If you’ve been in a car accident, you’ve likely heard the term “accident report.” The reporting officer that arrives at the scene of the accident should have provided information on obtaining your copy of the report. You may have even been asked about it by your insurance agent, as well. It’s a helpful document for a variety of reasons. It can also be confusing and overwhelming to understand, especially during a stressful event like a car crash. Thankfully, a great attorney and a good insurance agency can make a major difference in helping you through the process.

What is an Auto Accident Report?

An auto accident report is a formal legal document created by the responding officer that summarizes the details of the event. It will include important information on the details of the crash, the identifying information of all involved, and observations made by the officer. Your insurance company will often use it as part of their own investigation for any outstanding claims.

Are you legally required to report a car accident?

Depending on the severity of the damage, and the state law where the accident took place, you may not be required to report an accident. However, it’s always strongly encouraged to report an accident and get a report. By doing so, you’ll protect yourself from potential dishonest claims, as well as increased insurance premiums as a result.

Are accident reports public record?

The law on accident reports being public vary state-to-state. For example, in Florida, accident reports are not public record until a strict sixty-day waiting period has passed. Yet, in Pennsylvania, the drivers’ phone numbers and addresses are included in the public record data. Some states restrict access completely to those involved.

In general, at least parts of an accident report are available to the public. The good news is all sensitive information, including your social security number or driver’s license, will stay private. Also, most states prohibit using accident reports for solicitation purposes, as well. The license status, details of the accident, and any citations given may be included in the public data.

When all or some of an accident report is not public record, certain parties will still have full access to it. This includes any drivers involved, law enforcement agencies, and the insurance agencies of the drivers involved.

Why is the accident report important?

If you’ve sustained any damages, whether to yourself, your passengers, or your vehicle, the accident report will help support your claim for reimbursement. The details provided in the report help decide who may be at-fault and the immediate damages observed in a formal, legal document.

If you’re the one being sued and the claim is dishonest, the report will help protect you against false allegations and a possible lawsuit. Even if there’s no lawsuit, dishonest claims against your insurance can raise your premiums or cause a drop in coverage. A report can help dispute these false allegations.

Regardless of current claims or charges, the report is important to keep for your personal records. In some cases, lawsuits can be filed four years after the accident took place!

How do I request my accident report?

While the legal process varies from state to state, typically the reporting officer will provide you with an accident report number and where to get a copy, as well as an estimate on when it should be ready. It can take several days for your report to be available, depending on which state the accident occurred in and the complexity of the details.

If you do not have the identification number for the police report, you can contact the county clerk’s office where the accident took place. By providing the date, time, and location of the car accident, along with your name, your report can be located.

Once the report is ready, you can request a copy by mail, phone, or in-person. In some cases, you may even be able to use email. There may be a nominal fee, or you can contact your insurance adjuster for a copy for free.

What information is in an accident report?

A standard car accident report will include most, if not all, of the following information:

  • Identification information for all drivers involved.
  • Insurance information for all drivers involved.
  • Vehicle information on all vehicles involved, such as registration, make, model, and license plate numbers.
  • The location or street address where the accident to place.
  • A road conditions assessment. This is typically notated by the reporting officer, which can help clarify any factors that were out of the drivers’ control.
  • A record of statements by all parties involved, if provided.
  • Any witness statements, if applicable.
  • A physical observation made by the reporting officer. This may include measurements, skid marks, and property damages. These details help paint a clear picture in determining what took place to cause the accident.
  • A report of citations. This will notate any tickets given and to which drivers, which can be used to help figure out fault, as well as percentages involved in any potential settlements.
  • The reporting officer’s information.
  • Any injuries to yourself and any passengers.

How is an accident report used by an insurance agency?

An accident report may contain both facts and opinions. Facts are indisputable details like the date, time, and location of the accident. A fault determination, for example, would be considered an opinion of the officer.

Regardless of the opinions stated by the officer, an insurance company will conduct their own investigation to decide who is at fault. Therefore, in some cases, an officer may state that the other driver is at-fault, yet their insurance company denies your claim.

Even if you have no intentions of pursuing a lawsuit and have no pending criminal charges, the information in the report could affect your future insurance coverage. If you’re having trouble understanding your report, or are unsure if the information is correct, you should consult an attorney or a law enforcement officer for assistance.