Police officers who respond to a car accident almost always collect information and prepare an accident report. As a victim of a car accident, you may need to obtain a copy of that report to file a claim with your own insurance company. A lawyer you hire to represent you in a legal action seeking damages for the accident may also need the report as evidence of what happened.
Let’s explore what’s involved in a police report, how to obtain a copy of it, and the purposes a police car accident report can serve when you seek payment for your injuries and losses.
Steps to Protect Your Rights Following a Car Accident
This is a blog post about car accident reports, but we want to emphasize that you make your very first priority after any car accident to seek appropriate medical care right away. This is the single most important way to protect your own wellbeing and protect your legal and financial rights.
Sometimes, car accident victims avoid seeking medical help because they feel certain they have not suffered a serious injury. That is a mistake. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, you cannot trust yourself to assess your physical condition. Some dangerous injuries do not show symptoms right away, and the shock of the accident itself may interfere with your ability to feel pain.
Now, on to the topic at hand: car accident reports.
In virtually every state, New York and New Jersey included, you must summon police to the accident scene immediately if the accident caused injuries or anything more than minor vehicle damage. Practically speaking, the safest thing to do after any accident is to call the police. Calling the police ensures the preparation of a thorough accident report.
While you wait for the police, take steps to obtain information from the other driver and from anyone else involved in or who witnessed the crash. Get insurance information from the other driver, take a photo of that driver’s license if possible, and get contact details for everyone. If you can do so safely, take pictures at the car accident scene of all vehicle damage, the roadway, and the surrounding area.
Police should include all of this type of information in a police report. However, if you can, collect that information yourself, too, in case you need a backup.
Obligations to Prepare and File an Accident Report
Police who respond to a car accident scene involving injuries or anything more than minimal property damage must prepare and file an accident report. New York and New Jersey laws require police to prepare a report, and in New Jersey, the officer must submit that report within five days. This is why summoning the police to an accident scene is the best way to ensure that an accident report gets prepared.
You, too, may have an obligation to file a car accident report.
- In New York, you must file your own car accident report for any accident in which someone dies or sustains injuries, or in which your or anyone else’s property (which includes any car) sustains more than $1,000 in damage. This rule applies even if police respond to the scene of your accident.
- In New Jersey, you must file your own car accident report for any accident in which someone dies or sustains injuries, or in which your or anyone else’s property (which includes any car) sustains more than $500 in damage. Unlike New York, however, you do not have to file this report if police respond to the scene and prepare their own reports.
Do not overlook this requirement! Failure to file a report for a car accident when you have an obligation to do so can result in fines and other legal sanctions. It may also make it more difficult for you to claim benefits from your or someone else’s auto insurance policy. And, it may interfere with your ability to seek compensation from the at-fault party in an accident that leaves you badly injured.
Be careful, however, about what kind of, and how much, information you share in the accident report you file online. Accident victims sometimes make mistakes in completing accident reports, either by over-sharing and including too much information, or leaving out important information that could help protect their legal and financial rights.
Read the requirements for filing a report carefully before you begin. Avoid making any statements in the report that the insurance company could, even theoretically, interpret as admissions that you caused the accident.
If you have any questions, concerns, or uncertainty about what information to include in an accident report you must file, then speak with an experienced car accident attorney before filing the form with the authorities.
Requesting a Copy of a Police Car Accident Report in New Jersey and New York
The process for obtaining a copy of an accident report filed by police differs depending upon where your accident occurred.
- For crashes on non-toll roads in New Jersey, you can use this online portal to order the report. You can also visit the local police department that prepared the report in person to request a report, or mail in a request using this form together with the mandatory $10 fee. In theory, reports should be available within a week of the accident, but sometimes it can take longer for the report to become available. You may also have to wait for your request to process.
- For accidents that occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, you can purchase a copy of the accident report at www.buycrash.com.
- For accidents that occurred on the Atlantic City Expressway, fill out the accident request form linked above, and send it with a certified check or money order for $10 payable to the South Jersey Transportation Authority at P.O. Box 389, Hammonton, NJ 08037.
- For all crashes that happened in New York, you can order the report on the Department of Motor Vehicles online crash report portal. You can also request an accident report by mail by filling out this form and sending it, together with the required fees, to NYSDMV, MV-198C Processing, 6 Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12228. (The New York DMV prefers, however, that you use the online portal.) According to the DMV, it can take between 14 and 60 days to receive your report.
How Long Can You Access Your Accident Report
Once you have ordered a copy of an accident report, they do not remain accessible indefinitely. In New York, reports are available only for seven days and in New Jersey, they remain available for 14 days—in both cases, you or your insurer may request a hard copy certified copy of the report. We recommend obtaining the certified hard copy in most instances, because you may need it in the event you and your lawyer decide to take legal action seeking damages for your injuries and losses.
Car Accident Reports and Your Insurance Coverage
Your auto insurance company will probably want to see the police report for your car accident as soon as you notify them of the crash and your injuries. Your insurance policy may even require you to prove the accident report to your insurer. Either way, the police report constitutes an important piece of evidence that your auto insurer will want to review while evaluating any claim you file to pay for your medical care, lost income, or property damage to your car.
Obtaining a police report is important even in states like New York and New Jersey that have so-called “no-fault” insurance requirements. In these states, all drivers must carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. This insurance covers drivers and their passengers against the medical and disability costs related to any injury they suffer in a car accident, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
You might think: If I have no-fault insurance, then why should a police report about my accident even matter to my insurance company? Shouldn’t I receive my PIP benefits either way?
Yes and no. You should receive no-fault benefits regardless of who the police report says was at fault for the accident.
However, insurance companies have lots of reasons for wanting to see police reports.
- Car accident reports serve as evidence of the accident, which insurance companies need for their files.
- Car accident reports help insurance companies evaluate claims for injury or property damage—specifically, they want to know if the claimed damages match-up with what a police officer observed at the scene.
- Car accident reports give the insurance company important information about parties against whom your insurance company may have a right of subrogation (a legal right to seek reimbursement from other insurance companies).
So, even if you live in a no-fault auto insurance state, you should still take the time to obtain a copy of the police report for your car accident. Chances are your insurance company will require it.
Have questions about your rights to receive insurance benefits and your insurance company’s demand for a police report? Contact an experienced car accident and insurance claim attorney today to get the answers you need.
Car Accident Reports and Lawsuits for Damages
Car accident reports prepared by police who respond to the scene of an accident also serve another important function: they constitute evidence that a lawyer may use to help you recover damages for your injuries and losses.
Regardless of what insurance rules the state you live-in follows, you may have the right to take legal action against the at-fault party or parties in your accident seeking compensation for the harm you suffered.
A lawsuit can secure a payment for your:
- Medical expenses;
- Non-medical expenses;
- Lost wages and future income; and
- Pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life.
Experienced lawyers for car accident victims often use police car accident reports to help prove a case for damages.
Specifically, the report can serve as evidence of:
- Who or what caused the accident;
- Physical details of the accident, such as angles of collision and vehicle speeds;
- Road and environmental conditions at the time of the accident; and
- Names, ages, and other details of all persons injured in the accident.
Oftentimes, the information in the police report, alone, will point clearly to who bears fault for a crash and its resulting injuries. The report might even give the police officer’s opinion of fault.
However, that does not necessarily mean the police report constitutes the definitive, final word on those issues. Instead, experienced lawyers will often use the police report’s findings as a jumping-off point for their own, more detailed, investigation of the accident and its underlying causes.
In other words, by obtaining a copy of a police accident report for your crash as soon as it’s available, you give your lawyer a head start on collecting important evidence of how your accident happened and who may have a legal liability to you for your injuries and losses.
Get Your Car Accident Report Today
To sum up, let’s review the basics of car accident reports:
- Always call the police to your accident scene to ensure they prepare a report;
- Follow your state’s rules on filing your own accident report, and keep in mind in some states you may have to file a report even if the police also prepared one;
- Contact a lawyer with any questions before you file your own accident report;
- Order a copy of the police accident report as soon as it’s available. In addition to the electronic copy, order a certified hard copy for safekeeping;
- Send the police report to your own insurance company if required or if they ask for it (they probably will);
- Give a copy to your lawyer as potential evidence in a lawsuit for damages.
To learn more about your legal and financial rights to compensation after suffering injuries and losses in a car accident, and for answers to any questions you have about your accident report, contact an experienced car accident lawyer today.