By Francis M. Smith
Finding advice about what to do when you’ve been involved in an automotive accident with another driver isn’t difficult; the internet is full of helpful information, and I’ve written extensively on the topic on this blog. But accident victims who have been hit by a car while walking or riding a bicycle are often confused about how much of that advice applies to their situation. For instance, do you need to file an accident report with the police if you’ve been hit by a car as a pedestrian or cyclist?
The short answer is absolutely yes. You should definitely report your accident to the police and give your statement describing how the incident unfolded. Even if you are unsure at first whether your injuries are severe enough to file an injury claim, making sure a police report for your accident is on the record is an important step in protecting yourself. Depending on whether the accident took place on a public road or on private property (such as a parking lot), the police may or may not come out to the scene of the accident to take statements and write up the accident report. If a report is not made at the scene – because the police did not come, or because your injuries were severe enough that you needed medical attention before making a statement – contact the police department as soon as is practical to report the accident. At that point, you can give your information, the name and license plate number of the driver that hit you, and your statement. Your attorney can also help you with filing an accident report with the police after the fact, if one was not made at the scene. Bear in mind that it is ALWAYS best for the police to respond to the scene of an accident and write up a report. Even if a report is not prepared there will always be a record with the police that they responded to the scene, and the 911 call that preceded the dispatch of the officer to the scene.
Your accident report has a number of uses in any personal injury claim you pursue arising from your accident. Most obviously, it provides evidence that the collision took place where and when you claim, and demonstrates that it was serious enough to warrant a report. The insurance adjuster assigned to your claim will use the police report as a starting point in his efforts to determine liability in your case. Should your case be taken to court, the statement you made in the accident report will be presented to the jury as your initial account of the circumstances of the accident.
Because the accident report plays such an important role in your injury case, it’s critical to make your statement properly. First and most importantly, be sure that everything you say in the accident report is absolutely true. Your attorney will be bound by the statement you give to the police as he works to build your case, and contradictory or erroneous statements will damage your credibility (and may prevent an attorney from accepting your case). If you are unsure about a detail, either omit it or state your uncertainty. Likewise, you should confine your statement exclusively to the facts of the incident – what you saw, heard, and experienced. Don’t speculate or infer things you did not observe, and don’t elaborate with irrelevant details. Do not admit fault at any point during the accident report process. Even a seemingly innocent statement that accidentally implies fault can seriously damage your case later.
Once the police report of your accident has been filed, request a copy and review it carefully with your attorney. If you notice any important omissions or errors, tell your lawyer right away. It may be possible to have an addendum made to the police report, but the authorities are understandably reluctant to make alterations to an accident report after it has been filed. This is why ensuring that everything is correct in the first place and being careful with your statement is so critical. Still, if an error does make it through, your attorney needs to know about it in order to take the problem into account when constructing your case.