lawyer, in fact, can usually acquire the report easier and faster than you can.
Let’s take a closer look at getting a car accident report online and offline.
Getting a Car Accident Report Online
In many states, including New York and New Jersey, you can get a copy of the car accident report online. To do that, you need to go to the law enforcement agency’s website and find a tab related to vehicles and collisions.
On the website, you can also find a form that requests a police report. Print it out, fill out all the sections, and send it to the email address mentioned on the form. It could take several weeks to process an online request.
Remember that if you need a copy of the police report for an accident investigated by state police, you must request it on the state police’s website.
If you aren’t sure how to obtain a police report online, you can call the relevant police station (non-emergency number) and ask for help. Alternatively, you can ask your attorney to handle this for you.
Police don’t upload reports online immediately after the accident. Processing can take several weeks. If you want a hard copy of the police report, you should visit the police department in person. This could improve your chances of obtaining the document faster.
When the police officer finishes work at the accident site, they can give you a receipt or a report retrieval number. You can use this number to get a copy of the police report from the relevant police department.
If you don’t have the number or receipt, you need to call the department (non-emergency number) or visit it and ask for a copy of the report. You need to know the accident’s time, date, and location to do that.
Do I Need to Pay for a Copy of a Police Report?
If you request a copy of the police report online, you usually need to pay a fee. For example, the cost of obtaining a police report in New York is $15.
If you want to avoid paying a fee, you could:
- Go to the right precinct’s police department and get a copy for free. This could be an issue if the accident didn’t happen in your area.
- Speak to your insurance company. They usually request police reports right after the accident and provide a copy to you without charge.
When people sustain serious injuries in car accidents, they often don’t have an opportunity to go to the police department in person. That’s why many of them try to order reports online. You can speak to your attorney about ways to avoid paying a fee without going to the police department.
An online copy of the police report can be more convenient than a hard copy, as it’s easier to keep it intact or share with relevant parties.
What Is a Car Accident Police Report?
A car accident police report is the first legal document that appears after you get into a car accident. The police arrive at the scene and record all relevant information about the crash. Law enforcement officers have experience evaluating accidents and gathering important information that can assist in further investigation.
If you sustained injuries in a car accident, you were probably too hurt and confused to gather evidence and speak to eyewitnesses at the site. Police officers record important accident data and put it in the report.
Car accident reports usually contain:
- Date and time of the accident
- Location of the accident
- The weather during the accident
- Road conditions during the accident
- Contact information of all parties involved
- Contact information of eyewitnesses
- Eyewitness testimony
- Testimony of parties involved
- Accident details, including point of collision
- Diagram of vehicles’ placement during the accident.
- Description of damages to the vehicles and surrounding property
The police officer who prepares the report can also share their opinion about the cause of the accident and at-fault parties.
If the report states that you are at fault, it doesn’t mean you can’t obtain compensation. While a police officer’s opinion counts, it’s not evidence of who or what caused the accident.
Hire a car accident attorney to investigate the accident, discover new evidence, and prove another party’s negligence. The insurance company also investigates to determine who is at fault.
Can a Police Report Serve as Evidence?
While a car accident police report is an official document, courts don’t usually admit them in civil cases. In most cases, the court considers police reports hearsay.
Hearsay is statements made by people who were not witness to the event they are speaking of, so they can’t confirm the validity of the information. The court is more likely to accept a police officer’s testimony of what they found at the scene. However, the officer’s speculation on the causes of the car accident included in their report is likely hearsay because they didn’t actually witness the accident happen or know what each driver was doing at the time.
Some exceptions to the hearsay rules exist. The report may be admissible if it meets special requirements. However, in many cases, the court’s decision to admit a police report is overturned on appeal.
One exception is a small claims court. If you file a lawsuit in a small claims court, the judge is more likely to allow using the police report when presenting your case.
The judge may also admit the report if both parties agree to it. However, if the report contains a police officer’s opinion about who was at-fault, that party isn’t likely to agree to admission.
While you may not be able to use the police report in court, it still serves various important purposes.
How Insurance Companies Use Police Reports
As insurance companies learn about the accident, they request a police report. They need details from the report to understand what happened. While the car accident report contains useful information for the insurance company, it’s insufficient to conclude who was at fault.
Insurance adjusters go to the accident scene to evaluate the conditions, check for such evidence as tire tracks or road damage, and speak to eyewitnesses if any are available.
They use the police report to review statements from all parties involved, continue their investigation and make a decision about compensation.
When you file a car accident claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company, the adjuster uses the police report and information from their investigation to decide:
- Whether to accept or reject your claim
- What amount they are willing to cover
- Whether they are ready to go to court instead of settling
Even though a police report is rarely admissible as evidence, it can provide valuable information that helps insurance companies choose a suitable course of action.
Why You Need to Get the Police Report As Soon As Possible
The faster you access the car accident report, the faster your attorney can build your case. While you can still collect evidence and investigate without the report, this document may contain information that changes the approach or helps with a jumping off point.
When it comes to car accident claims, speed is essential for several reasons:
- Evidence becomes harder to obtain. Owners of the camera footage from properties around the scene may erase the footage. City maintenance may repair potholes.
- Witness memories fade. With time, eyewitnesses begin to forget accident details. Their account of the incident may change and interfere with building a strong case.
Another reason not to delay legal action is the time restraint on filing a lawsuit called the statute of limitations.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations determines how much time you have to file a lawsuit.
This time can differ from state to state:
- New York. The statute of limitations is three years from the accident or when you discover accident-related injuries.
- New Jersey. The statute of limitations is two years from the accident or the time you discover accident-related injuries.
If you try to file a lawsuit after the time is up, the at-fault party can file a motion to dismiss. The judge is highly likely to dismiss your case immediately. However, some exceptions to the statute exist. If more than two or three years have passed since the accident, consult an attorney.
While two or three years seems like a long time, many people miss the deadline because they are tending to their injuries or participating in time-consuming negotiations with the insurance company.
If you work with an attorney, they know exactly how much time you have to file a lawsuit. That’s why they recommend getting a copy of the police report and commencing legal action as soon as possible.
Police Report and Negations With the Insurance Company
Most car accidents settle out of the courtroom. The at-fault party’s insurance company will likely agree to negotiations instead of taking the case to court.
High-quality evidence and negotiation expertise are the keys to a fair settlement from the insurance company. Insurance adjusters who conduct these negotiations have significant experience decreasing settlements or denying them altogether.
To succeed in these negotiations, you must build a strong case, have sufficient evidence, and be ready for emotional pressure.
A police report is powerful evidence for negotiations with the insurance company. You can use it to support your arguments when proving the other party’s fault and negligence.
The insurance adjuster can also gain access to the police report. If it’s beneficial to their case, they will use it to pressure you into accepting a lower settlement. Before negotiations, it’s imperative to study the report closely to prepare for the insurance company’s arguments.
An experienced attorney can handle negotiations, prepare counter arguments, and use the police report to your advantage.
Should You Get a Car Accident Report Online?
Getting a car accident report online isn’t complicated. If the state you live in offers such an option, all you need to do is fill out a form and submit it or send it to the relevant email address.
This can be an excellent solution for accident victims who are still tending to their injuries and don’t have an opportunity to travel.
While online police reports are convenient, they do usually cost around $15 to $25 and take several weeks to receive.
The easiest way to receive the car accident report without leaving your home or the hospital is to ask your insurance company or your attorney for a copy. Insurance companies and your attorney will request these reports as soon as they learn about the accident. They can provide you with a copy.
A car accident report is an important document that helps your car accident attorney build a strong case, conduct negotiations, and create a strategy to pursue fair compensation. Contact an experienced car accident lawyer for your free case evaluation and let them collect the documents you need to support your injury claim.