South Carolina Auto Accident Reports: The Police Officer Does Not Have Final Say When it Comes to Fault

As a lawyer, I have seen countless accident reports. Along with the FR-10, the crash report provides a diagram and description of how the collision occurred. The report also indicates what the “at-fault driver” did to cause the collision. Though the officer generally assigns fault to one of the drivers, his conclusion is usually inadmissible in a civil court. While criminal judges determine who should get the fine, South Carolina’s civil courts decide who should receive compensation for injuries.

Though a cop may be allowed to testify in civil court as to what he observed after the wreck, he is not permitted to give an opinion as to fault. For example, a police officer could testify that when he arrived at the scene, he observed a driver who smelled of alcohol stumbling out of a car that had crossed over the yellow line and struck another driver head-on. However, the officer could not tell the jury that he found the drunk driver who swerved into the wrong lane, at fault. A jury must reach that conclusion on its own.

Similarly, if you are attempting to make a left out of a restaurant when a speeding driver comes out of nowhere, dashes into the median, and hits you moments before you complete your turn, the cop may find you at fault. The accident report might say you “failed to yield the right of way.” The cop’s conclusion could be the result of lies told by the speeding driver, or an inaccurate description of the accident from a witness. Either way, you might be facing a traffic ticket, hospital bills, a high insurance deductible, no way to fix your totaled vehicle, and no means of paying for medical treatment. Your own car insurance company would likely rely on the accident report which found you at fault. Coverage for your car and injuries may therefore be denied even though a speeding driver who improperly changed lanes was the true cause of the wreck.

This type of injustice happens everyday. If it ever happens to you, a car accident lawyer may be able to help. Often times, I find that at-fault drivers who engage in the type of reckless behavior I described above have a history of dangerous driving. Additionally, we may discover through subpoenas and depositions that the driver who injured you was texting, drinking, or under the influence of prescription medication before harming you.

In sum, while I have tremendous respect for our law enforcement officers and the sacrifices they make to keep South Carolina safe, their accident reports sometimes fail to paint a full, accurate picture of the collision. When this happens, I stand ready to seek justice. For a free consultation, call me today at (803) 790-2800.

Kenneth Berger
Columbia South Carolina attorney dedicated to securing justice by helping the truly injured