After a car accident occurs, if the police are summoned, a police officer will respond to the scene and conduct an investigation into the facts and details involved in the accident.
The officer will record the findings in a document known as the NC DMV-349 form, or “crash report.” The crash report includes information pertaining to the drivers involved, their vehicles, their insurance information and any relevant information about the mechanics and circumstances leading up to the accident. For more information on crash reports, please read Understanding Your Accident Report.
It’s common that one or both drivers in an accident will open a claim, either with the other driver’s insurance company or with their own, for personal injury or property damage. Despite the fact that crash reports are generally not admissible in open court, the crash report for your accident will inevitably be one of the most important pieces of evidence you have. It will be analyzed heavily by the insurance adjuster assigned to your claim, and it could be helpful in determining the eventual outcome of your claim. With this in mind, it is of the utmost importance that the crash report be as accurate as possible in order to allow a complete and equitable resolution of your claim.
However, you should keep in mind that officers responding to car accidents are required to perform several tasks simultaneously and in a timely manner. They have to investigate what happened in the accident, assess any injury or damage, ensure the safety of those involved and clear the roadway as soon as possible in order to allow traffic to resume its normal flow.
Because the responding officer is being pulled in so many directions, it isn’t uncommon that he or she will inadvertently make mistakes when gathering information at the scene or completing the accident report later. These mistakes, if left uncorrected, could have a serious and detrimental impact on your claim.
Mistakes in crash reports generally fall into two categories: what I call “objective” mistakes and “subjective” mistakes. “Objective” mistakes are factual in nature, including information like misspelled names, incorrect dates of birth, misstated insurance information, etc. “Subjective” mistakes relate to the officer’s interpretation of what happened in the accident itself. These mistakes may include a misidentification of which person was driving which vehicle or an inaccurate recitation of how the accident occurred. When a mistake is made on a crash report, the type of mistake will often dictate what your recourse, if any, may be in rectifying the error.
Once you’ve requested and received your crash report, (see Requesting Your Crash Report), review it carefully to ensure that it is completely accurate. If you notice any mistakes or inaccuracies, take note of them.
If the mistake is of an “objective” nature, as described above, you will typically be able to get in touch with the police officer who completed the report and request that he amend or make an addendum to the report, noting the error and correcting it.
In order to do this, you will typically need to provide documentary proof to support your claim of mistake. This proof can include a driver’s license, insurance information, vehicle registrations, etc.. Generally, as long as you can provide proof of the correct information, the officer will be willing to amend the report without too much trouble. You can find the police officer’s name and department at the bottom of the second page of the crash report (see below):
If the mistake is a “subjective” one (for instance, if you had a green light, but the crash report says that you had a red light), it will be significantly more difficult to have the error corrected. This is because of the sheer volume of car accidents that occur on a daily basis, the prevalence of contested facts arising out of car accidents and the fact that police officers are generally left to their own discretion when deciding whether or not to amend a crash report. If you notice a subjective error, your best course of action is to write the police officer a letter stating the presence of the error and your perception of the true facts. In this letter, present the evidence supporting your contention and the reasons why you believe the crash report to be in error. Since you are effectively asking the officer to do something he isn’t required to do, you should use a tone that is concise, respectful and accommodating.
If the officer refuses, ask him or her to respond in writing as to the specific reasons for the refusal. Request that, at the very least, your account of the accident be attached to the crash report as an addendum. Be aware that the officer is generally not required to accommodate these requests, and the decision of whether to do so is normally left to his or her discretion.
With this in mind, however, an erroneous crash report is not necessarily fatal to your claim. You can still present evidence supporting your account of the accident, including any surveillance video or eyewitness accounts from other drivers or nearby home or business owners who saw the accident. See our Witness Statement Overview for more information about gathering this information.
If you have questions about the process of amending your crash report, feel free to chat with one of our attorneys below or speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in your jurisdiction.