Police reports are an important tool among attorneys and insurance companies when it comes to car accident cases. These reports contain the officer’s investigations, what they observed and heard at the scene, and information about who was involved. However, how you can use them in an actual court case is often a bit confusing.
Insurance companies often request police reports so they have somewhat of an official record of the accident before paying a claim. Attorneys can also use the report to piece together information about what happened from a source other than their client. However, at trial, usage of the report might be restricted.
For a free case review on your car accident claim, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras’ Maryland car accident lawyers today at (410) 694-7291.
How Insurance Companies Use Police Reports in Maryland
Car insurance companies like to get copies of police reports to use as proof that the accident really happened. Police reports are not perfect evidence (more on that later), but they are somewhat reliable and official. Essentially, insurance companies understand that if your accident really was serious, you would have reported it – and you would not have reported it if it didn’t actually happen.
Insurance companies might ask you for a copy of the police report, but they are usually authorized to get a copy from the state. Once they have the report, they will look at the information contained in it to find out where the accident happened, who was involved, what vehicles were involved, and what damage occurred. This is usually most of the core information they need to make a determination of what happened, but they will also want statements from both parties.
This does not help them find out how much the accident cost, and they will usually need copies of hospital bills and repair bills before they can find out how much to pay.
How Car Accident Attorneys Use Police Reports in Maryland
Attorneys rely on police reports in much the same way that insurance companies do, but when our Baltimore car accident lawyers review a police report, we do so skeptically. Police often respond after the crash, so they base their reports only off of the information that they can get at the scene of the crash. If there are any narrative pieces of information describing how the crash occurred, that is usually based on something that someone told the officer, not the officer’s own personal observations. That makes reports a bit less reliable.
Police also get things wrong sometimes. Especially when they are relying on secondhand information, the actual facts included in the report could be mistaken or confused with another accident they handled recently.
All in all, police reports make a great starting point to start building out information about the case, but attorneys usually like to rely on firsthand accounts from the actual witnesses and parties to the crash as well as “hard” evidence, like photos of damage and security cam footage of the crash.
If you can, it is best to collect your own information about what happened at the scene of the crash, including things like vehicle license plates, driver contact info, and insurance info from all drivers. You should also get info about where the crash happened, what the lighting was like, and what the road conditions were like. If you were too injured and had to go straight to the hospital in an ambulance, you likely could not stay to collect this information, so a police report will make a good stand-in and provide us with some of the same information.
Using Police Reports in a Court Case for Car Accidents in Maryland
When it comes to admitting the police report into evidence in court, the ways you can use a report are sometimes restricted. This is due to the “hearsay rule,” an important rule of evidence that requires participants to use in-court testimony instead of out-of-court statements to prove what happened.
Definition of Hearsay
Any statement made outside the courtroom is hearsay if it is offered into evidence to prove that what the statement says is true. For example, if the police report (written well before trial) says the car was red, and it is being offered to prove the car was red, then it is hearsay. Hearsay is different from speculation, but it is similarly less reliable and is not admissible as evidence.
Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule
In some cases, you can use statements that would otherwise be hearsay anyway. For example, any statements made by the opposing party can be used as evidence, even if they were made out of court.
Out-of-court statements like those in a police report can also be used for other purposes, such as pointing out a contradiction. For example, if the police officer testifies on the stand that there was no stop sign at the intersection, but the report says there was (and you remember there being a stop sign), we can use the report to call the officer’s testimony into question.
Any statements or records can also be used to help the witness on the stand remember what happened. If the officer or anyone else forgot a fact, we can have them reference the report to remind them.
Admissibility of Police Reports
But what about admitting police reports directly into evidence? This is sometimes allowed under some rules that create exceptions for hearsay, such as those under Maryland Rule of Evidence 803. Rule 803(b)(6) allows “records of regularly conducted business activity” to be admitted under some circumstances where police reports might qualify. Rule 803(b)(8) also allows “public records and reports” to be used as evidence. However, some parts might not be admissible, such as conclusions and information the police officer did not actually witness. Documents recording someone else’s statements might even be hearsay within hearsay, and you will need an exception for both pieces of hearsay (the report and the quotes within) to admit them as evidence.
Contact the Maryland Car Accident Lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras
For a free review of your car accident case, call the Aberdeen car accident lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291.