When you are involved in a car accident in the state of Florida, if the crash can be considered very minor and no one is hurt, you are not required to call the police. But if the crash is more severe and even minor injuries occur, by law, someone involved in the crash is required to call the police to the scene. The best rule of thumb to follow, however, is to always call the police after a car accident occurs, no matter how small it may seem.
Law enforcement can be helpful on an accident scene for many reasons: They can arrange for ambulances to help the injured, collect evidence, statements, and pictures, and can speak with the people directly involved in the crash. However, there’s an interesting caveat in Florida law that then determines what is legally done with an officer’s accident report, and it could affect how your subsequent claim or lawsuit against the responsible party plays out. It’s called Accident Report Privilege.
What is the Florida Accident Report Privilege?
Florida statutes require that the driver of any vehicle involved in a crash give their name, address, and car registration number to a reporting officer. They must also show their driver’s license to the officer if asked. During the process of sharing this information with a law enforcement member, it is also likely that the person involved in the crash will be asked what led to the accident occurring; to give a statement to the officer. While giving such a statement isn’t legally required immediately following an accident, the state of Florida created the Accident Report Privilege in an effort to encourage people to be as truthful as possible to the police officer investigating the crash. It also helps to ensure that complying to do so does not infringe upon a person’s constitutional Fifth Amendment protections.
The main purpose of the Fifth Amendment is to make it so that people are protected against self-incrimination. It’s for this reason that defendants in trial cases aren’t required to take the stand and answer questions about their alleged crime. To follow this suit, Accident Report Privilege makes it so that any crash report or statement gathered by a police officer at the scene cannot be used as evidence in any trial. This means that statements made during the crash investigation are not admissible in court proceedings.
In general, however, Accident Report Privilege does not prohibit an officer’s testimony from including observations about the defendant’s appearance, demeanor, behavior, or the speculation of use of alcohol and/or drugs. It also does not pertain to people who were witnesses to the accident but were not directly involved with the accident.
How Does Accident Report Privilege Affect Victims?
As the victim of a car accident in which you believe the person at-fault behaved negligently, what does Florida Accident Report Privilege mean for you and the case you’re attempting to make? In essence, it means you need a great car accident lawyer to help you win your case.
With the existence of Accident Report Privilege, a trial lawyer must be able to help you prove how your car accident occurred without directly using the information in a police officer’s accident report. A lawyer may be made aware of what’s in the report, but they will not be able to present that report as evidence in court. Instead, they must obtain witness statements, photographic evidence, other physical evidence, and work with you and your statements directly in order to build a successful, presentable case.
Adversely, this also means that you have similar protections in court if the defendant’s lawyers attempt to place any or all blame for the accident on your behavior. Legally, opposing counsel cannot use the police report detailing your statement to the officer as evidence to support their own case. The burden is on them to find a way to defend their client otherwise.
If you have the right car accident and personal injury attorney on your side, then the reality is, the Florida Accident Report Privilege really shouldn’t be one of your first concerns. That’s because the right attorney will have the experience and means to build your case the way the law requires of them: using sound knowledge of the law, good investigative skills, the right connections with experts, and of course, an understanding of what you went through and how your life has been affected. They shouldn’t need a police report to tell them everything about your case—instead, they should have every confidence in their abilities to gather that information themselves.
Can Accident Report Privilege be Denied?
Under “normal” circumstances, any statements or admissions of guilt made by someone involved in a motor vehicle accident in Florida may not be used as evidence in subsequent hearings or trials. But there are cases in which circumstances stray from “normal,” and this rule may change. It’s important to be aware of such cases should they happen during an accident you’re involved in.
If the vehicle and driver that caused the accident behave in an unlawful way immediately following the accident, a judge may rule that they lose some or all of their Accident Report Privilege. For example, if the driver flees the scene of the accident, and later gives a statement confessing doing so to an officer. There are some cases in which other direct statements made to the officer can also be admissible in court. For example, if the driver in question confesses to the officer that they fell asleep at the wheel, a judge may deem this necessary evidence to present in court, because it may not be provable otherwise. Exceptions to the privilege do exist, but they are determined on a case-by-case basis and decided upon by the judge presiding over the case. The right lawyer will know when to bring such possible circumstances up to the judge. They’ll also know how to properly build your case even with Accident Report Privilege in place.
If you were injured in a car accident in Florida, the right team to choose to help you get the compensation you deserve is The Whisler Law Firm. We have decades of experience helping car accident victims build their case against the responsible party, then taking that case as far as it needs to go to be successful. Whether the plaintiff and their insurance company settle with you for a fair amount, or we have to fight your case in court, we know how to navigate Florida laws, use the evidence available to us, and present the injuries and other damages you’ve suffered.
Call our office at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to schedule an entirely free, no-obligations consultation with a member of our car accident injury team. We’ll take a look at the evidence in your case, and decide the best next step to take together.