How police reports affect a truck accident case
We get calls all the time about people who have been involved in accidents with 18-wheelers. Many of these people are certain that the truck driver was completely at fault, and all they have to do is wait for the police report to validate their case. But police reports aren't as infallible as you might think, and relying solely on what they say to prove your case can be a risky move. We'll look at the reasons why in this article.
Questions Answered on This Page
- What are the problems with police reports?
- What is the significance of a police report?
- Are police reports always true?
- What can a police report miss?
The problems with police accident reports.
Police officers perform the vital task of protecting the public. Officers are more concerned, as they should be, about criminal acts than what evidence you may need to prove your civil case. As a result, sometimes a police report will not be as thorough or accurate as it should be. If that proves to be true in your case, and all of your hopes of winning your case are contingent upon the police report, you could very well be disappointed.
But even if the police report is accurate, there is a high probability that the information contained in the report will be the wrong kind of information. It is not the job of the police officer who worked your case to worry about your litigation; as such, it is not his or her job to determine civil liability. A finding of fault in a police report does not in the least affect your obligation to prove to a jury that the trucking company caused the accident.
The true significance of a police report.
There are a few standard procedures followed by a officer when they arrive at the scene of an accident. That officer will call for medical attention if needed, take pictures of the scene and of the damaged vehicles, and take physical measurements in most cases. He or she will also obtain official statements from the drivers involved as well as witnesses to the accident. Then, the officer will take all of the information and prepare a report. This report may also include the officer's opinion of how the accident took place and who was responsible. Your insurance carrier, as well as that of the insurer of the other driver, will collect all reports associated with an accident, including the police report, when assessing the value of a claim.
However, again, the police report is not meant to establish liability in civil court. It's primary function is statistical analysis and record-keeping - it is designed to help the police, not your case. Although a police report is sometimes relied upon in an accident case, that is more of a by-product of its original function - not its main purpose. You may wonder why these reports are even used in truck accident cases. Many of these are small Texas accidents so there are not enough facts in question to justify a third-party investigation. Usually, the parties involved have no problem with using the police report stemming from that accident even though it is questionable at best in terms of accurately describing the transpired events. While it is a part of the evidence in an accident case, it is not the be-all, end-all "smoking gun" that many people believe.
As lacking in substance as it may be, the police accident report can obviously have a great affect on your case - both good and bad. If the officer concludes the other driver was at fault, that could greatly influence your settlement negotiations with the other driver's insurance carrier (or any personal injury lawsuit that may occur) in a very positive manner.
Conversely, if the report states that you were at fault, then the insurance company will obviously use this against you. It could employ bullying tactics and say something like "You had better settle your case as soon as possible - and for the amount that we are offering. Otherwise, you may lose your case and receive a nominal amount for your injury."
The police report is NOT infallible.
While the court will typically grant significant credibility to the findings of the police report, that does not mean an unfavorable report will doom your case. Police officers are human beings, too, and they also make mistakes. They can miss witnesses or crucial facts, and sometimes let their reports be affected by their own biases. When a police report is inaccurate, you do have legal means of contesting what it says - but your best chance of combating that inaccuracy is seeking the help of a skilled Texas 18-wheeler accident lawyer.
The accident report can be a great asset to your case, but the defense's lawyers will certainly attack any findings from the report that support your account of what happened, looking for problems and inaccuracies the same way your attorney would if that report were detrimental to your case. A thorough investigation into your accident conducted by an attorney working on your behalf will give you the best possible chance of obtaining fair compensation Again, relying solely on the police accident report is a bad idea, because that report can be inaccurate.
An example: In one case, we represented the family of a passenger in a car who died in an accident with an 18-wheeler. The accident occurred as follows: the car was on the shoulder of the highway due to a mechanical problem. After the problem was fixed, the car began pulling into the far right lane. Soon after entering the right lane, the car was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler, killing that passenger.
The police report stated that the driver of the car was at fault because it pulled into the path of the semi-truck, however, the report seemed amiss. We were able to use the GPS data of the tractor trailer truck to prove that the truck, in fact, moved over four lanes of traffic just before the collision. This means the driver of the car safely pulled into a lane free of traffic while the driver of the 18-wheeler made an illegal lane change, maneuvering at such an inopportune moment that the driver of the car never saw it approach.
These findings were completely at odds with the police report. Had our clients relied on the report, the truth would never have been known, and the defendants would likely never have been held liable.
Why you need a prompt and thorough investigation.
A police report can miss key evidence, the lack of which can greatly affect your ability to obtain fair compensation. But if you hire a Texas truck accident lawyer who can conduct a detailed investigation, you will have the complete picture of how your accident took place and be able to accurately determine the party or parties responsible.
Grossman Law Offices has 25 years of experience in conducting painstakingly thorough investigations. Here, it is standard operating procedure to launch such an investigation into nearly every accident case we accept. When we arrive at the scene of an accident, we take physical measurements, conduct forensic tests, locate and interview witnesses, take photographs, and perform several other tasks. While we also look over the police report on the accident when it's available, it's far from the only piece of evidence we rely on to determine what took place. We will be able to gather the evidence you need in order to disprove any potentially detrimental assertions made by the police report.
What a police report can miss in a trucking accident case.
The police report generally won't tell you anything about the truck driver's history, the trucking company's hiring policies and maintenance records, etc. The report may tell you how the accident took place, but these other factors can show you why it happened.
In addition to its inability to paint a picture of what happened prior to the crash that might have played a role, there is one particularly vital piece of evidence - the data collected from the truck's engine control module (ECM) - that is often overlooked in a police investigation and, as a result, missing from the report it produces.
An ECM is a kind of "black box" of sorts, similar to the one found on all airliners. This module, when used in an 18-wheeler, provides critical data such as the speed at which the truck was traveling at the time of the accident, its RPM rate and braking rate. The primary function of an ECM is to receive input from various sensors in a truck's engine and use that information to control the engine's fuel system. It also runs diagnostics on the control system of the engine and creates fault codes when problems arise.
While it may be primarily designed to aid in maintenance, this data can also be used in the reconstruction of an accident. In an accident reconstruction, factors such as the speeds of the vehicles involved, the time-distance relationship of the vehicles and impact angles are analyzed. The pre-crash data stored in an ECM is vital to this analysis. It must be noted, however, that while ECM data can provide a great deal of insight into how an accident took place, in most instances it cannot stand by itself in court, but must be analyzed in conjunction with other evidence. For example, the vehicle speed data provided by the ECM will typically come from a vehicle speed sensor, or VSS. The VSS basically measures the rotation of the wheels. Wheel speed and vehicle speed can be greatly different. If a truck has rolled over, and its tires are off the ground, its wheel speed will be much different from its forward speed.
When used properly by a trained and experienced attorney, this data, along with the other evidence we can gather, becomes a powerful tool in winning your case and securing equitable restitution, but you won't find it anywhere in a typical police report.
To have the best chance of winning your case, you need an experienced attorney.
As previously stated, even the best police officers make mistakes when writing a police report. No matter how thorough they may be, officers can miss key evidence that could make a huge difference in your case. Your best chance of ensuring you have all the evidence you will need - and thus, have the best possible chance of winning your case - is having an investigation conducted by an experienced truck accident injury lawyer.
Attorney Michael Grossman has 25 years of this experience. If you would like more information on how we may be able to help you, please call us at (855) 326-0000 (toll free) for a confidential and free consultation.
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