The Importance of the Police Report in Car Accident Cases: Advice for Lawyers

Mar 12 06:35 2011 Ron Miller Print This Article

We are seeing more and more often in car and truck accident injury cases- mismatched experts designated by defendants. What we mean by "mismatched experts" is that the expert identified by the defendant appears to be of the wrong type, or in the wrong field.

In most jurisdictions,Guest Posting the police report is not admissible at trial (a fact that astounds many jurors who can't figure out why they were not given the report).  But trust me: a car accident investigation begins with a police report.  Always get the police report if one is made, even if it is a short form or just an “exchange of information” form.  Then READ IT.  See how your client fares in the grand scheme of things, nail down your witnesses and get your photos of the cars and the scene immediately.  This ties in with the next section on Investigation.  Many attorneys think the insurance company will do the investigation for them, so they don’t pay attention to things like photos of the cars or of the scene when they first get the case.  BAD MOVE.  First, insurance companies don’t usually want to put in the time and expense of a detailed investigation on a $50,000 to $100,000 case. You don’t have that luxury, since you and your client only get paid if the claim succeeds. Second, if you intend to rely on the insurance company to do your investigation, remember that heir investigation has a much different purpose than yours.  Your investigation is designed to get the claim paid.  There is designed to find a way to deny the claim altogether or to find a reason to resolve it at reduced value.  So the carrier’s photos of the vehicle damage tend to be taken form angles that minimize how serious the damage looks.  Their driver says they turned left on a green arrow, and that your client ran the red light.  So the carrier never gets around to getting photos that will show if there really is a green arrow signal at that intersection in the first place. 

The best, quickest way to do an effective initial investigation is to use the assets immediately available to you.  If the client has a digital camera, have them take photos and email them to you.  If not, keep a supply of cheap, disposable cameras in your office to provide to the client to get these photos.  If most of your intake is done in person, your office should have a digital camera and a color printer capable of printing photos.  Take the vehicle damage photos yourself.  If the features of the scene itself are at issue, you can get an immediate, free look at the lay of the land by using Google Earth.  I have actually done this, and was able to get out of a bad case on the front end when the satellite photos revealed a stop sign my client had that she never told me about. 

If these quick, cheap measures don’t get you what you need, or the case is a large one or one destined for litigation, you may wish to take further measures.  Hire an investigator, paralegal, or former insurance adjuster who is familiar with this kind of investigation and can perform it with minimal direction from you.  The point of this is: insurance companies do not investigate cases like they used to.  In fact, they haven’t for years.  They are content if the loss rations are good for their agents and the claims costs and defense costs don’t get too out of hand.  He people running insurance claims departments are now seldom experienced claims professionals.  They are administrators. They look at numbers.  The only time this will not happen is when a file is referred out to an independent adjuster or the case is one with an extremely serious injury and the company knows it and prepares for the inevitable.

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