After a car accident, one of the most important things to do after getting medical care is obtaining the police report. If an officer came to the scene, you were likely given an informational card with the report number and information regarding who to contact to get the report. Sometimes, police reports are ready within a week or two. However, in busier cities (i.e., Los Angeles), it can take weeks to get a report. There is usually a nominal fee to obtain the report.
In cases where liability is disputed, or even if there is a slight question regarding fault, it is important to get the police report. I tell clients that even if you have been rear ended, it is helpful to have the police report. Even if the other party apologized profusely at the scene and several witnesses are on your side, I've learned not to come to any conclusions until I see that report. There have been numerous occasions when clients assured me there was NO WAY the police report would be against them - and then guess what? The report comes in and it's against them! There are several reasons obtaining the police report quickly after an accident are important.
First, the police report helps determine fault. While it is not dispositive of the issue, a police report in your favor will help you a great deal when making a claim against the responsible party. Insurance adjusters rely on police reports when determining fault. In fact, some adjusters won't come to any conclusion until they have the report in hand - even if their insured admits fault. That is not to say they always side with the police report. However, armed with a favorable police report, you are much steadier ground.
Second, if you complained of injury at the scene, a police report will probably have that information noted. That will make your claim for injury more believable given that you complained of an injury at the scene. If there is no mention of injury in the report, some insurance adjusters will use that against you.
Third, it is more difficult for someone to change their story if it has been documented in a police report. People often change their story later on...especially if they fear repercussions from a parent, spouse, or someone else. Perhaps they have too many moving violations on their record and risk losing their license....or fear an increase in insurance premiums. Some folks go home after an accident and reconsider their story for one reason or another.
Finally, if the police report is in your favor, you have more options regarding obtaining medical treatment. You don't want to incur medical bills that you need to pay without any reassurance that you will be able to pay them. You don't want to take unnecessary financial risks, assuming the other party will pay for medical care. If the police report is in your favor, you might have some more options regarding how you obtain treatment for your injuries.
If you have been involved in a serious car accident and you need some guidance, feel free to contact our office at (661) 414-7100 to see if we can help you.
David: Welcome back to SCV today, and I'm going to just bring right in Robert Mansour. We've had him on the program before, from the law offices of Robert Mansour. But this is really cool because, I've experienced what we're going to talk about. You've got the ten insurance company secrets that they don't want you to know about. You've got a list here.
David: And we're going to go through these things because this is fascinating stuff. And this first one really surprised me. Insurance companies don't want you to get a police report after an accident?
Robert: That's right. And there's several reasons for that. The first reason is if you don't have a police report, you haven't documented the event. So sometimes they'll even deny that anything even happened. Or their client, their insured, will say, "I wasn't there. I don't know what you're talking about. I was at the ballgame. I went to the Kings game." And so, also, they don't want you to have a police report because the other party can change their story. If the police report documents what happened, the other guy can't wiggle out of what happened. So when a client comes to me and says, "I didn't have the police report." I say, "Watch their story change. They apologize to you at the scene for causing the accident, but now that there's no police report, they're going to change their story. Let's watch how it unfolds." And I would say 50 percent of the time, the other party, indeed, changes their story. And the last reason they don't want a police report is because if you tell the officer you were injured and the officer writes it down, it lends more credibility to your assertion that you were injured. But the absence of a police report, they will assume you weren't injured, otherwise you would have called the police. And so they will use it against you.
Tami: Now what is the time frame for filing a police report because my automatic assumption is you must do it within an hour of an incident.
Robert: You should do it at the scene. If you suspect that you were injured, even a little bit. See most people don't call the police. They think their head has to fall off their body and roll down the street to call the police. You call the police if you think you've been injured, or if you think there's going to be a dispute in liability. Get the police down there. And, filing a police report a few days later is not really helpful. It's just you going down to the station telling your version of the story. It doesn't really help very much. So you should do it right there at the scene. The officers will ask you over the phone, "Was anybody injured?" If you say no, they're not coming. But if you say, "I think I may be injured," which might be true if you feel something. Because sometimes these injuries don't manifest themselves until the next day. And so you should always err on the side of caution, in my opinion.
Tami: So to protect yourself, if there are no injuries, but there's some damage, because a lot of times you can have quite a bit of damage but no injuries, and they're not going to send someone out, should you go directly to the police department then and file it there?
Robert: If you feel that the other side is going to change their story, you might want to preserve it. But again, it's really not of much importance if you go down to the police and tell them what you think happened ...
Robert: ... versus an officer investigating at the scene ...
Robert: ... and talking to everybody ...
Robert: ... and writing everything down.
Tami: So get the police department there on scene?
Robert: I think that's a good idea.
Robert: Especially if you feel that you might have been injured.
If you need help with your personal injury case, call Robert Mansour at (661) 414-7100 to see if he can help. Robert will let you know if he can bring value to your case. Also, if you have questions, don't hesitate to call. Robert serves Santa Clarita and its surrounding communities (Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic, Palmdale, Lancaster, Northridge, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, North Hollywood, and beyond).
Recently, a client came to me who had been hit by an automobile while he was riding his bike. The other party turned right in front of him and caused an accident to occur. By all accounts, the accident wasn’t his fault. The impact was so strong, that he flew off his bike about 22 feet into the air, and landed on another vehicle. He had several severe orthopedic injuries (broken clavicle, cracked ribs, facial lacerations, etc.), and he was taken to the hospital. It turned out he needed further orthopedic care and possible surgery.
When I first met with client, he told me of a police officer who witnessed the accident. The officer apparently assured my client it was not his fault, and the other party was very apologetic scene. My client was sure the accident was not his fault, especially after what the officer told him and the apologies of the other party. All signs were in his favor.
I told my client that after so many years of practicing law, he should not be surprised if everyone’s story changes. My client was surprised I would say such a thing. Perhaps I was being too careful? Perhaps I didn’t want to have too much confidence so early in the case? Sure enough, we got a call the next day from the insurance company for the other party. The driver of the car had a change of heart. She now alleged my client caused the accident by riding his bicycle too fast.
When we obtained the police report about two weeks after the accident, we found the police officer had found against my client and cited him for riding his bicycle too fast for the circumstances – a violation of California Vehicle Code 22350.
The lesson here is that you should never assume what the police officer is going to say, what the police report is going to reveal, or whether were not the other party will accept fault. Even if the other party accepts fault, that doesn’t mean his/her insurance carrier will agree. Also, your insurance company and the other party’s insurance company might disagree. I had a case recently where my client’s insurance company found in her favor, while the other party’s insurance company found against her. Never be surprised, because people can change their tune. What you think will happen doesn’t necessarily unfold the way you might expect.
I remember one client didn’t hire me because she thought I was being pessimistic. I tried to persuade her I wasn’t being pessimistic, but I was trying to be realistic. I wanted her to be prepared for differing versions of the accident. I told her there are courthouses all over the United States full of people who disagree about this or that. It is my opinion that by advising my clients of these possibilities in advance, they are better prepared for such developments as they unfold during their claim. Of course, we hope everyone will stick to their story, but that isn’t always the case.
People change their minds. What you THINK you heard at the scene of an accident may not actually be the entire story. You may have heard bits and pieces, and your brain jumped to certain conclusions based on what you perceived to be the truth. Wait till all the facts are in before you make conclusions about your personal injury case.
One of the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to your personal injury auto accident case is the police report. However, sometimes police reports are NOT prepared if there is no report of injury. In fact, some insurance adjusters will point to the absence of a police report as evidence of absence of injury. In other words, if there was no police report, then you obviously weren’t injured. Therefore, if you are injured, you should tell the 911 operator or officers. Otherwise, the police will either not show and/or not write a report.
A police report can be very helpful when analyzing your accident case. First, I always look to see who the officer found at fault. The person at fault is usually listed as party #1. I also look to see what California Vehicle Code violation the office determined was involved. This information is usually found in the report. Sometimes the officers will also prepare a small diagram which can be helpful in determining what happened.
Unless the guilty party was under the influence, most officers won’t issue a citation to the guilty party. The lack of citation carries little legal significance. I also look to see if there are “associated” or “secondary” factors involved. Sometimes, my client is listed as an associated factor. That’s not a great thing, but it cannot be overlooked.
The report will also have the officer’s determination of road conditions, witness statements, reported injuries and if anyone was transported to a hospital, and the officer’s opinion regarding the severity of the property damage.
The officer’s opinion regarding fault carries a great deal of weight but is not legally binding. In most cases, the officer didn’t see what happened and only “investigated” the scene after the fact. His/her opinion is important but can be challenged. If you notice something wrong in a police report, you should take the time to file a “supplemental” report with the appropriate agency.
Therefore, police reports are helpful when it comes to accident cases. I will be honest… if the report is against you, you are going to have an uphill battle.
Sometimes clients call my office and they say, “Rob, I was involved in a personal injury accident. I really don’t know what to do.” A car accident occurred, T-bone, rear-end, whatever the case may be, and they really don’t know what to do so, and so I want to spend a few minutes here as I talk to you from my office giving you some ideas about what to do if you were injured in an automobile accident, and you have a claim that you’d like to bring. So there are a few things to keep in mind.
First things first, make sure that you take photographs of every vehicle that was involved in the accident. If you have the energy at the scene of the accident, and you have a camera or perhaps a cell phone that has a camera, a camera in it, take pictures but not only of your vehicle. I have a lot of clients they bring me lots of pictures of their vehicle only, and that’s fine, and that’s very helpful, but if you can, take pictures of all the other vehicles that were involved in the accident as well. The other thing that I would add is take pictures from several different angles because a lot of times because a picture is a static image, and it’s a two-dimensional image, sometimes it’s very difficult to assess the damage just by looking at it in, from one angle. If you’re taking a look at a vehicle with your own eyes you have three-dimensional ability, and you can, you can kind of assess the damage a little bit better.
So if you’re taking a photograph, make sure to take photographs from several different angles so that you’d better tell the story. If you don’t have photographs, it’s not terribly helpful when you’re trying to convince a jury or an adjuster or anybody else of the severity of the impact. So pictures really do tell a thousand words so to the extent that you can take photographs. If your vehicle has already been towed to a yard, see if you can get to that yard or have a friend or a family member go to that yard and take some pictures of your vehicle and the more the merrier. There really is no limit as to far, as far as how many pictures are good. Also, again, pictures of the other vehicle are very, very helpful.
Also, you want to make sure that you provide your lawyer with all of the auto insurance information. We need, as your attorneys, we need to know your policy number, what insurance company you had, whether your insurance was in force at the time of the accident and also what kind of coverage you had in your insurance policy, and that information is very important because it provides us with a contact person.
Also, it’s very helpful to find out if you had something called medical payments coverage. Sometimes your own insurance company will pay for your medical bills if you need to turn to them to do that. Of course you can use your own health insurance as well, and sometimes you can go to a doctor and see them on what’s called a “lien” basis, and a lien basis means that the doctor will provide you with physical therapy and care, etc. if it’s appropriate, and that doctor will expect to be paid later on when you settle with the responsible party. But anyhow, get all of your insurance information that when your attorney contacts your insurance company, they have all the information they need. Also, very important, make sure you have the insurance information for all the other parties involved to the extent that you can. Sometimes you’re unable to get that at the scene of the accident, and I understand that.
Many times that will be on the police report. Speaking of which, very important, if there is a police report, please provide it to your lawyer. It’s going to have a lot of important information in there, sometimes insurance information, also the officer’s opinion about the responsible party, sometimes there is information in there about witnesses, the severity of the impact, and how the accident occurred. So the police officer’s report, which by the way, is not the definitive answer, if you will, as to who is at fault, but it’s helpful, and it’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that will be very helpful to your lawyer. Sometimes you won’t have the police report. Instead you will have a police report card that the officers give you at the scene and it will have the police report number on it. Give that to your lawyer so they can secure the police report from the responsible agency. Also sometimes officers take photographs at the scene of the accident and your attorney can obtain those as well.
Another thing that you can think about is property damage estimates. If your car has been damaged, make sure you get a property damage estimate for your vehicle, maybe even two. Take it to a shop, a dealership, wherever you want to take it and make sure you get a detailed property damage estimate because sometimes people say, “Well it was a total loss.” Well, a total loss is fine that helps me a little bit, but a total loss doesn’t really mean much except that the value of the car was less than what it cost to fix the car. So if you have a $1,000.00 vehicle, and you have $1,500.00 worth of damage to that vehicle, which isn’t very difficult to do by the way, you might have a total loss. But that doesn’t really tell the attorney anything about what exactly was damaged in the automobile accident.
Your property damage estimate is very helpful because it’ll show whether there was a any frame damage, any damage to the doorframe, any damage to the axle of the vehicle, wheel alignment issues, etc., bumper support structures. Those kinds of things, those kinds of bits of information in a property damage estimate can be very helpful to the attorney when they’re advocating for you. So even if you’ve been told, “Oh, it’s a total loss,” see if you can get a property damage estimate nevertheless. Sometimes your own insurance company will provide with a detailed analysis of what was damaged in the accident, and of course, it’s unlikely, but if you have a property damage estimate from the other party, provide it to your lawyer as well.
Also, you should get medical care right away. Don’t wait around hoping that you’re going to feel better. Sometimes people try to tough it out, and all they’re doing is hurting their own case because the longer you wait from the date of the accident to when you first seek medical treatment, the longer you wait the more the responsible party, the insurance company for the responsible party, is going to doubt whether you had any injuries at all. So make a list of all the doctors that you go to and make sure that you seek medical care right away even if you just make sure you’re all right because if you wait too long, they will doubt whether or not you were injured. And also, every time you go to the doctor after an automobile accident, make sure you mention to the doctor why you’re there. I have many clients they go to the doctor and they say, “Oh, my back hurts or my neck hurts,” or something like this, and the doctor provides care, but they never mention to the doctor that it was because of an automobile accident, and as a result, the absence of that information, some insurance adjusters will take a look at that and say the absence means that it wasn’t related to the car accident. You were there for some other reason. So you want to make sure you always provide your healthcare providers with the information that is relevant to the matter so that it ends up in your medical file.
Also, when you go to the doctor, make sure that you mention everything that bothers you. Start from the head and make your way down even if you’re not terribly sure, make mention of it to the doctor because sometimes some people try to tough it out and they don’t mention their back because, “Oh, it, I don’t want to trouble the doctor or, or I don’t want to trouble the physical therapist,” but the problem is that all they’ve done is hurt their own case because once again, the absence of information in medical records, as far as some insurance adjusters are concerned, the absence of information means it never happened. So make sure that you always are very mindful of what you are telling your healthcare professionals, and plus the healthcare professional wants all the information so they can provide you with the best care.
Finally, if there were any witnesses to the accident, make sure that provide that information to your attorney. Sometimes the witness information is in the police report, but sometimes it’s not. Any passengers in your vehicle might also be witnesses to the accident. So once again, it’s very important to provide your lawyer with more information than less. Some people go to the lawyer and they sign up with the attorney and they think everything’s going to happy magically. Not quite. We still need assemble information because remember, insurance companies don’t pay out of the goodness of their heart. I mean of course there are always very nice adjusters and in many cases, they’re trying to do the best job they can, but they don’t write you a check just for fun. They need to have evidence. They need to have information, and so you need to provide that information to your lawyer so your lawyer can advocate for you.
Many prospective clients who call my office have no idea what to provide to their lawyer when involved in a car accident. I try to explain to clients that I need all the “pieces of the puzzle” because I’m not a psychic. I’m not going to magically get copies of your hospital bill, and I’m not going to magically have photos of the damage to your vehicle or your injuries, etc. I need the client’s help in obtaining these materials.
Here is a list of what I encourage my clients to bring to the first meeting.
Dear Client: Here is a list of everything I need to help you with your case:
ALL Photographs depicting damage to your vehicle. If you don’t have any photos, please try your best to take some. Photos should capture the damage from several angles. Digital pictures are best and can be delivered to us by email and/or disc. If your insurance company took photos, please ask them to get you those pictures as well. If you are already our client, you can have your insurance company send the photos directly to our office. It’s your file, so you are entitled to the photos.
ALL photographs depicting damage to any other vehicles involved in the accident.
Your auto insurance information (name, address, policy numbers and claim numbers if available). If you have the “Declarations Page” showing evidence of insurance covering the date of the accident, that is best. This page outlines the important information including policy number, amount of coverage, etc. If you don’t have it, please call your insurance company and ask them to fax it to us.
Insurance information of all other parties. Including insurance name, policy numbers if known, claim number if known, adjuster, address, etc.
Property damage estimates (if available). Even if your car was a “total loss,” it is often helpful to obtain a good property damage estimate that outlines all the parts of your car that were damaged. Frame damage and other significant entries on your property damage estimate can affect your case.
Any and ALL doctors and facilities with whom you have treated. Please provide all contact information (names, phone numbers, addresses, etc). Make sure that whenever you initially go to a doctor for treatment related to this accident, you MUST tell the doctor’s office you are there because of the accident. If you don’t mention the accident, some insurance adjusters will doubt whether the treatment was accident-related.
Please let us know if you have ever been a Medicare recipient. Also, please provide us with your health insurance information.
Police report (if available). If you have the police report number, we can order the police report for you. If you already have the police report, please provide a copy. If there was no police report prepared, please let us know that as well.
Were there any witnesses? If yes, we will need their contact information. Once you provide your lawyer with this information, he/she will be better able to represent you. They need all the pieces of the puzzle if they are going to paint a picture for an insurance adjuster.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,