Police reports are an important part of most personal injury claims. We see them with abuse claims and death actions. And nearly any claim arising from a car accident is going to involve a police report. A few issues arise with police reports.
First, does the report matter? Yes, it does, but not necessarily for the reasons you may think. The conclusions about the officer about who is at fault are generally irrelevant as the police report itself is “hearsay.” It is an out-of-court statement that is not admissible as evidence in a courtroom. While this means the judge generally will not let the jury see a police report and will not let attorneys talk about the conclusions of fault in the report, there are aspects of the report that are used in court because of exceptions to the hearsay rule.
The most commonly used exception allows a police officer to testify about statements contained in the police report that were made by parties and that can be construed as admissions. For example, if a driver blew through a red light and admitted to doing so at the scene, the officer would make a note of it in the police report. At trial, if the driver were to change his story and claim he did not blow the light, the reporting officer could be called as a witness. Assuming certain conditions are met and the right questions asked, the officer would be allowed to talk about what the driver said at the scene. This can be very damaging to the credibility of the driver.
Second, are the reports always accurate? No, they are not. Often, we find clients, defendants, and witnesses will point to inaccuracies in the report. And sometimes, even opposing parties will agree about the inaccuracies. Like everyone, police officers are humans and make mistakes.
Third, can anything be done to correct the report? Yes. You can certainly contact the reporting officer or department and request a supplemental report. Sometimes, they will cooperate and, other times, they will not.
We recently had these issues arise in a trucking crash case. Our client had been hit by an 18-wheeler. The responding officer reported that our client admitted fault at the scene. Our client contacted the police officer multiple times to request a supplemental report. He never revised the report. At trial, the officer testified that he had no memory of the crash but would not have documented an admission of fault unless it was made. This put us in a position where the trucking company was repeatedly referring to the statement from the police report and arguing essentially that police officers do not make mistakes in their reports. We argued that a police report is not the law and that the jurors needed to weigh the credibility of our client against that of the police officer. A jury did not believe the officer, and our client was vindicated.