The Police Report Wrongly Blames Me for a Car Accident; Can I still Make a Personal Injury Claim in Texas?
For someone injured in a car accident, there are few things more frustrating than having a police officer or constable come to the scene of the accident, perform an investigation, and make a wrong decision about what caused the accident and who was at fault.
Fortunately, someone injured in a car accident that is not their fault can make a personal injury claim in Texas, even if the police officer or constable investigating the accident got it wrong and made an incorrect decision of who is at fault for causing the accident.
How Do Insurance Companies Use the Officer’s Decision of Fault to Determine Liability on a Claim?
Generally speaking, the other driver’s insurance company does not owe you any legal duty under Texas law. If you make a claim for personal injury or property damage on the other driver’s insurance after a car accident, the other driver’s insurance company will review the information it has about the claim and eventually make a decision regarding fault.
If the police report says you are at fault, there is a high likelihood the other driver’s insurance company will use that as the basis for initially denying your claim. However, if the police report blames their insured for causing the wreck, the insurance company will still initially deny your claim anyway, taking the position that the officer or constable who investigated the crash was wrong in their determination of who is at fault.
Denying claims is just what insurance companies do. They will often take any reason they can to use as a pretext for denying a claim, and if they don’t have one, they will make one up anyway. This does not mean that the insurance company is correct (they often aren’t), nor does it mean that the insurance company will not eventually pay money for your claim (they often do).
If your claim has been wrongfully denied by the insurance company, you will likely need to hire a lawyer to file a civil lawsuit on your behalf to recover damages for your personal injury claim from the other driver’s insurance.
What Are the Rules of Evidence, and How do they Relate to Police Reports in a Personal Injury Claim?
Statistically speaking, the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits resolve through an agreed settlement before trial. Typically, insurance companies defending a personal injury lawsuit will evaluate the case based on what they think is likely to happen if the case went to trial, and any settlement offer made by the insurance company to resolve the case will be based on that assessment.
The Texas Rules of Evidence control what types of documents and information can be used as proof at trial in Texas State Courts (not including J.P. courts). The Rules of Evidence are detailed and complicated, but they are based on the central idea that evidence introduced in court during trial has to be authentic, trustworthy, and relevant to the case being presented.
For example, a police report is a government record, so most courts would likely require that a copy of a police report be certified or otherwise authenticated by a custodian of records to prove that it is a genuine copy of the official document before the report would be allowed into evidence.
Even if a Police Report Is Admissible in Evidence, the Investigating Officer’s Conclusions About Who Caused the Accident May Not Be
While a certified police report may be admissible in evidence, that does not necessarily mean that the officer’s determination of fault for the crash and narrative statement of how the crash occurred would be admissible.
An investigating officer’s determination of how a car accident occurred and who was at fault for causing it may often be inadmissible at trial because it is generally considered hearsay.
“Hearsay” is a legal term that means any statement made out of court which someone is attempting to introduce as evidence at trial “for the truth of the matter asserted.” The general reasoning behind the hearsay rule is fundamental fairness- if someone claims to have firsthand knowledge of relevant information, all the parties in the case (through their attorneys) should have an equal opportunity to ask that person questions about their testimony, and the judge and jury hearing the case should have an opportunity to observe the person answering these questions from all parties to have a chance to assess if they think the witness is being truthful and their testimony is credible.
Often, if part of a document is admissible as evidence for trial but other parts of the document are not admissible, the admissible portions of the document will be introduced into evidence with the non-admissible portions redacted.
How Does an Investigating Officer Determine Fault?
One of the key issues that decides if the officer’s narrative report and determination of fault is admissible in evidence is what the officer actually did to reach their conclusions.
An officer investigating an accident will arrive on the crash scene well after the crash happened. The majority of the time, the officer will speak to the drivers involved in the accident and any witnesses to determine what happened, and make a decision regarding fault based on these conversations.
- If no driver involved in the crash admitted fault, and all the officer did to determine what happened was talk to the drivers involved and decide that one driver is more believable than another, there is a good chance the officer’s narrative report and determination of fault will not be admissible evidence at trial. A judge or jury can listen to the conflicting testimony of the drivers involved in the crash at trial and make their own determinations of credibility based on their observations of the witnesses and their testimony.
- If the officer’s narrative report or other parts of the police report indicate that one of the drivers made statements admitting fault for the crash or other similar statements, those statements will usually be admissible evidence as statements made by a party against their interest.
- If a police officer reviewed video at the crash scene which showed how the crash happened and based their determination of fault and narrative report on the video, the officer’s narrative report and opinion of fault may or may not be admissible depending on whether the video itself is still available to be presented and other considerations which would apply on a case-by-case basis.
Investigating Officer vs. Trained Accident Reconstructionist
The Texas Department of Public Safety currently recognizes 5 levels of training in accident reconstruction for peace officers in the State of Texas (this includes police officers, constables, sheriffs, and deputies).
All peace officers complete Level 1 accident reconstruction education during their initial training, and the majority of officers do not receive additional accident reconstruction training past Level 1. This means that the officer is trained in the basics of how to fill out an accident report and what to do at an accident scene. However, this is different from “true” accident reconstruction, which often involves taking measurements relating to the crash, calculating speeds and distances related to the crash, and using other more advanced accident reconstruction techniques to determine how the crash occurred based on objective factors as opposed to making a determination based solely on driver interviews.
If the officer did not see the crash happen with their own eyes either in person or via video, most courts would likely require the officer to qualify as an expert witness in accident reconstruction before allowing the officer to testify regarding their opinions and conclusions of how the crash occurred and how the officer arrived at those opinions or conclusions.
Witnesses can qualify as experts based on their training, knowledge, education, or experience, and their expert opinions and conclusions for the case must be the kind that would help the judge or jury determine the disputed issues at trial.
To qualify as an expert witness in accident reconstruction, the officer would likely need to have sufficient knowledge, training, and experience regarding how to investigate car accidents and determine fault.
Moreover, the officer’s methodology in the way they went about investigating this specific accident and determining fault must have been consistent with the methodology normally used by experts in the crash reconstruction field. In other words, even if the officer is qualified as an expert accident reconstructionist by education, training, and experience, if the officer did not follow the reliable methods of accident reconstruction which are considered a standard in the field during the investigation of the specific accident at issue, then the officer’s conclusions regarding how the accident at issue occurred would probably be inadmissible at trial because they are not reliable.
Based on the best available statistical data, the vast majority of peace officers investigating auto accidents in Texas likely would not qualify as expert witnesses to give testimony on accident reconstruction. Similarly, based on the best available statistical data, the methodology used by Texas peace officers to investigate most car accidents would likely not qualify as being reliable enough by accident reconstruction standards and practices to be admissible evidence at trial.
In other words, statistically speaking there is a high chance that the police officer who investigated your accident and incorrectly determined fault may not be qualified as an expert witness to testify at trial regarding what caused the accident and who was at fault, and the officer’s conclusions of fault and how the accident occurred may not be admissible at trial.
How Does the Issuance of a Traffic Ticket for Causing an Accident Affect a Personal Injury Case?
Simply put, the majority of the time it doesn’t, unless someone pleads guilty or is convicted at trial. If a traffic ticket is dismissed for any reason, or the driver is found not guilty at the trial for the traffic ticket, the fact that the ticket was issued, what the ticket was issued for, what ultimately happened with the ticket, and any similar information would not be admissible at trial in a personal injury case or any other civil case, just like any other situation where someone was accused of a crime but the person was later acquitted or the charges were dropped and there was no conviction.
If a person fights the ticket at trial and loses, they have been officially determined to be guilty of the offense they were ticketed for in court. In this situation, the information about the ticket, and the fact that the ticket resulted in a determination of guilt, would both be admissible evidence. Similarly, if someone simply pays the ticket they were issued, this counts as a plea of guilty and a conviction on the ticket, and information about the ticket is admissible.
Is it Possible to Change a Police Report that Wrongly Blames Me for the Accident?
While this is theoretically possible, the chances of actually getting the report changed are very slim, so this is not something we usually recommend.
Each peace officer is responsible for preparing their own reports for any crashes they investigate, so if the officer investigating your crash incorrectly blamed you for causing the crash, the only person who would be able to change the report would be the same officer who prepared it.
This means that as a practical matter, to get the crash report changed, you would need to get in touch with the officer who prepared it, and convince the officer to change the report. Most officers are extremely unlikely to change their minds without a really compelling reason. Additionally, if you repeatedly contact the officer trying to convince them to change their report, this will likely be revealed during the course of any pending personal injury lawsuit if you or the officer testifies, and there is a good possibility the lawyers hired by the insurance company to defend the case will try to spin your contacts with the officer as an improper attempt to manufacture evidence and mislead the judge or jury.
Simply put, the overwhelming majority of the time it’s not going to be worth it to try to get in touch with the officer to change their report, and before attempting to do this it is important to think very carefully about whether this is truly the best course of action.
An Incorrect Police Report Does Not Prevent You from Making a Personal Injury Claim in Texas; a Qualified Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Even if the police report wrongly blames you for causing the accident, you can still pursue a personal injury claim if you were not at fault for causing the accident. While it can be frustrating to be wrongly blamed by the investigating officer for the accident when it was not your fault, trying to get the report changed after the fact will usually be useless, counterproductive, and unnecessary, especially since it’s highly unlikely the police report alone will determine the outcome of your personal injury case one way or another.
The personal injury claims process and Texas personal injury law is complicated and often difficult to navigate in any situation, but even more so if you were injured in a car accident and the investigating officer wrongly determined that you were at fault.
Having a knowledgeable, qualified, personal injury lawyer in your corner can help. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, truck accident, or any other type of auto accident, contact The Kishinevsky Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation. Our team of experienced Houston personal injury lawyers has successfully represented many clients injured in car accidents and helped them obtain full and fair compensation for their injuries.
Whether you were wrongly blamed for causing the accident in the police report, the police report correctly blames the other driver for causing the crash, or a police report for the crash was never created, if you were injured in a car accident, truck accident, or any other kind of auto accident in or around the greater Houston area, our legal team is here to help you get full and fair compensation for your injury claim. Contact our team of experienced Houston car accident lawyers today and see what we can do for you.
In April 2015, Leonid Kishinevsky started the Kishinevsky Law Firm, focusing his practice primarily on personal injury litigation. As a personal injury lawyer providing representation to clients throughout the greater Houston area, he assists people who have suffered economic and noneconomic losses and harms due to the fault of other people or companies.