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Accidents are sometimes unavoidable. Even if you are driving one of the most reliable cars ever, there’s always a chance you’ll be involved in a wreck and find yourself without a vehicle. And if the accident was your fault, you may be wondering if it’s now public record for anyone to see.
The answer is that it depends. While technically, an accident report is made public record in the US, they may only be there for a limited amount of time and some states regulate who can obtain them.
Who can access a car accident report?
Every state has its own laws governing how car accidents are announced and who can access a car accident report. For example, in Texas, most newspapers can report on car accidents. But official reports can only be obtained by anyone directly involved or anyone having legitimate interest in the accident. This would include employers, parents of underaged drivers, drivers, passengers, insurance policyholders, insurance companies, and lending institutions. Texas law also allows anyone who doesn’t fit into their obvious criteria to fill out a form to be considered eligible to receive on.
On the other hand, states like New Mexico have no restrictions as to who can obtain an accident report. Their policy states that one can be obtained by any “civilian, law enforcement agency or officer, and any other agency.”
How long is a car accident report available?
Most car accidents stay on your driving record for three years, but how long the report stays available is another factor that varies from state to state. In New York, the DMV typically keeps accident reports for four years from the date of the accident. But there are exceptions, and the reports can be kept on record longer if the state commissioner receives written notice with a good reason to retain them. The Chicago Police Department, on the other hand, keeps their accident reports on record for seven years.
Regardless of the length of time in which accident reports are available for purchase, each state has its own statute of limitations that prevents any claims or lawsuits past a given amount of time. And property and personal injury claims are usually separate. For instance, the statute of limitations for personal injury is usually two years. But for property damage, it can be up to three years.
How to obtain an accident report
Depending on how long ago the accident occurred, the agency who reported it is usually the best place to start. For example, if the accident happened outside of city limits on the highway, the state’s Department of Transportation will likely be the best agency to contact. There are also websites where you can purchase these reports as long as you have all the required information.
As always, the process of obtaining reports varies a little between states. Almost every agency charges a fee to get these reports, but there are exceptions. Most allow the parties directly involved to receive one for free within a certain number of days after the accident. For example, say someone in California had an accident within Irvine’s city limits and they hired an attorney to represent them. Their car accident lawyer in Irvine would contact the local police department and handle all the paperwork necessary to get the report.
Most of the time, car accident police reports are public record in the beginning. News reports of the crash are often covered in local newspapers or broadcast on local television stations. But the law varies from state to state concerning who may obtain them and how long they’re available. If you’re concerned with your information being made public, you should consult your state DMV and your attorney regarding the situation.