When the police are called out to the scene of a wreck, they do several things. First, they should check to see if anyone is hurt. They should also collect names and insurance information of all drivers involved. Beyond that, officers’ actions vary from officer to officer and crash to crash—there is no real set of procedures you can count on being done in every wreck. Sometimes officers will speak with eyewitnesses; sometimes they will collect written statements; sometimes they may take photos. They may draw a diagram, or they may not. Often they will be wearing a BWC (body worn camera) which can provide important video of the crash scene. And they may issue a citation—or they may not.
Just because no one was cited does not mean no one was at fault.
One thing to keep in mind is that the police are not required to issue anyone a citation in a crash. However, simply because the investigating officer did not give anyone a ticket it does necessarily mean he or she did not believe anyone was at fault. There are many reasons why an officer may decline to issue a citation. He or she may not feel there is strong enough evidence to cite anyone; or may be too busy, may not want to deal with the additional paperwork or the time required to later appear in traffic court. Or, the officer may just feel bad for the at-fault party and feel like “giving them a break.”
Fortunately, issuing a citation is not the only place in the crash report where an officer assigns fault for a crash. Even in cases where no one is given a ticket, the officer is supposed to assign codes for “Contributing Factors.” In one recent car crash we handled, the officer failed to cite the other driver, even though it was clear that she caused the crash. By looking to the contributing factors codes, we were able to show the insurance company that the officer did in fact feel the other driver (circled in red) was responsible, and that our client (circled in green) was not responsible in any way:
We matched the report to the Georgia crash codes, which revealed that police blamed the crash on the other driver for “improper passing” (contributing factor no. 9)—and “no contributing factors” (contributing factor no. 1) for our client:
Therefore, even though there was no citation, we had concrete evidence from the police officer that he determined the other driver caused the crash. This is powerful evidence to use in depositions and at trial to establish fault, even without a citation.
Just because the other driver was cited does not always mean the citation is admissible in your personal injury case.
That seems crazy, right? The police investigate, determine someone is at fault, and give them a ticket. Why shouldn’t you be able to tell the jury about the citation? The answer actually makes a little bit of sense. If the driver pleads guilty to the citation, then he has admitted fault for the crash, and you can use the citation in court (as long as you have obtained a certified copy). If, however, the driver pleads not guilty or nolo contendere to the citation, then you cannot use it at the personal injury trial. The logic behind this rule is that the person who has not pled guilty has not admitted fault for the crash—he has only been accused of being at fault.
Now, where the rule does seem nonsensical is when someone pleads not guilty to a traffic citation, has a trial (yes, you can have a jury trial on any traffic charge), and a jury finds him guilty. Surely then you can tell the jury in the personal injury case about the citation, right? Wrong. Even if a jury in the criminal case finds guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Georgia law does not generally allow evidence of the citation to come in during the civil case unless the at-fault driver pled guilty (or posted a bond and then failed to show up to traffic court for his hearing).
So, what does that mean for my crash case?
Having a guilty plea from the at-fault driver can make it easier to convince the insurance company to pay your personal injury claim. But seasoned attorneys who handle serious crash cases know how to establish liability without relying on citations. At Rafi Law Firm—guilty plea or not—we vigorously and thoroughly investigate every case from the day it comes into our office to ensure we do everything possible to prove the at-fault driver is held responsible for the crash and the full extent of our client’s injuries. This means obtaining all reports, 911 calls, videos, and statements; contacting responding officers; finding witnesses; and attending traffic hearings.
We then take depositions of all police officers, EMS personnel, and eyewitnesses to paint a picture for the jury of how the crash occurred. When necessary, we work with accident reconstructionist experts to analyze the evidence and generate 3-D computer modeling and animation to show the jury how the crash occurred.
A favorable citation can help your case. But at the end of the day, it is no replacement for persistent, quality legal work. Attorneys at the Rafi Law Firm personally investigate accidents to determine who is at fault, how much compensation you should receive, and how to best serve you as your attorney. We have experience in dealing with such cases and get our clients the compensation they deserve. Contact us today at 404-948-3311 for a free, no-obligation review of your case.