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In personal injury cases, car accident police reports can be useful tools to determine the circumstances of the accident and get a preliminary assessment of fault.
Car accident police reports are often used by insurance companies, as well as by parties involved in mediation or settlement negotiations.
But are the car crash police reports admissible in court as evidence? The answer depends on many factors. Here are a few you'll want to consider:
Generally, you may use a police report as evidence if the report is properly admitted. If your case is governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence (which applies to civil courts, but generally not for small claims disputes [see below]), then the main concern of admitting police records is that of hearsay.
Hearsay evidence is an out of court statement being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Translation: The court doesn't want to admit "he said, she said" statements made outside of court.
Still, business records and public records (such as police reports) can potentially be admissible as exceptions to the rule against hearsay in civil trials in many circumstances.
To qualify for this exception in the car accident context, the police report must be prepared in the regular course of police business and made soon after the accident.
To avoid potential hearsay issues, you may need to get the author of the report -- that is, the police officer -- to come into court.
But if the nugget of information in the police report you want to use was made by someone else, such as a statement by a bystander, then you likely have a "hearsay-within-hearsay" issue (questions about the police report itself, plus the bystander's statement in that report). So putting the officer on the stand won't remedy the problem.
If the hearsay rules and exceptions are racking your brain (don't worry, they rack lawyers' brains, too) and you're planning on taking your car accident case to small claims court, then you're in luck. A police report is usually admissible in small claims court.
Generally speaking, there are no funky hearsay rules or exceptions here because, as demonstrated by California and Colorado's small claims rules, the Federal Rules of Evidence typically don't apply (or aren't strictly followed) in small claims courts.
This discussion gives a broad overview of the admissibility of police reports. However, the rules vary widely depending on your jurisdiction and particular situation, so an experienced local personal injury attorney will be best equipped to know whether the police report in your case will be admissible.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.