Police Reports: Why They Are Often Wrong

After a car accident, police do an investigation, talk to the witnesses, and file a police report. Although the police report is inadmissible at trial in Maryland, the facts in the report and the conclusion of the police officer who was at fault colors – sometimes permanently -how the insurance companies view the merits of accident claims.police report errors

In serious injury accident cases, often there are parties to the accident unable to talk to police because they are tending to their injuries. Obviously, this problem is even more pronounced in wrongful death accident cases.

I recently received a call from a potential client who forwarded to me the police report in this case that showed that she caused the accident. The problem was that as a matter of physics and given the property damage, the accident could not have happened as the police report suggested. What did the woman who was listed at-fault tell the police after the accident? Nothing. She was airlifted to shock trauma. So the police officer listened to the driver that was there, accepted his story, and then filed his police report listing the woman as the at-fault driver.   We talked to the police officer and got the situation rectified, but it took some work.

The big lesson here for accident lawyers is to take the police report’s findings with a grain of salt. If you have a serious injury case, do your own investigation of the accident as opposed to deciding on the case by looking at the police report.

Getting the Police Report Changed

The police report may not be admissible at trial, but there are reasons sometimes why getting the police report corrected can make a difference.  Mostly, it gives policial cover to an insurance adjuster looking to accept liability in the case but fears being second-guessed by someone auditing her files for paying on a claim where the police report finds that claimant at fault.

We have had some success in getting police reports, autopsies, and other official governmental reports changed.  The biggest key to maximizing your chance of getting the report changed it to politely reference the evidence that is wrong.  There is no chance of getting an opinion or a conclusion changed in a police report unless there is an error of fact.  When you respectfully bring this to the officer’s attention, which I suggest you do by setting up a meeting at the police station, you will have a pretty excellent chance of getting the report changed.

One word of caution on this.  Sometimes, you need to be concerned about how the report is changed will play to a jury.  If the jury thinks your lawyer strong-armed the police officer, and that you had a lawyer immediately involved in your case, that could affect the jury’s perception of you at trial.

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