When you have been in a car accident, there are several important steps to take. One of the most important steps is to contact the police, especially if someone involved in the crash has suffered a serious injury, if there has been a death or if there has been serious damage to your car or to other cars involved in the accident.
The police will come to the accident site, ensure that anyone who needs medical attention receives it and write a police auto accident report that contains facts about the crash as well as their conclusions about what happened and who appeared to be at fault. This can play an important role if you ultimately file a claim for damages or a lawsuit.
But not every car accident is a major one. In Pennsylvania, the police are not required to come to the scene of a car accident where there is no injury or serious damage to the vehicle involved. In that case, you will need to fill out an accident report and send it to the state’s Department of Transport.
Below we will explain to you the differences between a police report vs. an accident report in Pennsylvania, and how you can use both kinds of reports if you decide to file a claim for damages or a lawsuit against your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company.
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What Should I Do If a Car Accident Happens?
If you are involved in a car accident, there are certain steps you should always take. Please keep in mind that you may not be able to do all the steps on the scene if you or someone else is seriously injured. But if that is not the case, please do the following:
- Never leave the scene of an accident, even if you think it is only a minor one.
- Make sure no one is seriously injured.
- Call 911 if someone is hurt.
- Call the police. Provide them with as an exact description of your location as you can.
- Exchange information with the other driver, including drivers license and insurance information.
- Use your phone to take pictures of any damage to your car, to the other car and also of any injuries anyone in your vehicle may have suffered, no matter how minor.
- Take notes on your location, any nearby landmarks, the road conditions, the weather.
- Talk with any witnesses if available. Always be polite and calm.
- Call your insurance company and report the accident to them.
- Always visit a doctor even if you think your injury was only a minor one. Sometimes it can take three or four days or even weeks for an injury from a car crash to manifest itself. Getting medical attention as soon as possible is also important if you wish to file a claim or lawsuit.
- Never admit fault! Even if you think you are partially responsible do not say anything. The crash will be investigated by the police and/or the insurance company and fault will be determined.
What Is a Police Report?
An investigating officer who responds to your phone call after your accident will create a police report. It contains a summary of information about the crash. It will also contain the opinions of the officer about how the crash occurred.
Once the officer arrives, they have a number of important tasks:
- Making sure no one is injured. If someone is hurt, the officer will make sure the injured person receives medical attention as soon as possible.
- Inspecting the vehicles and any damage.
- Talking to all the drivers involved and any possible witnesses.
- Measuring distances.
- Taking notes and photographs.
A police officer carries out these tasks to help him gather the information needed for the investigation of the accident. That report will contain some or all of the following details:
- The time, date and location of the collision.
- The identification of the parties involved in the crash, including their names, where they live, their phone numbers and the relevant insurance information.
- The report will also provide information on how to contact any possible witnesses and what they had witnessed at the crash.
- How the cars involved in the accident have been damaged.
- Roadway, lighting and weather conditions at the location of the crash.
- A drawing or diagram of the collision.
- Statements of all the drivers and witnesses.
- A listing of any possible violations of law or of any citations that were issued.
- Their opinions as to the cause of the crash and who may be at fault.
Why Can Police Reports Not Be Used in Court?
Police reports can be extremely important in helping lawyers and insurance companies determine fault. Since Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, that means in most cases your own insurance company will be paying your costs, including damage to your vehicle, medical costs and lost wages. It is possible to sue the other driver’s insurance company if the injury is quite serious or involves a fatality.
Pennsylvania is also a comparative fault state. So if you are 25% responsible for the crash, and you are awarded $10,000, you will only receive $7,500. So you can see why a police report can play an important role in settlement negotiations between you and the insurance company.
The important thing to remember about police reports is a report on a collision contains both facts and opinions. Time, weather conditions and location of the crash, for instance, are facts. But who caused the crash is the officer’s opinion. As a result, the officer’s opinion may or may not be admissible in court. It is entirely possible that the insurance company will disagree with the officer’s report and refuse to pay your insurance claim.
You should also review any report by a police officer after it is made to make sure that you can confirm its accuracy before they submit it. If you discover an error, politely inform the officer and ask them to correct it.
Remember that insurance companies will conduct their own investigations after a car crash. They may come to a different conclusion than the investigating officer about what happened. Insurance companies will do everything they can to avoid paying you any compensation for which you are eligible.
Police reports are often very important when your car accident lawyer and the insurance company are involved in negotiating a settlement. They can also be very useful in small claims courts, where litigants are frequently allowed to use them as evidence.
But if your case goes to trial in a Pennsylvania state court, a police report can be held to the rules of evidence. Insurance companies will frequently argue that police reports are hearsay evidence which can keep them from being submitted.
While public records such as police reports may be admissible as exceptions to the rule against hearsay in some circumstances, Pennsylvania courts have generally ruled that police reports are hearsay evidence and not admissible when determining damages in a car accident case.
Police reports will normally not be filed for accidents on private property. So if you have a fender bender in a store parking lot, under Pennsylvania law, the police do not have to come out and prepare a report.
How Do I Obtain a Police Report?
There are two ways to obtain a police report. One will cost you money and one will not. You can request a copy of the accident report at the accident scene from the officer who is preparing the report. In most cases, they will then hand you a “crash receipt” that has the identification number for the report. You then need to call the city, town or county traffic division where the officer works. You will pay a small administration fee — maybe $15 to $20 — and they will send you a copy of the report.
If you forget to ask the officer at the scene for a copy of the report and do not know the identification number, you can still call the traffic division and give it the date, time and location of the crash as well as your name. This will help them locate the report. This also, of course, involves an administrative fee.
If you want to avoid paying a fee, talk to the claims representative for your insurance company to see if they have a copy of the report. You can then ask them for a copy. Your insurance company will not always have a copy of the police report, but it never hurts to ask.
How long does it take to get a police report? It often takes a police officer two to three weeks to finish writing the report, so it will not be available until then.
What Is an Accident Report?
As noted above, Pennsylvania law does not require police officers to go to the scene of a car accident if there are no serious injuries to any individuals or severe damage to any car. In that case, you will need to complete your own accident report.
All the drivers involved in the crash need to complete Form AA – 600 within five days of the accident. This is true even if there are more than two cars involved.
You will need to use all of the information that you gathered at the accident scene to complete the report such as:
- Date and location of the crash. Be as specific as possible.
- The location should include the county, the town or city, the road, the street, the route number, the road marker, railroad crossing ID if possible and any distinguishing landmarks in the intersection where the crash place.
- Weather conditions.
- Names of the drivers.
- Their addresses.
- Note any information such as whether or not the other driver should be wearing corrective eyewear, and note in your report if they were not wearing any time of the crash.
- Year, make and model of the cars involved.
- Drivers license numbers.
- Their phone numbers.
- License plate numbers.
- Information on any passengers involved in the crash or any third-party witnesses.
- Their insurance company information.
After you have completed the report you should send it to:
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering
PO Box 2047
Harrisburg, PA 17105-2047
Another option if you been involved in a car accident that the police do not investigate is to immediately contact a car accident lawyer. Remember, you only have five days to file the report after the accident takes place, so do not hesitate. Your lawyer can gather the proper information, contact any potential witnesses and file a report on time. This is especially helpful after a car accident when many people are still suffering from shock and maybe even from minor injuries.
Let KBG Injury Law Help You Find the Police Report or Prepare an Accident Report
If you have been involved in a car crash and need a copy of a police report, or if you need to fill out n accident report of your own, contact KBG Injury Law. Our team of experienced car accident lawyers can help you with your situation. If you do not receive any compensation, we will not charge you any fee.
If you would like to schedule a free consultation, you can call us at 1-800-509-1011 or request a free consultation online where you can tell us about the details of your accident. We will contact you as soon as possible.