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Can a Police Report Be Used Against You in a Car Accident Lawsuit in South Carolina?

Police reports are often good tools for gathering information about what happened and using that info as part of an insurance claim. When it comes to using information from the police report in a court case instead of an insurance claim, the rules might be a bit different.

For insurance claims, the insurance company usually requests the crash report. A police report that says you were at fault will likely be used against you when they analyze the case. However, certain laws protect you from police reports being used in a lawsuit as evidence of negligence.

For a free evaluation of your potential car accident injury case, call the Columbia, SC car accident attorneys at Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers today at (803) 451-4000.

Can Insurance Companies Use Police Reports for Car Accident Cases?

Insurance companies will often request a police report as proof that the accident happened and to help verify who was involved and what happened in the collision. Police reports often contain the names of everyone involved, as well as what vehicles were involved, where the crash occurred, and what injuries and damage resulted. They would also include whether any tickets were issued and any other details the officer was privy to. What this means is that insurance companies often rely heavily on police reports.

South Carolina law requires police to draw up a report for nearly any crash. Because these records are required almost every time, insurance companies find them somewhat reliable. They also often trust the officer’s opinion and will likely take any statements about fault as valid.

However, it is important to remember that most police reports are written by officers who showed up at the scene of the crash after the crash happened. They likely did not witness what happened, and any information contained in their report is based on what they saw after the fact or based on second-hand info given to them by someone else.

Insurance companies do not have strict rules of evidence like courts do, so they can use this potentially unreliable information in their preliminary decisions about fault. Myrtle Beach, SC car accident lawyers often do the same, trusting the police report to lay out the general details about what happened. However, when insurance companies rely on this info too heavily, it could mean they end up throwing out your claim based on the report’s inaccuracies.

Can Courts Use Car Accident Police Reports in South Carolina?

Generally, courts are barred from using police reports as evidence of negligence in a car accident case or any other type of civil lawsuit. Police reports are considered “hearsay,” and without some law allowing this type of hearsay to come in as evidence, it must be barred from court.

South Carolina’s hearsay law bars most statements uttered outside the courtroom from being used inside the courtroom as evidence of what the statement says. For instance, if a witness stated at the crash scene that the other driver was at fault, you cannot just recite the witness’ statement in court; you have to call the witness to testify on the stand and ask them what they saw.

Crash reports are often hearsay because they were written outside of court. That means they cannot be used to say that the reported info is correct, including any opinions the officer made. Moreover, these reports are often made up solely of statements from others at the scene of the crash. That means they are hearsay within hearsay, and there would need to be some exception for the report itself as well as witness statements contained in the report.

South Carolina Rule of Evidence 803(8) contains exceptions for records, allowing them as evidence even if they are hearsay. However, this rule specifically carves crash reports out of this exception and affirms that they are indeed barred from being used as evidence of negligence in a car accident case.

How Can Police Reports Hurt You in Your Car Accident Case in South Carolina?

As mentioned, reports can hurt you in the insurance claim because insurance companies are not explicitly barred from using them to help them determine fault. Our lawyers can negotiate with insurance companies, remind them that the report will not hold up in court, and potentially negotiate a fair settlement – or we can simply take the case to court if the insurance company refuses to settle. There, the report cannot be used as evidence, but it can still be used to hurt your case in limited ways.

When you get up on the stand and testify in court, the defense will look for inconsistencies with your previous statements. If you made a statement to the police officer that was recorded in the police report, or if you made statements to insurance companies or at depositions, then any of those statements can be used to challenge what you say in the courtroom. If you make a mistake or change your story, they can use the previous statement to point out your contradiction. In this way, the statement is not being used for a different purpose – to show you are wrong, not to say the statement is true – so it does not qualify as hearsay.

Insurance companies and defendants can also use the police report to find witnesses who might testify against you. Especially if the police report says you were at fault, the officer might also want to testify against you. However, this cuts both ways, as it can also help our lawyers get in contact with witnesses whose statements agree with your side of the story.

Call Our South Carolina Car Accident Attorneys Today

For help with a potential car accident claim, call our South Carolina car accident attorneys at Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers at (803) 451-4000.