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by Jeff Rasansky -
Jeff Rasansky
Jeff Rasansky, managing partner of Rasansky Law Firm, is an aggressive Dallas personal injury lawyer with more than 25 years of legal experience.

It’s hard to think clearly about the future when you’ve just been rear-ended at a red light.  Your initial thoughts may lean towards how badly you’ve been hurt, the damage to your car, and where your cell phone is so you can call a loved one.

As a responsible driver, first, remember not to leave the scene of an accident. Leaving a scene of an accident could result in a driving privileges being revoked or suspended. You should always provide help immediately following an accident and move your vehicles out of traffic but as close to scene of the accident as possible.

Then, once you have provided help and moved your vehicle, call the police and report the accident. DO not assume someone else has called the police. Tell the dispatch that you want to report an accident and file a police report.

This will allow a neutral, third-party officer to document all the details and ensure that all parties involved are protected.

Am I required to file a police report after a car crash in Texas?

In some cases, yes, but we recommend you do so for every accident or collision, no matter how small.  Texas law requires that drivers report a car accident if it results in property damage exceeding $1,000, death, or injury.  Failure to report may call for a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment.

Police officers are typically dispatched to accidents if there are reported injuries or fatalities, the crash is blocking traffic, at least one driver may be intoxicated, or if participants are being disruptive or fighting.

What if the other driver offers to pay me directly?

It is not uncommon for drivers to offer an immediate settlement to avoid an insurance claim and involving law enforcement.  This may be tempting, especially if the damage is minimal, and you’re not in pain.  But avoid the temptation.  Most soft-tissue injuries, concussions, and internal bleeding aren’t felt until days after an accident.  Damage to your car isn’t always noticeable. The damage could easily be more extensive than it looks, keeping in mind that the car’s structural integrity isn’t always visible to the eye. And trying to make a report later rather than at scene looks suspicious and makes it harder to prove that the other driver’s negligence caused your pain.  Likewise, if the other driver leaves without a report, then it will not be as easy to obtain a fair settlement or to argue that the other driver was at fault both to the insurance company and to the court. Without a police report, it is easier for the other party to make false allegations about the car accident later or the other party may admit fault to you but change his mind as time passes. Police have experience in spotting potential issues and can be of help, especially if people at the scene of the accident become belligerent or try to get you into some sort of agreement that may waive your rights.

What will an officer likely do?

Typically, police officers do not draft an official police report at the accident scene. Instead, they take notes and/or use a worksheet. When they return to the police station, they will use that information to write the official report.  Some officers may drive to the hospital to interview participants and to check up on anyone who sustained more severe injuries.

When the officer first arrives on the scene, he or she will likely check to make sure everyone is okay.  Depending on the severity of the crash, the officer may call for an ambulance or fire truck if the 911 dispatcher hasn’t sent one out yet.  Then he or she will speak to all individuals separately and find witnesses when possible. The officer will also collect descriptions of any injuries that occurred as a result of the accident.  There may be other drivers or people inside buildings who saw or heard the crash. He or she will take down their necessary information and obtain descriptions of all the vehicles involved including license plate numbers and vehicle identification numbers (VIN).  This will allow the officer to evaluate the situation, which can help the crash victim in court if necessary.

Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, the officer may give tickets due to violations or negligence.  This could be a speeding ticket or other citation.  The police may also conduct field sobriety tests if they believe that alcohol or drugs may have influenced one or more of the drivers. If necessary, they may make intoxication-related arrests. It will serve you best always to be honest and detailed with the police officer. They are there to help.

What is the weight of the police report?  Isn’t my statement to my insurance company enough?

A police report helps facilitate the claims process with your auto insurance company.  While insurance companies and courts of law evaluate several pieces of evidence in making their determinations, both rely heavily on what law enforcement says happened.  This is because an officer gets no benefit from not telling the truth or leaving things out.  The police can help make sure the details are accurate, and the police report is one of the most influential records used to determine fault. Claims adjusters typically accept police reports as the most precise evaluation of the collision. Among other things, the report includes the officer’s opinion of the circumstances and conditions which caused the accident. The report will also include detailed descriptions of the at-fault driver’s actions which lead to the crash.

The police may also draw a diagram of the accident scene to recall the vehicle positions better when the memory has faded. If the police reports states who the officer determined was at fault in the incident, you might receive a faster payout on your claim.

Be aware that once the insurance company opens an investigation, the adjuster may ask you to provide a copy of the police report. In some cases, the insurance claims adjusters will seek and obtain the police report directly from police to ensure it has not been tampered with. Regardless, keep a copy of the police report nearby for easy access, and share it with your personal injury lawyer if you are considering filing a lawsuit.

The police report blames me.  What do I do?

Mistakes in police reports are not unfixable, especially when the errors are obvious and factual in nature. Examples of these include incorrect spellings of names, addresses, or the location of the accident. The ability to change a police report is limited, however, as changing the officer’s opinion is difficult to impossible.

What if I’m not the driver in an accident?  Or what if I’ve just hit an object?  Do I still need a police report?

The short answer is “yes.” Always call the police when you’re involved in an accident with another vehicle, even if you’re in the passenger seat. Don’t let either driver convince you that it’s not necessary.  And if you’ve hit property, the police report may help your insurance company defend you against a lawsuit or claim from the property owner.  Finally, when you’re in an accident, you never know if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured.  Claims against these drivers are difficult to prove without the support of a police report and independent witnesses. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run, or your car was stolen, damaged, or broken into while unattended, call the police.

How do I get a copy of my accident report?

Before the officer leaves the scene, he or she will likely give you his card or other contact information, more specifically his or her service number.  Ask for it if the officer does not provide it.  You may remember additional details about the accident later, which can be significant.  If and when you do, contact the officer and see if you can add those details to the report.

Usually, you can obtain a copy to review within one or two days. You may have to pay a minimal fee for a copy of your report.  As a side-note, police reports tend to be self-explanatory. But some information, such as roadway and weather conditions, may be listed in code with numbers or abbreviations.

If you don’t understand part of a police report, you have every right to ask the police department what the codes mean.

What Happens if the Police Don’t Investigate?

Even if the police do not come to the scene of your accident to investigate, you may still need to file an accident report with the Texas Department of Transportation.  If your accident caused injury or death, or there was property damage over $1,000 to at least one person’s property, you will need to file this report.  This form looks a lot like a regular police report and must include all of your insurance information. If you don’t have insurance, it’s important to still fill this form out.  You will have to pay $250 for not having insurance, but if you don’t, you risk a suspension of your driver’s license.  If you have questions on the form, you can call the Texas Department of Transportation for more information, but consider contacting a lawyer for assistance if you don’t have insurance or if there may be claims from another’s party’s insurance company.

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