Is the First Party Named in a Police Accident Report at Fault?

If you are involved in a car accident, who was determined to be at fault can have a big impact on your insurance compensation or lawsuit. The police report is important evidence but it is important to understand its flaws. If you are listed first in the report, the officer may have believed you to be at fault but that is not necessarily what further evidence will show.

If you are listed first in the police report following your accident, do not give up hope of a successful outcome. Instead, speak with car accident lawyers who can give a more thorough analysis of the issues and evidence.

Why does fault matter?

After an accident, sometimes fault matters and sometimes it does not. If you suffer minor injuries in New York, you may be limited to recovering PIP benefits under your no-fault policy so being at fault will not be held against you. If you are in New Jersey and your insurance policy allows you to sue an at-fault driver, a finding of liability may limit your options for a full financial recovery.

When your injuries are major, fault becomes a much better issue. Even in a no-fault state like New York, someone who suffers serious injuries, as defined in the state laws, is permitted to step outside the no-fault system to file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent driver.

If you qualify to file a lawsuit, you will no longer be limited to recovering economic damages like medical bills and lost wages, and will instead be permitted to recover non-economic damages like pain and suffering. However, you will need to prove that the other party’s negligence caused these damages. Even if you are partly to blame, you may be able to recover, though any award will be reduced by your share of the fault.

Who determines fault?

Police reports are unique documents – they are important but not definitive. The insurance company and even a jury might put a lot of value on the opinion of the officer on the scene when it comes to who he believed to be at fault. However, the police officer who prepares the report is rarely a first-hand witness to the accident so it is based on inadmissible hearsay. For this reason, not all states allow police reports as evidence in court.

What is admissible is who received a citation and why. The report may list the presumably at-fault driver first, but more importantly, it will list what traffic tickets were issued to which driver and why. This can create a legal presumption that the driver cited was negligent that can only be overcome by evidence to the contrary.

What if the police report is wrong?

Since the police mainly rely on second-hand information, sometimes their stated facts or legal conclusions are wrong. When dealing with insurance companies, the police report will be one of the first documents requested so if there are errors, it is a good idea to take steps to correct them.

It can be helpful to start by speaking (politely!) with the officer who prepared the report as soon as possible. If there is documentation that will help your case, provide that as well. If it is too late to make any changes to the report, consider requesting that the officer attach your written statement to the report. You may have better results if you work with an attorney.

While an incorrect report will make your job harder, if you end up going to court, you can call witnesses and present other evidence to rebut the findings. However, correcting an error will help you present a more consistent case.

Speak with a lawyer about your car accident

If you area Rockland County or Bergen County resident who has been injured in a car accident, you may have questions about the impact that the police report may have on your case. Get your questions answered by a professional at an experienced personal injury law firm. The attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman understand the impact that an injury can have on your life and are here to help. There are deadlines to file a claim so do not delay.