Car accidents — Investigation — Dealing with an unfavorable police report

The police report of the car accident can be an extremely important and helpful piece of evidence if it substantiates your version of the accident. On the other hand, an unfavorable police report is a significant problem for your lawyer.

The police report is available to both sides, so if there is a police report that is not favorable to you then the insurance adjuster and defense lawyer will have a copy of it and they will use as a means of either denying liability or posturing the lawsuit for settlement based on comparative negligence.

Therefore, if the police report is unfavorable your personal injury lawyer may try to find ways to challenge it or otherwise use it to your advantage.

Challenging an unfavorable police report of a car accident

If the police report of the car accident is unfavorable for your lawsuit, your personal injury lawyer may consider doing some of the following things to prepare to challenge the unfavorable aspects of the report.

1. Evaluate the police officer’s role in the investigation. Is the officer:
(a) a witness?
(b) an after-the-fact investigator?
(c) an expert at accident reconstruction?

2. Hire investigators or accident reconstruction experts to obtain the physical evidence, forensic evidence and witness statements necessary to rebut or contradict the unfavorable police report.

3. Meet with the officer and obtain as much information from the officer as possible to use at trial to impeach and cross-examine him.
(a) Discuss the accident with him.
(b) Discuss his investigation methods.
(c) Discuss his findings.
(d) Discuss his conclusions.

4. Contest any administrative, traffic court or criminal charges that result from the car accident. By contesting these charges there will be an opportunity to:
(a) Cross-examine the officer.
(b) Engage in discovery.
(c) Negate any administrative finding of fault or criminal conviction. This is important because in some jurisdictions a conviction or other adverse administrative finding can be used as either evidence of negligence or negligence per se in a subsequent civil action.

5. Obtain all information about the officer’s background, training, and experience.

6. File motions in court to exclude the damaging portions of the report on the grounds of:
(a) The officer’s incompetence to render an opinion as an expert.
(b) Opinion on the ultimate issue.
(c) Hearsay.
(d) Lack of personal knowledge.

7. Depose the officer before trial to commit him to his testimony.

8. If the police responded to the scene, determine whether police personnel made a videotape at the scene of the car accident.

9. Determine whether the police made a videotape immediately following the car accident (e.g., during booking proceedings for drunk driving).