One of the first steps your car accident lawyer will take in representing you for a claim is to ensure you obtain police reports of your crash. But how useful is a police report in a personal injury case?
A police report lists data about the auto accident, including when and where it happened. It also gives a description of the accident as closely as the police officer was able to determine and the names and addresses of drivers, riders, injured persons (in or out of vehicles) and witnesses to the crash.
To obtain a copy of a police report in Texas, individuals may be able to print one via an online accident report database provided by the police department. Or, they may be able to have a police department mail them a copy of the report, provided they pay a fee for the service.
The Houston Police Department charges $7.50 for online reports from the last three years. To mail a report, HPD asks for $6 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Reports also can be picked up in person at 1200 Travis in downtown Houston for a $6 charge.
The San Antonio Police Department charges $6 for mailed police reports and $18 per hour, pro-rated, for locating reports more than two years old in its archives.
The Dallas Police Department does not yet provide online reports but charges $6 for police reports delivered by mail or picked up in person.
The Fort Worth Police Department does not yet provide police reports online but will provide reports by mail for a $6 fee.
Your car wreck lawyer may be able to help you secure a copy of a police report.
The value of police reports in an insurance claim or an injury lawsuit may not be high. For one thing, such reports only provide general observations or estimations about the accident and may not be admissible in court.
Though a wreck report can be admitted into evidence as a public record, it’s also subject to limitations on the basis that it is hearsay evidence. This means it’s an out-of-court statement not taken under oath in a court of law.
However, Texas law grants some exceptions for including hearsay evidence such as a police report into court proceedings. Texas Rules of Evidence 803(8) cites this, and a business records exception is granted under 803(6).
Under Rules of Evidence 803(8), the burden for demonstrating a police report’s lack of trustworthiness as evidence falls on the party opposing its admittance into evidence.
Texas trial courts have broad discretion in terms of accepting or rejecting a police report as evidence. That decision may be based on a perception of whether the police officer was qualified to issue the opinions cited in the report. The court also can decide to accept parts but not all of a police report as evidence.
There are several drawbacks of using a police report as evidence in an injury claim. For example, a police officer may provide different information in court than was provided in the report. Also, various parties in the accident may provide varied accounts of the crash which may conflict with a police report.
In addition, the opinion of an officer who did not witness a crash may not weigh heavily toward one side or the other in a disputed claim. That’s due in part to the fact that police reports often are incomplete and inaccurate.
For instance, if you were injured in a crash and were questioned by an officer at the scene or later at a hospital, you may not have been in the proper condition to answer questions clearly and accurately.
All of these factors make it advisable that persons who were injured in a crash seek help from an experienced car accident lawyer with Jim Adler & Associates. Your attorney will try to use a police report that supports your claim, even if it has little bearing on the outcome of the case.