Woodland Hills personal injury lawyer Barry P. Goldberg gets this question all the time. In fact, sometimes the failure to obtain a police traffic collision report is the motivating reason why accident victims decide to contact a personal injury lawyer in the first place. Because the traffic collision reports are more than just information, this article will hopefully provide some helpful pointers regarding the traffic collision report.
As a practicing attorney in the Los Angeles metropolitan area our office has noticed a decided shift both in the taking of traffic collision reports and regarding obtaining the reports. What most consumers should know right off the bat is that many police agencies will not even take a report unless there are fairly serious injuries involved. In particular, the LAPD is doing everything it can to avoid taking reports. This is true even if you insist that an officer arrive and take a report.
The LAPD will take reports for hit and run if you insist—-and you should. Your Uninsured Motorist insurance will cover you “if you report the accident to the police within 24 hours.” If the LAPD refuses to take a report and you think you need one, you can go personally to the Traffic Division and file a report. If there is any chance that it was a hit and run, you must do this and obtain a copy of the report.
The LAPD will usually provide you with an information card if an officer arrives on scene, even if no report is taken. This card could be absolutely critical to identifying the adverse driver’s insurer and accurate contact information. You need to ask for the card or risk having little or no information on the adverse driver. This could delay your claim for weeks or even months.
Even if the LAPD actually takes a report, you should still insist on an information card or report face page. Why is this important? Okay—-Here it comes—the LAPD cannot produce an actual report to you for between 8 and 16 weeks! That means if you did everything right and you were not at fault for the accident—-you might have to wait months before you find out who to contact!
Lately, we have had some success speaking to the desk sergeant shortly after an accident. Usually, they will allow us to personally view the face page before the creation of the report is under way. This requires us to go to the police station and take a cell phone picture of the face page! Otherwise, we have to wait some 8 to 16 weeks to get a copy of the report. If we do not get the face page, we risk a very angry client because we cannot have the other party’s insurer pay for property damage or a rental car. Further, our client could be stuck with a huge deductible until we can get other adverse insurer on the hook.
All is not gloom, however. Many of the other police agencies are much faster in getting us a report. The Highway Patrol usually takes around 7 to 10 days. The Los Angeles and Ventura Sheriff’s Departments are around the same time.
In the end, most of the time the traffic collision report is the determining factor for liability regardless of what the parties later say. Further, the reports often identify important witnesses and physical evidence which can make or break a case. Also, many practitioners do not realize that there is a box in the upper corner which indicates whether digital photos were taken at the scene. Those photos are not provided with a mere request for the traffic collision report. You must request the photos separately and pay an additional fee. Our office is seeing more and more photos taken because it is now so easy to document an accident with photos. The on scene police photos can be very dramatic.
To obtain reports, a party to the accident must request the report in writing and pay the small administration fee. A friend or relative is not permitted to obtain the report for you unless it is accompanied by a signed authorization by the involved party. A law firm must similarly obtain a written authorization from the client before the police agency will release the report. Finally, in California, drivers should be reminded that the police agency does not provide the traffic collision report to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Accordingly, you must file a separate SR-1 form with the DMV within 10 days of the accident or risk having your license suspended for one year.