How to Get a Police Report from a Car Accident

Snapshot

Getting a copy of a police report after a car accident is a simple procedure that you can do for a small fee through the police department’s traffic division or for free through an insurance adjuster.

Calling the police to the scene of an accident that doesn’t involve extensive property damage or serious injury may seem unnecessary.

The polite exchange of contact information with the other driver suggests a cooperative effort to put an unfortunate incident behind you both.

But the accident settlement you thought would be a snap can sometimes become more complicated, even contentious.

“Insurance adjusters give great weight to the findings of a police report, as often time it is the only document reflecting the unbiased details of the accident,” said John Marvin, attorney at Williams Law, P.A. in Florida.

Police reports may not be the final word. In fact, insurance companies looking to mitigate their liability in a settlement often conduct their own investigations.

But that decision is made after requesting the police report since it contains a vast amount of information about the accident – i.e., time, date, eyewitness testimony, weather factors, a diagram of the accident, location of damage, etc.

So, it’s important to know not only what is in a police report but how best to get a copy of a report as you protect your interests in a car accident settlement.

Information You Need to Obtain an Accident Report

It’s always in your best interest to call police to the scene of an accident, even if no one is clearly injured, and even if the other driver is arguing against it. Law enforcement does important fact gathering to assess the extent of damage, the possibility of injury, who was at fault and whether others saw what happened.

Most drivers can’t do that kind of work.

There’s the information police officers need to file a report. And there’s the information you will need to access that report when you file a claim.

Once the police work is done, your job should be to get the name of the officers investigating the accident, their badge numbers and the incident report number if it’s available in real time.

That way you can share that information with your insurance company when you report the accident or have that information when you request a police report in person.

“Regardless of the severity of the accident, the best practice is to immediately call the police after an accident,” Marvin said.

How to Get a Copy of a Police Report from a Car Accident

Your accident may be one of several crashes investigated during a day or a week. Marvin cites a 3–10-day ballpark turnaround in Florida but that could be shorter or longer in other states and in other circumstances.

Drivers looking to obtain police reports can pursue two main avenues – one that involves a small fee and another that is free of charge.

Both gain momentum from having the names of the officers and the accident report number. But if you don’t have those, you can still get a police report by knowing the time, date and location of the accident.

It’s one reason why accident attorneys and car insurance experts recommend drivers not only take pictures at an accident scene but keep detailed notes that can later help support their case in a claim.

Request a Copy from Law Enforcement

If you pull in your driveway at 3 p.m. after an accident that happened at 2 p.m., don’t expect the police report to be available by lunch the next day. In fact, it could take a few weeks. But the process for obtaining it is the same, regardless of how long it takes.

Identify the local law enforcement office where the report will be on file and call (at the appropriate time) to request a copy. If you have the report number, you can usually get a copy through the traffic division.

There’s a small fee. In Florida, it’s $12. It could be as much as $15 elsewhere but usually not more.

If you don’t know the number (as previously mentioned) you can help the traffic division locate the report by providing the necessary details of the accident, along with your name and the name of the other driver(s.)

For purposes of expediency and convenience, especially if the accident didn’t occur close to your home or work, find out if you can request the report online.

Marvin, who practices law in the Tampa area, says the simplest way to obtain a police report in Florida is to purchase it through the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle website.

Request a Copy from Insurance Adjuster

Insurance adjusters (and car accident attorneys) rely on the police report not only for information but for conclusions reached regarding fault. (Some judgments about fault may not stand up in certain courts but that’s another story.)

The police report is also where insurance companies discover whether police cited one or more drivers.

Most insurance companies require you to report an accident within a certain time frame.  If you did so promptly, chances are your insurance company has already requested a copy of the police report. If so, the insurance company will usually provide you a copy at no cost.

“You can request a copy of the police report from your insurance company,” Marvin said. “However, generally speaking, it is much more efficient to purchase your own.”

How Long Do You Have to Obtain an Accident Report

In any discussion of car accident claim involves deadlines and protocols, you should know that laws vary state to state. Because of that, it’s wise to call for a free consultation with an experienced accident attorney in your jurisdiction to ensure your interests are protected.

In Florida, you have 10 days to file a police report following an accident. You can request a copy of your police report as early as 3-10 business days following the accident.

“The police report will not expire, so if you choose to order it at a later date, that is totally fine,” Marvin said.

What If You Haven’t Filed a Police Report Yet?

Reporting an accident to police from the scene typically assures a law enforcement investigation and a subsequent report that can support a settlement claim. If an accident involves serious injuries or extensive property damage, many states require drivers to report the accident to police or the state DMV immediately.

In some states, there’s no explicit time frame for filing a police report. Alabama requires drivers to file an immediate accident report if there were injuries or even the possibility of injuries. Mississippi, like Florida, allows 10 days to contact law enforcement.

In general, if your claim hinges on you providing supporting evidence of the other driver being at fault or of the extent medical costs incurred in a car accident, waiting to file an accident report with police and the insurance company is often detrimental to a successful claim and prompt settlement.

How Insurance Companies Use Police Reports

Insurance companies can use police reports for information and for evidence pertaining to driver fault. Police reports are not the final word. An insurance adjuster working on behalf of a driver deemed at fault in an accident, may conduct its own investigation and reach a different conclusion.

One reason to request a copy of the police report is to check for accuracy. Police do make mistakes.

Remember, statements made at the accident scene can be used by insurance companies to contest your claim. That’s why it’s advised to never admit fault to police or anyone else.

But what if your version is inaccurate in a police report? Can you correct the error?

Correcting inaccuracies in a police report isn’t an easy process. The driver should contact the police department (through their non-emergency number) to ask how to go about getting the report amended.

However, if the errors in the police report are not factual, such as a witness statement, it is difficult to amend a police report.

“You do have the option to write your own account of the event and can request to submit it as evidence with the police report,” Marvin said. “However, because this evidence is disputable, it may not be included with the report.”

Given that amending a police report is a difficult process, your opportunity to dispute inaccurate findings comes when you give your recorded statements to the insurance companies. This is your opportunity to set the record straight and give your version of the events.

Statements given to insurance companies can support your case or hurt it. For that reason, it’s often smart to first have a free consultation with an accident attorney who can not only help with questions about requesting a police report but also how best to support your claim in discussions with insurance adjusters.

Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is a writer based in Ohio who brings decades of newspaper experience as a reporter, columnist and editor to his freelance work. Shaw has written on topics as diverse as the city of Atlanta's successful bid to secure the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, to the educational challenges faced by an urban Cleveland school during the Covid-19 pandemic, to federal home buying loan programs designed to help teachers, firefighters, police and emergency personnel get a foothold in the housing market. Whatever the topic, Shaw strives to bring a sharp focus and clear understanding to the issues affecting people's everyday lives.

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Sources:

  1. N.A. (ND) Can You File A Car Wreck Report After The Fact? Retrieved from https://www.morrisbart.com/faqs/can-you-file-a-car-wreck-report-after-the-fact/
  2. N.A. (ND) Reporting a Car Accident to the Police. Retrieved from https://www.colombolaw.com/ohio-blog/filing-report-car-accident/