Lehrer: Be proactive with police on accident reports

by Matthew Glans on April 27, 2012 · View Comments

Anyone who has ever been involved in an automobile accident knows that one of the most important components of the claims process is the accident report police file on the incident. How these reports are worded can make a huge difference in how an insurance company will respond to the claim. Given the important role of these reports, they ultimately should be taken very seriously by all parties involved.

However police, lawyers and the insurance industry may disagree over exactly what is most important in these reports. In an article from InsuranceQuotes.com, Nick DiUlio examines a recent study that found that a “huge disconnect” exists “between what police officers consider important and what attorneys, judges and insurance companies expect from police reports.”

According to Leslie Seawright, a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas and author of the study, police officers are more concerned with the professionalism and grammar of the report, lawyers and the insurance industry are more concerned with the details of the event, which officers sometimes neglect to add to the report.

From InsuranceQuotes.com

After analyzing hundreds of police reports written by more than 100 cops in her region, Seawright concluded that training is not only limited (most police academies spend only about eight total hours on report writing) but often lacks outside input from lawyers, judges or insurance representatives.

Moreover, Seawright says, police departments are more focused on the appearance, grammar and perceived professionalism of a police report than with ensuring all the pertinent information is included. This means officers often leave out critical details from their reports, such as the full names and contact information of witnesses as well as the insurance information of all of the people involved.

“Police officers are super concerned with not misusing a word and not having a comma in the wrong place,” Seawright says. “But when you talk to prosecutors and defense attorneys, they couldn’t care less about grammar. I even had one tell me that police reports could be written phonetically for all he cared. What he was most concerned about was missing information.”

Eli Lehrer, vice president for D.C. operations at The Heartland Institute and director of the Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, argues that the drivers need to be proactive in ensuring that the officer on scene files a detailed report. He recommends that, even though most states don’t require a police report for accidents without injuries or severe damage, a driver should request a police report in order to ensure that any details from an accident are not lost or forgotten, slowing down the claims process.

Certain types of accidents automatically will require the response of cops and the writing of a police report. These include any accident where someone is injured or killed, a driver flees the scene or at least one car is seriously damaged.

But most states don’t require a police report for accidents that fall outside those parameters. According to Eli Lehrer, vice president of the nonprofit research center The Heartland Institute, most auto insurance claims don’t stem from injuries or crimes.

“The overwhelming majority of accident reports do not involve a crime or anyone who’s really a bad guy, and police want to catch bad guys,” Lehrer says. “So it’s going to be very difficult to get police officers to focus on what insurers want. Their job is to prevent crime, not document accidents in a way that fits the insurance company’s needs.”

This means drivers must be proactive in making sure an auto accident is well-documented by cops. Even if no injuries occur, Lehrer says, drivers should consider asking for a police report if:

• Someone admits blame but insists on offering cash payment rather than going through the insurance process.

• The other driver admits that he doesn’t have insurance coverage but offers to pay cash for damage to your vehicle. If that person isn’t truthful with his or her contact information, a police report can help track down the person if there’s a discrepancy.

• You’re concerned about forgetting details of the accident. An accurate police report can be used by insurance adjusters to gather information that might otherwise have slipped your mind following a crash.

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