Why Are Police Reports Important?
A police report is extremely valuable in a personal injury case because it provides an objective and contemporaneous factual record of what happened during the accident.
Some police reports go into more detail than others. Depending on the officer, the county, and the nature of the accident, the report could contain:
- Detailed observations
- Statements from the parties involved
- Insurance information for the parties involved
- Contact information for the various parties and/or witnesses
- The officer’s opinion about who was at fault
- The officer’s on-the-scene evaluation of damages
- Other useful information
The sooner you know what’s in the police report, the more effectively you and your lawyer can begin to prepare your claim.
It is important to note that police reports are not necessarily determinative of fault in a legal matter. The information in the report may be incomplete or inaccurate. The officer’s opinion about what happened or who was at fault could be wrong.
For this reason, police reports are not automatically considered to be conclusive or infallible. Rather, the report is one piece of evidence considered among many other types of evidence. However, police reports generally are quite persuasive as evidence, especially when they contain extensive detail.
Not Just for Car Accidents
Police reports are very common in traffic accidents (including car crashes, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian injuries, and so on).
But police officers sometimes file a report in other situations too. Depending on the nature of the incident, police officers may respond to: workplace accidents, assault and battery situations, construction accidents, dog bites, wrongful death cases, and so on.
There may even be a police report that you aren’t aware of, detailing the specifics of your accident. Your attorney can help you make that determination and then access any official records that might be available.
How to Get a Copy of a Police Report in WV
The procedure for collecting police reports after an accident in West Virginia depends on where the accident happened, which police department responded, and whether a formal report was filed.
If you already have an attorney, he or she can work on getting the accident report for you. One of the benefits of hiring a car accident lawyer is that you now have a professional who can handle the entire case for you, and that includes gathering official evidence.
Likewise, your car insurance provider may already have a copy of your police report, or they may be willing to access it for you and supply you with a copy. Call your adjustor and ask.
In many cases, the officer will give you a business card, phone number, website, or reference number at the scene of the accident. If so, use that card to access your report.
Many police departments now make their reports available online for a small fee (just a few dollars in some counties). This is generally the easiest and quickest way to get your hands on a copy. Note, however, that it can take several days (or even weeks) after the accident for the department to process and post the report.
Otherwise, your best bet for accessing the police report is simply to call the appropriate police department and ask. Here again, fees and waiting periods may apply.
If your accident was handled by the West Virginia State Police, you will need to file a report request form (accessible online here). Note that the State Police charge higher fees for collecting a police report after an accident, and completing the request form can be complicated. An experienced West Virginia personal injury lawyer can help.
The Role of an Accident Exchange Form in West Virginia
Law enforcement officers are busy people, and they sometimes look for ways to cut down on paperwork (one of the most demanding aspects of their jobs).
The state recognizes the burden that paperwork creates for highway patrol. Accordingly, in West Virginia, officers responding to a car accident are allowed to fill out an Accident Exchange Form in lieu of a formal police report if the accident is relatively minor in nature.
An Accident Exchange Form typically doesn’t contain as much information as a full-blown police report, but it may still prove useful to your claim. Certainly, if an Accident Exchange Form exists, you want to get your hands on a copy as soon as possible.
The process for filing Accident Exchange Forms can vary from county to county, but you can usually access the form using the same general procedure we outlined for police reports above.
What If there Isn’t a Police Report or Accident Exchange Form?
If you are in a serious auto accident and the officer does not file a report for some reason, you can file a report yourself using this form from the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Your lawyer can help you complete and file the report.
Many police departments allow citizens to call and report other kinds of accidents, generating a police report over the phone or online. A law enforcement officer may or may not respond in person, depending on the department’s policies, the officers’ caseload, and the nature of the request. Check with the relevant police department to learn more, or ask your attorney to help.
It is usually better for an officer to create a report than for you to file a self-made report on your own. In all cases, follow the rules and procedures in your jurisdiction.
Schedule a Cost-Free, No-Obligation Legal Consultation Today
The West Virginia personal injury lawyers at Colombo Law bring years of experience to the table, coupled with a tireless drive for justice.
In the majority of our cases, we have even been able to negotiate favorable settlements without going to trial, getting our clients more money than the insurer was willing to offer before we got involved.
We fight to maximize compensation. Let us fight for you. Colombo Law proudly serves accident victims across the whole state of West Virginia, including.
Here’s our promise to you:
- A free case evaluation with absolutely no obligation to hire us
- Honest guidance and advice
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- Our time, passion, respect, and attention to your needs
A strict legal time limit (i.e. statute of limitation) applies to most West Virginia personal injury claims, so please don’t delay. Contact Colombo Law and schedule a free case review right away. Just dial 888-860-1414 (304-599-4229 in Morgantown) or contact us online.