Deciphering the Crash Report
If you've read our Glove Box Guide, you know that after a wreck, you need to wait around for the police. One of the reasons why this is so important is that the responding officer will need to complete the NC DMV-349 form, or what we call the "crash report." Go ahead and click on that link; it'll be a lot easier to refer back to it once we get into the nitty-gritty of what the crash report includes.
Okay, so what's the Crash Report?
The crash report is a document that memorializes a host of relevant information about the accident. You know, stuff like where the accident happened, what date and time it was, the weather, the drivers' contact and insurance information, and so on and so forth.
And the Crash Report is important... why?
The crash report is one of the most important pieces of evidence at your disposal in your personal injury claim. Not only does it prove that the accident happened at all (yes, people do occasionally make accidents up), but it's hopefully going to bear out your account of how the accident happened. Among the treasure trove of information in the report are a few tidbits that you'll need to look out for before deciding how to proceed with your claim.
Right. So where do I need to look?
Basic Background Information. First, look at the top of the first page. There's a section that states when and where the crash took place, and underneath there's a set of four boxes showing the contact and insurance information of each driver. Pay special attention to which driver gets assigned which unit number, as those are referred back to throughout the crash report.
Box 3: Road Surface Condition. At the top of the first page, on the left side, you'll see a small box marked with the number 3. This sets forth what the condition of the road was at the time of the accident. It's important because wet, slick, or icy roads could have contributory negligence ramifications for your claim. The numbers are delineated as follows:
3. Water (standing or moving)
7. Sand, mud, dirt or gravel
8. Fuel or oil
9. Other (this will be extrapolated in the narrative on the second page)
Boxes 4 and 5: Weather Condition (First and Second, respectively). These boxes are located directly underneath Box 3, which we just discussed, and they show what the weather was like when the accident happened. Again, this could bring up a possible contributory negligence defense if there were adverse weather conditions. The numbers are as follows:
5. Fog, smog or smoke
6. Sleet, hail, freezing rain, or drizzle
7. Severe crosswinds
8. Blowing sand, dirt or snow
9. Other (look at the narrative)
Box 7: Ambient Light. This box is further down on the left side of the page, underneath Boxes 4 and 5. It shows what the lighting was like when the accident happened. You guessed it; in limited visibility, the adjuster may assert that you were contributorily negligent if you were driving too fast or didn't have your headlights on. The numbers are as follows:
4. Darkness (lighted roadway)
5. Darkness (unlighted roadway)
6. Other (look at the narrative)
Boxes 12 and 13: Contributing Circumstances of the Roadway (First and Second, respectively). For these boxes, you'll look at the right side of the first page, about a third of the way down. They show whether the road was in bad shape or not. This could bring up the same contributory negligence defense, or it could potentially implicate a theory of liability against the municipality responsible for maintaining the roadway. The numbers are:
1. Road surface condition
2. Debris on road
3. Ruts, holes, or bumps
4. Work zone (construction, maintenance, or utility)
5. Worn travel-polished surface
6. Obstruction in the roadway
7. Traffic control device inoperative, not visible or missing
8. Shoulders low, soft or high
9. No shoulders
10. Non-highway work
11. Other (look at the narrative)
Boxes 14 through 16: Contributing Circumstances of Driver #1. If you're Unit #1 in the Basic Background Information, this is you. Boxes 14 through 16 are located on the right side of the first page, about halfway down. The Contributing Circumstances section is the most important one in the entire crash report, so look at these boxes very carefully. If you're Unit #1, you want to see a big fat "0" in Box 14, and nothing in Boxes 15 and 16. If Unit #1 is the other driver, you want to see at least one number other than zero in these boxes. Numbers in these boxes basically mean that that driver did something wrong and contributed to the accident. Since there are several dozen possible contributing circumstances, I'm not going to bore you with the entire list.
Boxes 17 through 19: Contributing Circumstances of Driver #2. Same thing as Boxes 14 through 16, just for the other driver. Just remember that you want to see numbers for the other driver, and zeroes for yourself. If both drivers are assigned contributing circumstances (which is common), the adjuster will likely deny your claim for contributory negligence.
Box 21: Vehicle Number. If you look at the bottom of the first page, you'll see a grid with the letters A through H going down the left side. Box 21 is at the top of that grid, immediately to the right of the letters. Boxes 21 through 32 show information about the occupants of the vehicles themselves, so you need to know which one applies to you. Box 21 will either say "1" (for Unit #1) or "2" (for Unit #2). Figure out which one you are and stay on that line.
Box 32: Injury Status. Box 32 is across that same grid, immediately to the left of "Names and Addresses for All Persons." This box shows the approximated injury status of each person involved in the accident, which is obviously going to be something the adjuster will want to know in making a decision on your case. The numbers are as follows:
1. Killed (meaning expired within 12 months after the accident)
2. Disabling injury (Type A)
3. Evidence injury (Type B)
4. Possible injury (Type C)
5. No injury
Box 62: Estimate of Speed at Impact. Look at the top of the second page, and you'll see a section labeled "Vehicle Info." Box 62 is the third box down in that section. Make sure to look at the columns for both units, and take a look at the estimated speed at impact. Remembering that these are estimates, it's pretty common for the responding officer to put something like "5" in this box if the impact wasn't substantial. Knowing that, the adjuster's going to look at this box pretty early on. If it was a "low-velocity impact," you can bet that the adjuster's going to bring that fact up early and often.
Box 85: Narrative. This is another really important section. This is where the cop is going to write out his understanding of how the accident happened. Read it carefully for accuracy; it's not at all uncommon for the narrative to be rife with errors. If there are errors, there are steps you can take to try and have the crash report amended. Stay tuned; that article's coming next week.
Witnesses. Underneath the narrative, there's a series of three sections. The middle one is labeled "Witnesses." It includes the names and contact information of anybody who saw the accident. While you should be looking for witnesses before the police even arrive, the crash report can be a great resource for getting in touch with these folks and getting their version of events. A good witness statement can make or break your case, after all!
Traffic Violations. This section is directly underneath the "Witnesses" section. If the other driver was cited for speeding, running a red light, driving at an unsafe speed, or any other driving-related infraction, then that makes for a pretty good argument that that person was, in fact, negligent.
Cool! I guess.
There's a lot of other stuff in the crash report that I didn't get into. If you're interested or incredibly bored, give us a call!