If a police report says that you are partially or completely at fault in a car accident, that doesn’t mean your case is lost. This is true for two reasons.
First, California is a comparative fault state. So, if you are found partially at fault, your percentage of fault needs to be established, either by a fact finder like a jury, or agreed upon by the parties in the accident.
The second reason is that a police officer’s conclusion or opinions stated in a police report or traffic report does not defeat your opportunity to sue because police reports are not admissible in court. I have seen many cases where the officers’ conclusion was wrong, either because the officer did not do a thorough, complete investigation, or because the officer misinterpreted the evidence. Generally, an officer’s ultimate opinion as to who is at fault is not allowed in court.
Police reports, otherwise known as traffic collision reports, are very valuable documents in that they usually accurately describe the date, time and place where the incident occurred. These reports also identify names of parties and witnesses, and they usually have statements that are attributed to various people who are interviewed.
Sometimes a police report can be a useful tool of persuasion, using the information contained in the police report to reach a better, more accurate conclusion that favors my client. When the information contained in a police report is against my client, we must show our adversaries that we have done additional investigation that has yielded evidence that demands a conclusion contrary to the officer’s conclusion. Always remember that a conclusion contained in a police report is not the word of God. The police report simply gives me data points and identifies evidence, so that, on behalf of my client, I can form the appropriate arguments and conclusions, and determine what additional investigation needs to be conducted.
If I disagree with an officers’ conclusion in a police report, I will normally write a letter to the insurance claims adjuster and/or to opposing council and site the law to them that clearly states that these sorts of opinions and conclusions are not admissible in court, and I will explain to them my theory or theories of liability and the supporting evidence.
When you are meeting with a personal injury lawyer about your case, try to bring the police report if there was one made at the scene, knowing that anything the police may have written on the report will be subject to interpretation and clarification as more evidence is found.