Motor vehicle accidents, and the injuries that follow from them, generate a sizable amount of paperwork. One of the most important and, to a lawyer, useful records created after an accident is the report prepared by law enforcement officers who respond to the accident scene.
In this blog post, we cover how to obtain a police report for an accident in the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area, what police reports generally contain, and how they can prove helpful in a car accident case. If you need help with obtaining a police report or figuring out your legal rights after a traffic accident leaves you or a loved one injured, contact an experienced car accident injury attorney today.
Police Reports: A Quick Overview
Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws require citizens to notify law enforcement immediately of any traffic accident involving a fatality or personal injury. The laws of both states also require any law enforcement officer who investigates the scene of a fatal/injury accident to prepare and submit a written report of the investigation to the police department and other relevant authorities. The laws place short time limits on the preparation of preliminary reports (15 days in Pennsylvania, 5 days in New Jersey). Officers can submit supplemental reports if necessary.
The standard police accident reports in Pennsylvania and New Jersey contain a wide variety of information about an accident, including:
- The county and municipality where the crash occurred;
- The time of day the crash occurred;
- The number of vehicles/pedestrians (each of which is called a “unit”) involved in the accident;
- The number of people involved in the crash;
- The number of people injured or killed in the crash;
- The presence of damage to the road or roadway features;
- Whether the reported crash was a primary or secondary incident;
- The roadway location of the crash (e.g., intersection, on-ramp, railroad crossing, etc.);
- Details about the roadway where the crash happened (highway, two-lane, one-way, etc.);
- Details about the surroundings of the crash (traffic lights, signs, landmarks, vegetation, buildings, etc.);
- Details about the people involved in the crash (names, drivers license numbers, etc.);
- The results of alcohol/drug tests of drivers;
- A narrative description of how the crash happened, including its “first harmful event,” “most harmful event,” and “prime” contributing factors; and
- A diagram of the accident.
Obtaining Copies of Police Accident Reports in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey law, anyone involved in an accident (as well as their attorneys and insurance companies) has the right to obtain copies of the police accident report. The public can also access police accident reports, subject to limitations that protect the privacy of individuals involved in accidents.
Here are the basic guidelines for obtaining copies of a police accident report as an accident victim, from two state and two local police departments. If you do not see the police department that investigated your accident listed below, call the general information number at that department (not 911) and ask for instructions. Every police department should have a relatively simple procedure for obtaining a police accident report.
Pennsylvania State Police
To obtain a copy of a crash report from the Pennsylvania State Police, purchase the copy online or mail a request form to Attention: Crash Reports Unit1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110. There is a $22.00 fee to obtain a copy of a crash report. Wait 15 days after the accident before requesting the report.
City of Philadelphia Police Department
To obtain a copy of a crash report prepared by a city of Philadelphia law enforcement officer, submit a request form in person at the City of Philadelphia Records Department in City Hall, Room 170, Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 2 PM, or by mail to Records Department, Room 170, Philadelphia PA. 19107, ATTN: Accident Reports. You must pay a $25 fee for accident reports, and a separate $27 fee for any photographs taken at the accident scene (which happens only when an injury or fatality takes place).
New Jersey State Police
The steps for obtaining a crash report for an accident to which a New Jersey State Trooper responded vary depending on where the accident occurred. For a crash report on a non-toll road, follow this link and request an uncertified copy of the report (a $13.00 fee applies) or, to obtain a certified copy, mail this request form to Division of State Police, Criminal Justice Records Bureau, P.O. Box 7068, West Trenton NJ 08628-0068 along with a check or money order for $10.
For crashes that happened on either the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, purchase a copy online here or call the New Jersey Turnpike Authority Operations Department at (732) 442-8600 ext. 2431 for instructions.
For crashes that happened on the Atlantic City Expressway, mail the linked form above to the Atlantic City Expressway Authority at P.O. Box 389 Hammonton, NJ 08037 along with a certified check or money order for $10 made payable to the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
Additional fees apply for purchasing photographs.
Atlantic City Police Department
To obtain a crash report from the Atlantic City Police Department, purchase a copy online here or visit the Accident Investigation Unit at the Atlantic City Public Safety Building, 2715 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Fees apply and you must show proper ID.
Why You Need a Copy of Your Police Accident Report
As attorneys who represent injured victims of motor vehicle accidents, and families of victims tragically killed in accidents, we encourage our clients and would-be clients to obtain a copy of their police accident report as soon as possible. You do not need to wait to hire an attorney or to be contacted by an insurance company to obtain a copy of your police accident report. As soon as the report is available (15 days in Pennsylvania and 5 days in New Jersey), you can—and should—request it yourself.
Here is why obtaining an accident report is so important.
- It collects all the basic information you, your insurance company, and your attorney may need about the other vehicles and people involved in your accident. Frequently, despite their best efforts, victims of Pennsylvania and New Jersey motor vehicle accidents do not have the opportunity to obtain contact information, insurance details, and other key evidence while at the accident scene. The police report serves as a backstop by supplying much of the basic information you might need.
- It records the on-scene accounts of the accident given by the drivers, passengers, and witnesses involved, and the law enforcement officer’s interpretation of what those accounts show. This information lays a foundation for determining who may have legal liability for causing an accident. But remember, a police officer’s description of how an accident happened is just one person’s analysis. Yes, it is a law enforcement officer’s analysis, and that does count for a lot because officers receive training and have on-the-job experience in documenting and describing car accidents. But it is not necessarily the last word on what happened.
- It documents obvious injuries from an accident, which can serve as important, direct evidence that the accident caused your injuries (which is an issue that insurance companies often question). Again, however, it does not necessarily record all injuries that flow from a car accident. Sometimes, accident victims do not experience injury symptoms at the scene, and only discover later the nature and extent of the harm they sustained in a collision.
In other words, a police report will often serve as the starting point for insurance companies and attorneys in figuring out what happened in a motor vehicle accident and who should have financial responsibility for paying for the damage it caused. Even if you, your attorney, and your insurance company ultimately disagree with some of the information contained in the accident report, obtaining a copy of it right away makes it possible to get the ball rolling in conducting your own investigations and gathering the evidence you need to support your version of events.
Post-Police Report Accident Investigations
The investigation and evidence-gathering your attorney and insurance company may perform after receiving a copy of the police report can take varied forms and can depart in many directions. Often, the police report contains generalized information that offers clues about other potentially significant avenues of inquiry. For example:
- Information about witnesses gives your lawyer the ability to track them down and interview them. Sometimes, the police report will reflect conflicting descriptions of how the accident occurred, pointing the lawyer to the need to iron out those inconsistencies to find the truth;
- The accident report’s diagram may hint at something unusual about how or why a collision occurred, which can in turn point a lawyer toward investigating potential mechanical failure or other causes of the accident that might not have been within either driver’s control.
- Photographs the officers took at the accident scene often give the most accurate and precise illustration of what the accident scene looked like; not just the vehicles involved, but also the road features and aspects of the surrounding area that could have contributed to the accident.
- est results of drivers showing the presence of drugs or alcohol often serve as powerful, and irrefutable, evidence in demonstrating potential fault and legal liability for an accident.
Of course, not every police accident report will prove so chock-full of useful information. Some accident reports contain little more than bare-bones information, and that is ok too. What is important is that you obtain the “official” record of your accident, so that your lawyer can hit the ground running in figuring out what to do next to protect your legal rights and to obtain the compensation you deserve.
Insurance Companies and Police Reports
Be aware that insurance companies may try to treat police reports as more definitive than they truly are. In any given accident, there is a high likelihood someone’s insurance company will look for a way to avoid financial responsibility for injuries and losses the accident caused. A police report looks and seems very “official.” Insurance companies may try to take advantage of the relative lack of experience of accident victims by trying to convince them that if, say, a police report does not describe an injury, then it is not covered by insurance or that they deserve a much lower amount of compensation than their injuries suggest.
Never put stock in anything an insurance adjuster says when it comes to the contents of a police report. The information in a police accident report can possible make it more difficult to pursue a successful legal claim for damages. But it also might not. Either way, the best person to figure that out is an attorney who has only the client’s interest in mind, not an insurance company hoping to limit its financial exposure.
Most often, the best thing a client can do when it comes to interacting with insurance companies is simply to hand off responsibility for those communications to an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney. Accident victims have enough headaches to contend with just from dealing with their injuries and losses. There is no need for them to shoulder the burden of negotiating with insurance adjusters, too.
Let a Car Accident Attorney Review Your Police Report Today
Car accident injury attorneys spend a huge portion of their workdays understanding and evaluating the facts and circumstances of motor vehicle collisions. They know their way around a police report; what it shows, what it doesn’t, and what impact it might have on obtaining compensation for a client. After you have obtained the police report from your car accident, give it to an experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney to learn about how it affects your rights.