In some kinds of injury cases -- most notably, car accidents -- a police report may have been prepared in connection with the underlying incident. While police reports are generally inadmissible if your case gets to court, the report can still be very useful in most personal injury cases. In this article, we'll offer some tips on how to use a police report to bolster your side of an injury claim.
Using a Police Report Outside of Court in a Personal Injury Case
As we'll discuss later on, you aren't typically able to introduce a police report in court -- to try to "prove" that someone did something to cause your injury, for example. But here's how to obtain and use a police report earlier on in your injury claim.
Requesting Police Records. If you are injured and there is a police report relating to the incident, you should request it from the police department. If you know which law enforcement agency came to the scene and prepared a report (county sheriff, state highway patrol), you can simply call the police department or other law enforcement body and obtain the records. There are also online records request services in many jurisdictions.
Using Police Reports in Settlement Negotiations. Although police records are not admissible in court, they can be very useful in personal injury settlement negotiations. Prior to bringing a personal injury lawsuit, you should gather all medical reports, police reports, and other important records and draft a demand letter. The demand letter will summarize the facts of the case, describe each injury, and demand compensation for those injuries. If a police report indicates that the other person or entity was at-fault, you can use the police report as a settlement tool. For example, in the below-referenced car accident case between Carl and Robert, Robert can use the police report as leverage to obtain a good settlement offer from Carl’s insurance company.
Police Reports Can Provide Important Facts. A police report will often provide important information about your case. The police report will likely specify the date of the incident, the weather, names of witnesses to your injury, and other information surrounding the circumstances of your injury. Importantly, if you have the names of witnesses, you may be able to call them to testify at a deposition or trial. Therefore, although you cannot use statements in a police report as evidence in court, you can call those same witnesses to testify in court about their personal observations.
A Police Report is Inadmissible "Hearsay"
Wondering why you can't use a police report in court in most situations? A police report is considered "hearsay," which is usually inadmissible evidence (unless one of several exceptions apply).
Hearsay is an out of court statement that is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. In other words, it is
- an unsworn statement
- made outside of a courtroom
- by a person without direct knowledge
- that is used to describe a statement or action of another person.
For example, Steve is called to testify in court. Steve states that Mary said that Carl tripped and injured Robert. Steve’s statement is hearsay because he does not have direct knowledge of Carl’s tripping of Robert. However, it would not be hearsay if Steve stated that he saw Carl trip Robert. In the second version, Steve’s statement is made in-court, he has direct knowledge of the incident, and his statement is subject to cross-examination from the other party in the lawsuit.
So, why is a police report considered hearsay? Generally, it's because the police officer did not personally observe the incident. Let’s alter the facts above. Suppose that Carl rear-ended Robert’s car. Mary was walking along the street and observed the car accident. Mary told the police officer that Carl was driving very fast when he rear-ended Robert’s car. The police officer makes notes from his conversation with Mary and places them in the police report. The police report is hearsay because it is an out of court statement containing the police officer’s opinion of the car accident.
A major rationale for the inadmissibility of police reports is that the report is not subject to cross-examination in court. A key tenet of a court trial is that the other party in the case should be given a chance to question any evidence presented in court, and with a police report, that is not possible.