After a car accident in New York, all parties must remain at the scene until the police arrive. The police may investigate and write a formal report. This report may be helpful or otherwise influence a subsequent lawsuit.
New York has a law that prevents drivers from suing for car accidents unless they have a “serious injury.” Proving you have a serious injury might be difficult, and details from the police report might help you shed some light on the situation. While police reports might be useful, they are often inadmissible as evidence in a lawsuit unless specific exceptions apply. Even if they cannot be admitted as evidence, they can be used as a guide to find other evidence uncovered by law enforcement. Having a police report might lend your case some much-needed legitimacy. Knowing that the situation was serious enough to require police intervention might make the jury more inclined to take your injuries, damages, and claims more seriously.
Call our Yonkers, NY car accident lawyers to schedule a free evaluation of your case and to get help obtaining copies of the police reports for your accident. Call The Martello Law Firm, PLLC at (914) 685-6950.
Using a Police Report to Meet the “Serious Injury” Threshold for NY Car Accident Lawsuits
New York has strict laws regarding car accidents and lawsuits. According to I.S.C. Law § 5104(a), injured drivers can sue for car accidents only if they show they experienced a “serious injury.” What kind of injury is considered serious can be highly subjective, so the law has defined what makes a serious injury.
According to I.S.C. § 5102(d), a serious injury may include death, dismemberment, broken bones, significant disfigurement, or the permanent limitation or total loss of a body part, function, or system. Suppose you have a serious injury that does not fall under these categories. In that case, you may sue if you experienced a non-permanent injury that inhibits you from performing many of your normal daily tasks and chores of living for at least 90 days of the 180 days right after the accident.
A police report might help you meet this requirement and move your case forward. While medical records of injuries are likely required in these situations, police reports might be important when injuries are considered on the borderline between serious and non-serious.
Using Police Reports as Evidence in Car Accident Lawsuits in NY
Police reports can be very helpful to car accident plaintiffs, but they are not always admissible as evidence themselves. Evidence must meet strict standards imposed by the state’s Rules of Evidence. While police reports are often inadmissible, various exceptions might still allow you to present the reports.
Police Reports Are Typically Inadmissible Hearsay
Police reports from car accidents are not typically admissible because they violate the rule against hearsay. Hearsay evidence is defined under New York’s Rules of Evidence as an out-of-court statement someone offers as evidence to prove the truth of the matter in the statement. The person making the statement typically does not have first-hand knowledge about the matter asserted in the statement. The statement might be written or, in a car accident case, a written report.
In many cases, police reports are considered inadmissible hearsay because the police officer writing them did not witness the accident. Much of the information in the report is gathered from others who witnessed the accident or from other reliable sources. If the police officers who wrote the report testified about its content, their testimony would be hearsay.
The hearsay rule is notoriously one of the biggest evidentiary rules. It is also known for having multiple exceptions. Under certain circumstances, our Westchester, NY car accident lawyers might be able to help you get the police report admitted into evidence.
Business Records Exception
Under Rule 8.08 of New York’s Rules of Evidence, business records may be admissible even though they are considered hearsay. Business records may encompass more than economic business. Business is broadly defined and may include a business, profession, or calling of any kind, including law enforcement. Police accident reports have been held to be included in this definition.
Essentially, admissible business records should document the regular or normal course of business, and the records should be kept and maintained as part of standard business practices. The records should also be made close in time to the event or information being documented.
Since police reports are a normal part of police activity, kept as standard law enforcement practices, and made close in time to the accidents they report on, they may fit this exception.
Using Police Reports to Find Other Evidence
If the police accident report in your case cannot be admitted or you do not wish to admit it into evidence, it might still be useful in other ways. Often, plaintiffs and their lawyers use police reports as guides to find evidence that was uncovered by law enforcement. For example, instead of presenting the police report to show that a witness saw the defendant cause the accident, we could use the report to identify and find the witnesses themselves and get them to testify in court.
How a Police Report Can be Used to Sway a Jury in a NY Car Accident Lawsuit
Police reports, even when inadmissible, tend to give a car accident lawsuit more legitimacy in the eyes of the jury. Police reports do not always have useful information, and the reports might never even come up during a trial. Even so, just knowing that law enforcement investigated the crash and wrote a formal report may make the jury consider the accident more seriously.
If there is no police report, it might make the jury think that the accident was not very serious. After all, how can it be that serious if the injured party never bothered to call the police? Such thinking might undermine how the jury considers your damages, and you might lose valuable compensation.
If there is no police report in your case, our New Rochelle car accident lawyers must figure out why. If you have a good reason for not contacting the police, we can figure out how to bring it up so the jury does not disregard your injuries and damages. For example, perhaps you were so badly hurt after the crash that you could not call the police for help, and the other defendant did not call either because they were afraid of the repercussions.
After an Accident, Call Our NY Car Accident Lawyers for Help Getting the Police Report for Your Lawsuit
Call our Mount Vernon, NY car accident lawyers at The Martello Law Firm, PLLC at (914) 685-6950 to schedule a free evaluation of your case and get help obtaining copies of your police reports.