Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a serious car accident – but if you do, there are a few reasons why it’s important to notify your local police department. Not only are police reports helpful to plaintiffs in personal injury cases, but depending on the circumstances, failure to contact the police could actually get you into trouble with the law. In this article, Philadelphia car accident lawyer Brent Wieand will explain how police reports are used, when Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s laws require police notification, and whether it’s necessary to call the police after a minor accident with no injuries.
How Police Reports Are Used in a Car Accident Injury Case
A police report is often used as powerful leverage in settlement negotiations (provided, of course, the report states that the defendant, and not the plaintiff, was primarily at fault for the accident). Police reports tend to include detailed statements and information about the accident, such as the type of weather and road conditions the accident occurred in, the date and time the accident took place, and, critically, the names of any witnesses who might have watched the accident unfold.
During litigation, a lawyer can use a police report to refresh the police officer’s recollection of his/her investigation of the accident scene. The investigating police officer and witnesses listed on the report may be called upon to testify at a trial or deposition, which is sworn oral testimony taken outside of court. Such testimony can be absolutely invaluable, sometimes even making the difference between success and failure.
There’s also another important reason to call the police after you get into an accident: depending on how serious the crash was, your failure to notify law enforcement could result in criminal charges.
Duty to Give Information: Leaving the Scene of an Accident is Hit and Run
All states have laws outlining the steps drivers are required to take after a serious car accident. In Pennsylvania, this law can be found at 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3744 (Duty to Give Information and Render Aid), which states that if an accident causes any injuries, deaths, or even property damage, the driver has a legal obligation to:
- Give his or her name, address, and vehicle registration number to the driver and/or passengers of the other vehicle(s).
- Give to the other party, upon request, his or her driver’s license and insurance information.
If anyone was injured in the accident, the driver is also obligated to offer “reasonable assistance,” i.e. call 9-1-1 or transport the injured person to the nearest hospital.
As for police notification, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3744(b) specifically states that the driver must report the accident to the nearest police department if:
- All parties in the other vehicle have been injured so badly that they cannot take or remember information.
- No police officers are already present (which is usually the case, unless the accident happens to take place on a busy city street).
In New Jersey, the relevant statute is N.J.S.A. § 39:4-130 (Failure to Report Accident), which includes similar provisions. However, the New Jersey law is a little more specific than the Pennsylvania law in that only property damage exceeding $500 need be reported.
Failure to report an accident which causes injury or death can result in a person being charged with “leaving the scene of an accident” – more commonly known as hit and run – which carries serious criminal penalties, including hefty fines and a lengthy sentence.
Do I Need to Report a Minor Crash or Collision without Injuries?
As the statutes referenced in the previous section make plain, it is absolutely mandatory for New Jersey and Pennsylvania drivers to notify the police after an accident which is serious enough to cause property damage, personal injury, or death. But what if it’s a minor, low-speed accident where no one is hurt and no property is broken or destroyed?
In these cases, you should look to your auto insurance contract for the answer. While it might be tempting to simply drive away, the vast majority of insurance agreements do contain provisions requiring policyholders to report all accidents – no matter how minor.
As for notifying the police, the answer lies in the wording of state law. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3744 specifies “accident[s] resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property,” and says nothing about accidents which cause none of the above. Likewise, N.J.S.A. § 39:4-130 specifies only “accident[s] resulting in injury to or death of any person, or damage to property of any one person in excess of $500.00.” While it’s not mandatory to report accidents to the police if they don’t fit this description, it’s still a good idea, because, as we discussed earlier, the resulting police report can come in handy in the future.
If you were injured in a car accident in Bucks County, Atlantic City, or the surrounding areas of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you may be able to recover compensation to help pay for the current and projected costs of your medical bills, time out of work, damage to personal property, and other expenses. Don’t assume that your insurance company is offering you the best deal, because in many cases, just the opposite is true.
To learn more about how you can get compensated for your accident in a free and private legal consultation, call Philadelphia motorcycle accident lawyer Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206. Brent will help you understand your options and answer your questions about the steps you should take after an automotive accident.
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice. Brent’s law office is located in Philadelphia, PA, and serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.***