Car accidents are stressful events, and often the people involved in the crash -- as well as so-called "eyewitnesses" -- are asked to provide detailed information to the responding police officer right at the scene. Aside from the most basic identifying information, such as your name, address, phone number and date of birth, you may have difficulty conveying details to the police officer, but the fact is those same details may be significant to determinations of fault and liability.
Your inability to focus and/or effectively communicate in the immediately after a car accident may be due to a variety of factors, including:
- you are in pain
- you are in shock
- you are stressed out
- you have traumatic amnesia, or
- you simply don't know how the accident occurred.
Whatever the reason, the result can be that you end up providing information to the police officer that is mistaken, inaccurate or incomplete. When this occurs, the police officer's report will usually reflect these errors. So, what can you do? Often it depends on the type of information you provided, and the nature of the "error."
Types of Police Report Errors
When you pick up a copy of the police report a few days later, you may discover numerous errors that typically fall into the following categories
- pure factual mistakes, such as the misspelling of your name
- transcription errors that reflect discrepancies between what you told the police officer and what the report says you told her (for example, you said the other driver appeared to be going 50 miles per hour in the 30 MPH zone and the report says you told the officer the other driver appeared to be going 40 MPH), and
- erroneous witness accounts of how the accident occurred (for example, a witness told the police officer that you ran the stop sign when it was clear that the other driver never stopped before entering the intersection while you had the right of way.
Pure Factual Mistakes. When a police report contains a misspelling of someone's name, their incorrect date of birth or their wrong address, the police officer who wrote the report will almost always change it to correct the mistake when it is brought to his/her attention. It is important to law enforcement, insurance companies and health care providers that all of the purely factual information contained in a police report is accurate and complete, and all parties involved in the accident and its aftermath have an interest in ensuring the accuracy of the report's factual information.
Transcription Errors. These errors can take two forms. The first occurs when, as described above, there is a discrepancy between what was told to the police officer and what her report indicates she was told. The second occurs when you tell the police officer something you believe to be significant, but for some reason it's not included in the report. For example, you may have told the police officer at the scene that your neck and shoulder were very stiff and sore, but the report makes no mention of this. The omission of this statement in the report can become important later on when you bring a personal injury lawsuit and want to corroborate your claim that you expressed indication of injury at the accident scene.
Whether the police officer will be willing to change her report to correct a transcription error is less clear, and it will largely be left to the officer's judgment as well as her own recollection of events. If she will not change the report, you should ask her to include a statement saying that you disagree with the report, and detailing the reasons for your disagreement. If this is permitted, there will at least be a record of the alleged discrepancy that you can point to when the issue later arises.
Erroneous Witness Accounts. When a police report contains statements from car accident witnesses, and one or more of those statements are erroneous, it is extremely difficult to convince the police officer to change her report to correct the error. Even though the police officer may rely on this erroneous account to reach her conclusions about causation and fault for the car accident, it is common for different people to describe an accident differently and the police officer is not always in a position to make credibility determinations at the scene.
Learn more about How Police Reports Are Used After a Car Accident.