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Police Reports, Car Accidents and Hearsay

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Image Credit: 123RF Photo

It’s always a good idea for Chicago residents to notify the police after being involved in a car accident. The responding officers can interview witnesses, determine if any traffic violations were committed, and document the accident and any potential liability. That documentation could be helpful in certain aspects of your case if you decide to pursue a personal injury claim. However, while a police report can be helpful, it might not be admissible should your case go to trial. Under Illinois law, certain uses of police reports are considered hearsay.

What is hearsay and why is it inadmissible?

Generally, hearsay is an out-of-court statement that can’t be challenged by cross-examination in court. For example, let’s say you were involved in a rear-end collision car accident caused by another driver. You decide to sue the other driver and the case goes to trial. Your attorneys call Bob to the stand as a witness. Bob testifies that Mary told him you were rear-ended.

This is inadmissible and considered hearsay because Bob has no direct knowledge of the accident. Bob is simply asserting that someone else said you were rear-ended by the other driver. The other driver’s attorney also has little room to challenge Bob’s assertion during a cross-examination.

Now let’s assume that Bob witnessed the accident. Your attorneys call him as a witness and he testifies that he saw the other driver rear-end you. This is admissible because he is sharing his direct knowledge of the accident. The other driver’s attorney also has the opportunity to question his account and whether he clearly saw the incident.

Why does this apply to police reports?

Many people often believe that a police report is admissible because it’s an official document. The Illinois state law does grant an exception to state documents under the hearsay law. However, police reports in car accidents are specifically excluded from that exception unless the officer has direct knowledge of the accident.

That means that the only way the police report can be used in trial is if the police officer directly witnessed the accident himself or herself. That’s rarely the case. Most car accident police reports are written after an officer responds to an accident. They usually consist of the drivers’ statements, as well as witness accounts. Under Illinois law, that’s little more than a written version of hearsay.

How can you use police reports?

That’s not to say that police reports are totally useless. In fact, they can be very helpful in establishing a case. An attorney can review the police report to get a better idea of what happened and how to establish liability on the part of the other driver.

Although police reports are usually inadmissible in trial, they are frequently used in settlement negotiations with insurance companies. This is important because personal injury litigation often ends in a settlement. An attorney can used the police report to help establish liability and negotiate for greater compensation.

If you have been involved in a car accident that was caused by another driver, you may benefit from speaking with a personal injury attorney. Contact us at Fishman and Fishman, Ltd. today to schedule a free consultation.