Q Does it matter what the police accident report of my Virginia car accident says?
Virginia car accidents with significant damage or injuries are investigated by the local police. After the police officer drives to the scene of the wreck, she will interview the involved drivers and any witnesses, inspect the vehicles, inspect the scene, and complete a written police accident report. If anyone was taken to a hospital, the police officer may go to the hospital to interview that person.
Here are some of the more important parts of a Virginia police accident report to understand before we answer the question:
Statements. Usually the officer will record what the drivers stated as to how the wreck happened. Sometimes an officer will also document the statements of one or more witnesses.
Scene diagram. The investigating officer will usually include a rough diagram of the accident scene in a space on the report. The diagram is not to scale and often uses pre-printed roadways that do not match the actual scene. For serious auto crashes, an officer will take pictures and, for complicated crashes with very serious injuries, the police "accident reconstruction" team may be called on to do a detailed analysis of the crash.
Officer's conclusion of who was at fault. Based on the interviews and scene investigation, the officer will write a brief narrative of his or her opinion on how the accident happened, and indicate who, or what, caused the wreck. If the officer issues a citation to a driver, that will be indicated, too.
Property damage. The location of damage to the cars will be shown on separate diagrams for each car involved in the crash, and whether the car was towed from the scene will also be indicated.
Injuries. The officer will document whether anyone was injured in the wreck, and will indicate the severity of injury.
Ambulance. The officer will record whether anyone was taken from the scene by ambulance.
THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION IS: "YES."
Yes, it matters what police reports say in auto accident cases. Police officers are viewed as neutral parties who are doing their job and folks usually will believe what a qualified police officer has determined during the investigation of a car crash.
But if there is inaccurate information on the police accident report, your case is not always doomed. An experienced car accident lawyer may be able to diminish the negative effect of the incorrect information. Incorrect information on a police report that indicates you were at fault is the most concerning error from your point of view. If there are no credible witnesses other than you, your lawyer may need to hire an expert in "accident reconstruction" who can show how the wreck was not your fault.
You may be concerned if the police report says you were "not injured." Obviously, if you were injured, it would better if "not injured" was not in the report. However, some officers are instructed to check "not injured" if the person does not request an ambulance. And most officers will acknowledge during questioning that they are not medical experts and they will defer to what the doctors have to say. If your doctors support your injury case (if they don't you don't have a case!), an experienced car accident lawyer should be able to overcome officer's no-injury finding.
The bottom line: It does matter what the police report says, but a car accident case is not based exclusively on what is in a police report, and the report is not the last word on all important case issues.
If you have questions about police reports in auto accident cases, please contact us and we will help you.