A police report is an important document in the weeks following an accident. A police report can often be the difference between your claim being denied or accepted. It can also be the difference between you being found at-fault or not at-fault for the accident.
With that in mind, we’re explaining everything you need to know about how to file a police report after an accident.
First, Determine If You Need to File a Police Report
Not all situations require a police report.
You Don’t Need to File a Police Report for Accidents with No Injuries and Minor Damages
A police report isn’t required for every accident. Generally speaking, if the accident resulted in no injuries and little damage to the vehicles involved, then there’s no need to file a police report. There are hundreds of minor accidents every day across the United States, and the police don’t need to file a report for every one. If your collision resulted in a minor cosmetic issue – like a scratch or dent – and no serious injuries to anyone involved, then it’s fine to skip the police report.
Many car accidents lead to minor repairs where nobody is injured. Your deductible might be higher than the cost of paying your repair bill out of pocket, in which case it’s in your best interest to pay out of pocket.
You Still Need to File a Police Report for Minor Accidents
It’s important to note that you still need to file a police report for minor accidents if you plan on seeking any type of compensation from the accident.
A minor fender bender, for example, can still lead to a significant insurance claim. Small cosmetic damage – like a dent in the side of your door – can cost over $1,000 to repair. Minor injuries – like neck pain after getting hit from behind – can lead to months of medical bills.
If you plan on paying for repairs out of pocket and avoiding your insurance company, then there’s no need to file a police report. However, if you plan on seeking any type of compensation from the accident, then a police report will always strengthen your case – even if it’s not explicitly required in a minor accident.
Always File a Police Report for Major Accidents
If you’ve been involved in a major accident with significant damages and injuries, then you absolutely need to file a police report. Major accidents will lead to major insurance claims, and a police report will be required.
Many states have laws requiring you to file a police report in certain situations. If your car accident caused over $1,000 in property damage, for example, then you may be required to file a police report. The specific damage limit varies from state-to-state, but it’s typically between $1,000 and $5,000.
Why You Should File a Police Report: The Benefits of Having a Police Report After a Car Accident
When in doubt, file a police report. It’s better to have a police report and not need it, than to have the opposite occur. Benefits of a police report include:
- Injuries may not become apparent for a few days or weeks, particularly soft tissue injuries like whiplash
- In the stressful moments following an accident, you might miss damage to your vehicle – like damage to your undercarriage
- The other party might make a false claim about the car accident later, in which case a police report can help you defend yourself
- The other party may admit fault after the collision but change his or her mind when filing an insurance claim
Overall, police reports help the insurance claim process go more smoothly, leading to faster payouts and fewer problems. A police report is a verified document explaining what occurred in a particular accident. Instead of relying exclusively on driver testimony, insurance companies can reference the police report.
How to File a Police Report After an Accident
Typically, police reports are filed at the scene of the accident. You call 9-1-1 or a non-emergency hotline after the accident, and a police officer is dispatched to the scene of the accident.
The police officer will collect your information and then ask you to fill out a police report. That police report will need to include various details about the accident (see below). Then, the police officer will collect the report and sent it to the department.
If a driving infraction has occurred, then the police officer may issue one or more tickets to the drivers involved.
What Happens If the Police Won’t Come to the Scene?
You might call the police, and they might not come to the scene of the accident. Police may not come to the scene of the accident if the accident didn’t cause major injuries or if the property damage was small. Police officers might also avoid coming to the scene in severe conditions– like a whiteout blizzard.
If the police won’t send an officer to the scene, then you can typically file a police report at the police station. Alternatively, some police departments allow you to file a police report online.
What to Include in your Police Report
Your police report is an accurate explanation of the events that took place prior, during, and after your accident. Information to include on your police report will include:
- A description of what happened
- The number of passengers in the other driver’s car
- The drivers’ name and insurance information
- The names of witnesses
- Damages sustained to your own vehicle
- Injuries to yourself and your passengers
While the police officer is at the scene, ask for a card with the officer’s name on it. This will be useful if you forget to record the officer’s name or if you need to contact the officer later. Typically, the police officer’s name will appear on the report, but the handwriting may be difficult to read.
And, while you’re at the scene, take notes and photos of the accident. You may be surprised at the number of things you can forget in the hectic hours and days following an accident. The more photos and notes you take, the better off you’ll be.
Consider using your phone to film witness testimony following a collision.
Conclusion: What’s Next?
The police officer will collect your report and other information and then submit that information to their department. Typically, your report will be available to review within one or two days.
If you filed a claim with your car insurance company, then your insurance company may request a copy of the police report.
In some states, you’re required to file an accident report with the DMV as well as to the police – say, if there are serious injuries or damages.
Ultimately, a police report is an important piece of documentation that can help ensure your insurance claim goes through successfully.