Traffic Collision Reports: Why You Should Care About What Gets Written About Your Crash
If you get into a bike accident serious enough for the police to be called to the scene, the officer who arrives will complete a document called a traffic collision report.
The traffic collision report is an official accounting of the bike accident. To create the report, the officer will speak to you and the driver involved in the crash, and any witnesses (if necessary) to complete the full story of what occurred.
In the report, they will record the most accurate version of events possible, as well as their indication of who was at fault for the bike accident.
Why you should care about your traffic collision report and make sure you get a copy of it
If you are in a bicycle crash, you should obtain a copy of the collision report in order to make sure it accurately reflects what happened. You may be given one, but more likely, you will need to proactively ask that you be given a copy.
Traffic collision reports, unfortunately, are commonly filled with errors. However, there is action you can take.
If you catch any errors in the report, or you remember additional details that are important to recording an accurate version of events, you should write a letter to the officer who created your report to request that they update it. This is especially important if you will be seeking bike accident settlements.
Writing a letter is important (rather than making a phone call) because it creates a written record of your request and the errors in the report. Again, this is important for bike accident settlements.
List clearly what mistakes there are in the report, and what the accurate facts are. If anything is missing, clearly explain it and why it should be added. If you feel the driver was breaking a law at the time of the crash, look up the California Vehicle Code and cite the law you believe they were violating.
Make sure your letter is non-confrontational and simply state the facts as plainly as possible; remember, you are making your case to a person and requesting that they make a change for you. Always be polite, clear, and respectful. You want this person on your side!
To learn more about traffic collision reports and how they can affect your ability to win a legal case against the driver involved in your crash, read on to see how these important documents are used.
Is a traffic collision report important in a legal case against the driver?
The traffic collision report is not admissible as evidence in a trial. HOWEVER, the report does carry significant weight with insurance companies if you are negotiating a settlement with them. It is definitely beneficial if the report shows that you were not at fault; likewise, it can be extremely damaging if the report shows that you were partially or completely at fault.
That is why it is so important to make sure the report is correct. Because the insurance companies take the report so seriously, the information in it will have a serious bearing on your case; make sure the information is accurate.
In addition, if your case does go to trial and the police officer is asked to testify, they will likely review the report to refresh their memory before the trial. They’ll be going off the information in this report, so you want it to be correct.
What if the traffic collision report is in my favor?
Having a traffic collision report that works in your favor is a good thing; however, it does not mean that your case is a slam dunk.
There is a strong bias against cyclists in many cases, which means there are a lot of factors working against you, even if the report shows you were not at fault.
In addition, the driver’s insurance company has a vested interest in not paying you any more money than they absolutely have to. As a result, they will look for any and every detail they can to show that you had some part — no matter how small — in causing the crash.
A positive report is definitely good, and will help your case. However, it is not the only thing that matters. You will still want to make sure you preserve as much evidence as possible, and even hire a good lawyer to help you present the best case possible.
What if the traffic collision report is not in my favor?
Just like we said in the previous section, a traffic collision report will not make or break your case. Of course, if the report has significant negative information about your role in the crash, that will work against you.
It doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance at getting compensation for injuries caused by an at-fault driver. It does, however, mean that you will have greater hurdles in your case.
If the report is not in your favor because of factual inaccuracies or other errors on the reporting police officer’s part (and not simply because you were actually fully or partially at fault), be sure that you have written a letter to the police officer requesting that these errors be fixed. This paper trail will help you fight against a negative report that is inaccurate.
What if the police weren’t called and you don’t have a collision report? Is it too late?
If it has only been a couple of days since your crash, you can call your local police department and request to file a traffic collision report. Ask that it be done as soon as possible, and make sure you are prepared with as much relevant information as possible to give the officer filing your report.
Of course, a report filed on the scene of the crash is the most persuasive. A traffic collision report filed at a later date is far less persuasive that one filed just after the crash, since the officer creating the report isn’t likely to do more than a cursory investigation.
However, filing an official report — even after the fact — is better than nothing. Because this report can carry some weight in a future negotiation with an insurance company, it can be helpful to have along with other, more impactful evidence for making your case.
Were you in a bike accident?
If you have been in a crash, and especially if it was a bike accident in San Francisco, reach out to an experienced bicycle injury attorney! Contact one of the lawyers at Bay Area Bicycle Law for a consultation.