Using Police Reports After an Accident
Police Reports are required for North Carolina vehicle collisions, and these reports are extremely important to accident victims as they seek to protect and enforce their legal rights. The purpose of a Police Report is to document the details surrounding the accident, including the parties involved, road and weather conditions, and information on the makes and models of the vehicles. At Nagle and Associates, Raleigh car accident lawyer Carl Nagle can help you understand the information in a police report and explain the impact that it may have upon your legal claim. Mr. Nagle’s former experience working as an insurance claims adjuster and an insurance defense lawyer helps him to assess the potential implications of an accident report. If you need help reading and interpreting your report, simply call Carl today and he will obtain your report and provide careful interpretation through a free telephone consultation.
Using a Police Report After a Motor Vehicle Crash
A Police Report can be used both to facilitate further investigation, and to prove facts in a personal injury trial. While most injury cases are resolved through a private settlement, insurance companies typically will only pay a fair and generous settlement if they believe the victim stands ready to conduct a successful trial. Thus, it is critical to understand your Police Report and to conduct further investigation to collect and preserve evidence which will prove all victims’ claims at trial.
Crash victims in North Carolina must understand that they have the legal burden of proof in a civil trial. To secure a fair settlement offer, the victim must demonstrate a willingness to conduct a trial, and show that they have all necessary evidence on hand to prove their claims. Further, because even slight blame bars the victim’s claims, injury victims should secure legal assistance to ensure that they can prove their own innocence, and properly prove and establish all driver errors and other acts of negligence which contributed toward causing the collision and all attendant injuries. Your Police Report is the best way to establish the building blocks of a case for maximum compensation against all at-fault drivers and insurance carriers.
The Police Report in North Carolina currently follows a standard format, and all local and statepolice agencies now follow the form suggested by the Department of Motor Vehicles known as the DMV-349. Each page of the form has space for two drivers or parties (i.e. pedestrian, motorcyclist, bicyclist). Thus, if there are three vehicles involved, two front-and-back pages will be used.
The front side of the DMV-349 is party specific, and is designed to identify the drivers or people involved in the accident along with information such as the year/make/model of involved vehicles, the name of each party’s insurance carrier, the person’s location in the vehicle, the reported nature of victims’ injuries, the location where vehicles are towed, and indication of whether injury victims are taken by EMS for hospital care.
The rear side of the DMV-349 provides extensive information about the collision including a description of the roadway, identification of speed limits and travel direction for all drivers, listing of speed limits and officer estimates of drivers’ speeds before and at impact, measurements of skid-marks and distance traveled post-collision, and the officers drawing of the crash and a narrative description of how the accident occurred. The rear side of the DMV-349 also indicates the names, phone numbers and addresses of witnesses and the traffic citations or criminal charges brought against all involved drivers.
Most errors in the Police Report can be easily corrected, and simple and obvious clerical errors do not have to be corrected if outside evidence reveals that these are obvious recording errors. If a substantive error that relates to driver error and fault exists, it is best practice to request an amended report from the investigating officer.
Reading the DMV-349 is quite difficult because most of the notations by officers are listed in code. Under the Resources tab of this website, you will find the NC DMV-349 decoder, which will help you to easily understand the officer’s opinions and notations. Also in the Resources tab, you will find the police training manual, which explains exactly how the DMV-349 is to be used and completed by officers in the field.
The Police Report is the best starting point for any crash investigation. Taking the Police Report to the collision scene and reviewing it alongside the actual scene and with photographs of vehicle damage in hand typically helps the attorney or collision reconstruction expert to truly understand how the accident occurred. Further, witness information helps to put the victim’s legal team in touch with independent parties who can explain what happened.
Using a Police Report in a Personal Injury Trial
The Police Report can also provide helpful information and evidence in a personal injury trial. While most injury cases settle privately with no need for court involvement, former insurance adjuster and insurance company lawyer Carl Nagle understands that insurance companies typically come forward with fair payment ONLY if they believe the victim intends to conduct a trial. Thus, understanding how the Police Report can be used to support the victim’s case in a trial setting is critical.
Defense attorneys commonly object to admission of the Police Report on grounds that it is hearsay. “Hearsay” is an out-of-court statement offered in court to prove the truth of the statement. The Police Report should be admitted into evidence pursuant to two exceptions to the prohibition of hearsay evidence. N.C.G.S. § 20-166.1(e) requires law enforcement officers investigating an accident to make a report of the accident within 24 hours. The statute provides that the report “may be used in any manner as evidence, or for any other purpose, in any trial, civil or criminal, as permitted under the rules of evidence.” N.C.G.S. § 20-166.1(i). The second exception is the two-prong hearsay exception for business records (Rule of Evidence 803(6) – Records of regularly conducted activity) and the exception for public records (Rule of Evidence 803(8) – Public Records and Reports).
In the 1981 Court of Appeals decision in Fisher v. Thompson, 50 N.C. App. 724, the court found that the investigating officer should be allowed to read the entire contents of the accident report in the jury’s presence. The court noted that “Officer Smith testified that he prepared the report in the normal course of his employment and that it was standard procedure to do so shortly after investigating an accident. He authenticated the report by identifying the handwriting thereon as his own. Thus, it appears that the contents of the report qualified for admission under the hearsay exception for entries made in the regular course of business.” See also Wentz v. Unifi, 89 N.C. App. 33 (1988). In the Wentz case, the court also allowed the officer to draw conclusions based on his conversations with drivers. The court stated that, “Trooper Yates was entitled to report his understanding of the accident as told to him by both plaintiff and defendant.”
Discuss Your Car Accident Claim with an Experience NC Collision Lawyer
North Carolina residents seeking a motor vehicle collision attorney will receive personalized, efficient legal services by contacting our office. At Nagle & Associates, we offer clear explanations that help clients understand their accident report and appreciate how it may help them pursue a potential legal claim for damages. Raleigh car accident attorney Carl Nagle and the dedicated team of professionals at our seven NC law offices can be reached by calling (800) 411-1583 or using our online form to set up a free appointment. Our law firm has represented people in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Wilmington, Hickory, Greensboro, Charlotte, and other cities in Guilford, Wake, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Durham, New Hanover, Catawba, and Cumberland Counties.