A police report does not determine fault in an accident in Wisconsin. A rule of evidence law states that a police accident report is not admissible at trial for the purpose of proving what happened in the collision or for answering the ultimate questions of negligence or what percentage of fault should be assigned to each driver. Police reports often contain trustworthy and honest information. But a police accident report is hearsay because the officer completing the report did not witness the accident, he or she is only reporting information after the fact. In Wisconsin hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Wisconsin Statutes Section 908.01 (3). Again, another way of saying that unless the police officer actually witnessed the crash, his report cannot be used as proof of what happened before he arrived on the scene.
That is not to say the police accident report has no influence on MVA cases. Prior to trial, both the injured person’s attorney and the driver’s insurance company rely on the MVA report to guide their settlement discussions and trial preparations.
Also, be aware that the police officer can testify as to what he or she observed or heard after arriving at the scene. For example, drivers’ statements to the officer will come into evidence if the driver denies the statement on the stand or doesn’t recall giving the statement; this is called impeachment or to refresh a witnesses’ recollection.
If the case does not settle, at trial the jury is to decide the case solely on the evidence offered and received at trial. Evidence is the testimony of witnesses given in court, both on direct and cross-examination, regardless of who called the witness; deposition testimony presented during the trial; exhibits admitted by the judge regardless of whether they go to the jury room; and any facts to which the lawyers have agreed or stipulated or which the judge directs the jury to find. Anything the jurors may have seen or heard outside the courtroom is not evidence. Remarks or arguments of the attorneys is not evidence. If any remarks suggest certain facts not in evidence, disregard the suggestion.
At McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin we review police accident reports for accuracy compared to our client’s recollection and other facts. In appropriate circumstances, we retain a private investigator to take statements from witnesses. The best settlement results come in cases when the physical facts such as car damage are consistent with the witness statements as documented by the police report of the accident.