Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: Apr 16, 2019

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If you are involved in a car accident, there will usually be a police report on file. This report gives the pertinent information about the accident, including the names of the insurance companies of both drivers, and (if you live in a tort state) who is at-fault, or charged with causing the accident.

If you live in state with no fault auto insurance laws, the accident report will still indicate who caused the accident, in case the liability limits of the “no fault” policy are exceeded; all no fault states still allow lawsuits in certain cases.

The accident report will also list any injuries reported, the general state of the vehicle and the conditions surrounding the accident.

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Always Obtain a Copy of the Police Report

If you were the victim in the accident, you will want to obtain a copy of the accident report as soon as possible—usually these reports are available within a week of the event. This is what you will take to your insurer and file with the at-fault driver’s insurance to make a claim for injuries and damage to your vehicle.

If the other driver was charged and has insurance, the driver’s insurance company will be obligated to pay your claims up to the limits of the policy.

However, if you were at fault in the accident and the damage was minor, you may choose not to report the accident to your insurance company, instead opting to pay “out of pocket” for any damages so that your insurance rates will not go up.

This can be a dangerous practice, however.

Will your auto insurance company find out about an accident even if you do not file a claim?

Many insurance companies “sweep” public records to search for accident reports pertaining to their insured drivers. The reason for this practice is simple: even a minor accident may later develop into a situation where a claim is filed against the at-fault driver.

For example, some injuries (such as whiplash) may not manifest for a few days after the accident, and then suddenly appear with complications.

Also, a driver who agreed to take cash for minor damage to a vehicle may discover that the damage was more extensive than at first thought. In this case, the auto insurance company needs to know if a claim is likely to be filed against the company’s insured driver.

Another reason auto insurance companies sweep public records is to find if drivers are involved in several collisions which are not reported. A string of “fender benders” alerts the company to the fact that their insured driver may not be operating the vehicle in a safe manner.

The company then has the information to adjust auto insurance rates according to the driver’s actual vehicular history, rather than just what he or she chooses to report.

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How do auto insurance companies use a police report?

When an auto insurance company receives an accident report, the report is scanned carefully by adjustors to be sure that the facts of the accident are clear. It is not unheard of for an insurance company to challenge a police officer’s ruling on a car accident, and for judges to reverse a decision of “at fault” based on evidence presented which sheds new light on the accident.

As an example, suppose that a driver ran a red light and hit another car. When the police officer arrives and takes information from the two drivers, he decides that the person who ran the red light, who now claims the light was green, is telling the truth, and writes up the accident in this manner.

However, the auto insurance company may interview witnesses who testify that the driver who was charged as “at fault” was actually the victim.

If the company can show this evidence in court, a judge may reverse the police officer’s decision and charge the correct driver with the accident. This is one reason why it is very important never to admit “fault” in an accident; you yourself may not have all the facts concerning the crash.

If the insurance company determines that you were indeed at fault, it will decide how to pay the claim. In some states, police officers are allowed to “split” the fault of an accident between two drivers who were both driving recklessly.

In this case, the company may elect to pay half of the damages, and the other insurance company may pay the other half. If the same company insures both vehicles, the company may decide to repair the victim’s vehicle without delay and simply raise the rates of the at-fault driver.

If you are involved in an accident, secure a copy of the police report as soon as possible and send it to your insurance agency. If there is no claim filed by the other driver, the company will often ignore the report, unless there is another in a short time period.

Auto insurance companies always reserve the right to cancel car insurance after an accident, however, so do not be surprised if your accident report results in higher rates or outright cancellation.

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