After multiple seasons of CSI, it comes as a surprise to many to learn many accident cases lack objective proof.  Worse is the myth the Accident Report is the product of reliable scientific testing performed by well trained police and forensic evidence technicians.

The other mythological aspect of the police Accident Report is the idea it must have happened the way the cop wrote it.  True believers of this myth often include insurance companies.  Believing the Accident Report saves them the trouble of actually having to work to find out what really happened.

I love myths.  They can be fun to believe.  Some can even be true. I still hold out hope the Loch Ness monster will be found.  But believing in a harmless myth is one thing; relying upon a myth which can impact upon your legal rights is dangerous.

Some case studies will illustrate the dangers of the reliable Accident Report myth.


In CASE 1, an elderly pedestrian—“Ms. Smith”— was crossing a two lane road on a sunny fall afternoon.  At the age of 87, she wasn’t darting across the road, but moving with caution and deliberation.  Just a step before reaching the safety of road’s shoulder, she was struck by a car.  She suffered a badly broken leg (requiring emergency surgery to save the leg) and several broken ribs.

The officer wrote the Accident Report after she interviewed only the driver.   Ms. Smith was conscious and speaking with the EMTs, but the officer didn’t speak to her.

The first line of the Accident Report read: “Vehicle 1 was traveling south…when a pedestrian walked into the roadway in front of vehicle.”   Not…. “Driver says…” just a plain statement of fact sounding like the officer actually saw the event.  But she hadn’t.  All she had was the word of a frightened driver who didn’t know if the lady she hit would even survive.  She almost didn’t.

At pre-trial deposition, the office acknowledged skid marks help determine how far before the impact brakes were applied. She conceded she didn’t look for marks or for any witnesses.  She didn’t take photos or measurements of any kind. Her only training about accidents in the academy focused on how to fill out reports. Her department hadn’t sent a trained accident reconstruction officer because no one had died.

The driver’s insurance company told me they didn’t want to settle because of the way the Accident Report had been written despite the obvious defects in the document.  This denial meant a suit had to be filed.  It is still pending.


In CASE 2, “Mr. Jones” was sitting in his disabled car on the shoulder of the road.  He was calling for help when a driver stuck behind a panel truck grew impatient.  Unable to use the left lane to pass due to heavy traffic, the driver made a rapid swerve to the right in an attempt to use the shoulder as a passing lane.  The car in which Mr. Jones was sitting was struck squarely in the rear.  The high speed of the collision caused Mr. Jones to suffer TBI (traumatic brain injury) with related memory loss, diminishment of cognitive functions, recurring headaches and sleep disturbance.

At the scene of the accident, Mr. Jones had the presence of mind to take photos with his camera phone.  These proved critical in debunking the driver’s false claim Mr. Jones had been in a lane of traffic.  The police didn’t take photos and the Accident Report failed to specify the exact location of the cars.  The photos showed both cars solidly on the shoulder, almost scraping the guard wires near the grass.

The driver was confronted with the photos at his deposition.  Shortly afterwards, the case settled without trial.


In CASE 3, a car crossing a broad, four lane avenue was broadsided by another vehicle.  The avenue was straight and flat with clear visibility.  “Mr. Dude” swore he was looking straight out his windshield, driving at 30 mph, and neither playing with his radio or picking his nose.  He had no explanation for why he didn’t see the car crossing his path.   He opined it must have shot across the avenue in a hasty manner.  A young woman in the back seat of the stricken car suffered a deep laceration running from her hairline down her forehead.  The scar would be permanent.

Since a fatality was not involved, the local police failed to send an accident reconstruction officer to the scene.  No photos, no measurements of skid marks, and no other forensic evidence was gathered.  If skid marks had documented, they could have proven Mr. Dude failed to apply his brakes.  This would have indicated he had not been paying attention as the car he hit crossed four entire lanes across his field of vision before he drove into its side.

For want of a decent Accident Report, the case spent almost two years in litigation before a satisfactory settlement was secured for the scarred young woman.

The myths of Nessie, Bigfoot, and aliens in Area 51 stand a better chance of being true than some Accident Reports I have seen.  The moral of these stories is this:  Do NOT count on the police to write an accurate, balanced report.  Without a fatality or catastrophic injuries, don’t expect an accident reconstruction to be done.

DO count on insurance companies, juries and courts to reflexively give undeserved credibility to whatever an officer puts in a hastily written report, her lack of training and qualifications notwithstanding.

DO take photos and get the names of witnesses.  If you are not the person at fault, you may want to politely ask the officer on the scene to take your statement if you have a good recollection of what happened.  Try to be the one to call the police and be the first one they talk to.

If there is any question as to fault being yours, exercise your right to remain silent and call a lawyer ASAP.  My office can be reached 24/7 for urgent matters.  And, be very selective about what myths you believe (I confess I’m with Jane Goodall about Bigfoot).


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