Let’s say you’ve just had a car accident, and a police officer comes to the scene, interviews a few witnesses, gives you a ticket and writes a report that says you’re at fault. What next? Does it necessarily mean you’re at fault and have no case?
For one, what is a police report? The police report is a police officer’s opinion about what happened when they spoke to the people who saw the accident. There’s no reason why your case should not move forward because If your case ever gets to court, what’s in the police officer’s report never comes up.
The only report that matters is the Major Accident Investigation Team’s (MAIT). That’s important because it typically contains a ton of factual findings. But even that is only as valuable as the jury’s opinion about it.
Only the jury has the final word on who’s at fault and to what percentage.
The bottom line is if the police report says you’re at fault or your lawyer tells you, you don’t have a case, you owe it to yourself to get a second or third opinion on what more you can do.
In this episode of the David vs. Goliath podcast, elite civil trial lawyers Matt Dolman and his partner, Stan Gipe, discuss why a police report should not deter you from pursuing a potential claim. They also talk about your options, even if your case is about splitting liability.
In this episode:
- [00:40] Stan Gipe introduces the topic of the day: police reports and their relevance to your injury case
- [02:00] is the police report admissible in court?
- [03:33] How Stan will represent a client who the police report says is at fault
- [04:33] What the police report is and how the MAIT (Major Accident Investigation Team) report is different
- [05:27] Something else you need to know: can what you say to the police officer at your auto accident scene be used against you in a state of Florida court?
- [06:54] What does being at fault or partially at fault mean for your case?
- [08:11] Why it is crucial always to get a second or third opinion
- [10:36] The police report can be wrong in many ways. What should you do if the police report is incorrect about your case?
- [12:16] Conclusion: your choice of a lawyer makes all the difference
Welcome to another episode of the David vs. Goliath podcast. My name is Matthew Dolman. I’m a Civil Trial Lawyer down in Clearwater, Florida. I’m here with my partner in crime, Stan Gipe. Stan.
Hey, nice to talk to you guys today. Today, I think we’re going to discuss a topic that I really feel a little passionate about, and it’s police reports, essentially, and what they are? What’s their role in the case? What can you do when the police report is wrong? And really, what is a police report?
Yeah. And also, touch on it’s a police report says that you may be at fault, does it necessarily mean you’re at fault? And what are the ways around that?
Number one, you got to realize what courts do. And the way courts do things is courts are based on factual testimony, “I want to know the facts.” If you’re an expert, you can come in and give an opinion about the facts. But here’s what you got to realize, 95% of police reports are written by police officers who did not see the accident. So when they come up to write the report, the report is this, their opinion about what they think happened when they spoke to the people who actually saw the accident.
So it’s an opinion. Most of the time, these officers are not trained accident investigators. There’s no expertise to their opinion. They’re just talking to people and say, “Two of the witnesses said person A ran the red light, so I’m writing person A ticket.” Well, if you’re person A in that situation, that doesn’t necessarily mean those two witnesses were correct.
The police officer has showed up and written his opinion. His opinion is wholly inadmissible–
… when we go to court. You know this, it’s like one of the golden rules.
Yes, considered hearsay. Yeah.
Yeah. No juror will ever know that you got a ticket in the accident, because that’s not relevant. What is relevant is what those witnesses said to the police officer to make him that ticket.
Correct. And the likelihood that police officer will have a full recollection of what was said and took detailed notes to actually testify at trial is between slim and none when that case is going to go trial two, three years later.
And the real question is it’s not, “What did the police officer think when he spoke to those witnesses?” It’s, “What will the jury think when they hear from those witnesses?” And if the jury comes to a different conclusion than the police officer, let me tell you, the jury is never wrong. They’re like your parents when you are five, they are the final decision maker.
Whether they actually got it right or actually got it wrong, they got it right, because it is the final decision. So the police officer does not decide who’s at fault in a case.
So take me through the scenario. We see it all the time. Client A comes to us, they’re in an accident with individual B, and the police officers listed them first on the police report, which generally tells us they’re at fault, but is at fault, we can just say it out loud. And they recited for any number of traffic offenses.
We can take it even a step further. How do you represent that client? What do you do?
Well, you represent that client, bottom line is, just like any other client. Okay?
You talk to the witnesses, and it’s not, “You ran the red light.” It is, “Person A and B are saying you ran the red light.” What’s person C say? What do the facts say? How credible are person A and B? And I’m not trying to disparage police officers. I think police officers fine. I support the police, got nothing against them. But police officers are just like you and I.
Police officers get motivated by all kinds of different things. You may have a police officer, who’s new to the force, 32 years old, and there is a beautiful 23 year old girl that’s at fault in an accident.
And because he is so enamored with her, the other person gets the ticket. Yeah?
That can happen. They are people. They are swayed.
Or we’re making decisions based on racial reasons, which happens more often than you would even imagine.
Swayed by anything. They’re just people. So, the police report is certainly one person’s opinion about what happened, but people tend to give it a false authority.
People tend to pretend like the police report is the final definitive say on what happened and who was at fault.
100%. We’re on the same page.
Okay. The only real caveat to that, Matt, and you see this too, is we sometimes get what’s known as a MAIT Report, M-A-I-T, and that’s what they call the Major Accident Investigation Team. And those reports typically involve a ton of factual findings where an officer will go out, do measurements on skid marks, distances, things like that. Well, those are factual observations the officers made, so that all comes in. These are facts that they saw. We can ask, “Hey, what did you see when you arrived to the accident?”
Here’s something else most people don’t know. Even if you, as the person involved in an accident, let’s say a guy who rear-ended you, tells the police officer, “Oh, yeah, man. I hit her. I was looking at my phone. It’s my fault.” You know he can deny saying that later, and what he said to the police officer never, ever, ever comes in? It’s privileged. Okay?
And you know this. And the reason it’s privileged in the state of Florida is, if you’re involved in an auto accident, you’ve got an obligation to cooperate with the police. You’ve got an obligation to tell them your version of events. The reciprocal benefit is that they want you to be honest. So they don’t want your words to be used against you later, or you to be reluctant to speak to the police officer because you’re worried your words will be used against you. So that’s why it’s all privileged. And what’s in the officer’s report will never, ever, ever come into a jury.
Yeah. So that’s why too many individuals out there who are scared off of pursuing a case, pursuing a potentially fruitful case and fruitful recovery in the case and obtaining proper medical treatment, they will not go forward on a potential claim, just based on the fact that the police report found to be either at fault or partially at fault.
And let’s discuss, also, while we have you here, Stan, what happens if you’re partially at fault? How’s that work in terms of liability in Florida? What is comparative?
That’s exactly what was going through my head when you were talking. Too many people come into the office with the thought of fault is like a light switch. It’s either on or off. It’s either him or her. “It’s either me or them.” And that’s not necessarily the case. On a jury verdict form, it’s percentages. Okay?
It can be 50/50, 90/10, 80/20. It can be any split you want. So someone may get a ticket and be more at fault in an accident. The other person can also be partially at fault. And when we’re dealing with accidents with catastrophic injuries, when you’re talking about amputations, paralysis, these kind of really catastrophic, brain injuries, stuff like that, even minimal fault on someone’s behalf can lead to real large recoveries because the damages are so big.
And we see it all time. I’ll even take a step back as saying not necessarily catastrophic, but serious enough injuries where a client has spine surgery and the case is worth, on normal day, probably in the five to $600,000 range, but it’s only a $250,000 policy. Well, if you could show that it’s a 50/50 split in liability, if we could show the case worth more than $500,000, we get to 250.
And it’s happened more often than I can even tell you. I mean, I’ve probably had a good three to 400 cases of split liability in my career thus far.
Matt, I can tell you, without violating confidences, because this was a confidential settlement, I got more than half a million dollars for a client who was discharged by her prior attorney that said there was no liability on behalf of the defendant.
Nothing that can do for you. No liability on behalf of the defendant. Half million dollars later, my client was exceptionally happy.
Of course. And if they would’ve just believed that it was the death now that they were found at fault on police report or potentially being liable on police report, they never would have that opportunity. They never would have the opportunity to treat medically and have someone else pay for it.
That’s what they thought. They didn’t reach out to call another attorney. This guy actually did, was a lawn man for a doctor. And he was talking to the doctor about how the attorney had told him there was nothing he could do and all this stuff. That doctor gave him my information. So he had been discharged a year before he came to us. We revived the claim and got him a great settlement.
Kudos. I mean, and I could tell numerous stories that are similar, maybe not as good. I’ve had a couple that are above 500,000, but usually they’re below. But we’ve had in terms of split recoveries in terms of where my client has a good portion of liability.
Yeah. So I’m telling you, never take… Well, I don’t want to say never take your attorney’s word for it. Never, just because your attorney tells you something, think you can’t go get a second opinion.
Well, especially if it’s dispositive of the case. If they’re going to tell you that you don’t have a case, you owe it to yourself to get a second or third opinion. Now, if your attorney says, “I think you’re partially at fault in this case.” I’m not necessarily telling you to find another lawyer. You might want to get another opinion, but if it’s disposed, meaning it’s the end of the case, and they tell you, “It’s done. There’s no liability to be found on part of the defendant. You’re completely at fault. You’re screwed,” get on the phone, call another lawyer, find somebody competent at jurisdiction, especially trial attorney, somebody who’s taking cases before juries on split liability issues. And we’re happy to discuss that type of case with you, and so do other lawyers.
Yeah. Never think that you’re wasting our time by calling. We would rather wade through every case, talk to people, make sure they understand what’s going on, understand the moving parts and implications, and that way you don’t miss anything.
Exactly. Any other issues you want to cover?
No. Other than just to make sure people realize, police officer, if he’s coming in at the trial, let’s just say what he saw when he showed up at the scene. What was said to him is never coming in. And when you say the police report is wrong, yeah, a lot of times the police report is wrong. They get it wrong. So never rely on that. Never be stuck to that. Never let that be kind of the be-all and end-all with what you do. If you feel like someone else was at fault in the claim and it’s just not reflected on the police report, keep pushing, keep calling, reach out to an attorney that’ll help you.
100%. Remember, especially your typical auto action, your typical fender bender, it’s nothing that’s out of the ordinary. There’s no egregious injuries, the officer is more likely to rush through the report. They want to get done and move on to the next one. There weren’t major injuries. There’s nothing really that’s going to hold that officer to making sure that everything is 100% accurate. And that’s not taking a shot at them. There are many great officers out there. But they’re onto the next police report, the next incident that they have to address and take care of. And the only person that gets hurt is you. That’s why you owe it to yourself to call a lawyer, someone who’s competent, like Stan and I, we’ve done plenty of cases. And what we often do in these cases, we hire Accident Reconstruction Experts who are going to take us back through the scene of the accident, look at the force that was applied in the collision, and do a reenactment of the accident to display who was liable and why.
Yeah, we do that, honestly, more often than not in these disputed liability cases. And you’d be surprised how accurate these Accident Reconstructionists can be getting into the stuff and how much information they can get about an accident by looking at the cars afterwards.
Yeah. I mean, keep in mind that lawyers who approach cases with a shoestring budget get shoestring results. If you’re willing to spend money on the case and hire the right experts, it can make all the world of difference. Correct, Stan?
That is the difference, because understand, and people, no matter what the case is, no matter what the fact is, we got to have someone that can say it to a jury.
If you’ve got an injury from an accident, you know it, but it requires expert testimony. Well, that expert testimony isn’t cheap. We’re going to have to pay five, $10,000 to bring these guys into court. And if they’re not in court to say it, it didn’t happen. So that’s what the real thing is. If you don’t have someone hiring a life care planner, well, you don’t have a life care plan.
If you don’t have someone hiring the experts, you don’t have the expert testimony. And a lot of times, that’s what it takes to drive the verdict and get fair value on the claim.
Yeah, it’s not just important to find a lawyer who’s experienced and has litigated cases and has tried cases before juries, you have to have a lawyer that actually has the financial law firm that has a financial resource that’s committed to spending that money to ensure that we obtain justice on your behalf.
Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think you could have said it better.
Well, I appreciate you, Stan, for coming out for another episode of the David vs. Goliath podcast. I wish our audience a blessed and great day. And thank you very much.
Yeah. And always, if you ever need any information about any kind of injury issue, any kind of accident claim, or anything in general related to our practice of law, you can hit our website at Dolmanlaw.com. It is one of the most robust sources of legal information on the internet. I say that I’m not being facetious. We really do have the second largest personal injury website in the nation and can answer almost any question you have right there on the internet.
Yeah. It’s D, like in David, O-L-M-A-N-L-A-W.com. Viewing our website does not constitute an attorney client relationship, nor does it give actual legal advice. You should, obviously, consult with a lawyer, but it will give you a little framework for you to shape some of your ideas and decisions going forward. And you can always reach us at 833-55 CRASH. Have a great day.
Yeah. Have a great day, guys. Always a pleasure being out here.
💡 Meet Your Hosts 💡
Title: Partner at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
Specialty: Matt is a nationally recognized insurance and personal injury attorney and focuses much of his practice on the litigation of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida.
Name Stanley Gipe, Esq.
Title: Partner and Head of Litigation at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
Specialty: Stan is a Florida Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. This distinction connotes expertise in the discipline of trial practice. He has served as lead counsel on over 1,000 Florida personal injury lawsuits.
🔑 Relevant Resources 🔑
- The 2021 Florida Statutes on Expert Testimony
- What is the MAIT (Major Accident Investigation Team) Report?
- Police Officers and Motivation
- Basis of Opinion Testimony by Experts
- The Jury is Never Wrong.
The insights and views presented in “David vs. Goliath” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information presented is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Any case result information provided on any portion of this podcast should not be understood as a promise of any particular result in a future case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers: Big firm results, small firm personal attention.