Getting Accident Reports

Most practitioners have no idea of the difficulty accessing something as fundamental as accident reports for a given location in a highway accident case. This is true even when the accident history is essential to a proper and complete analysis.

Transportation and traffic engineers in fact determine the need for a traffic signal at an intersection on the basis of several factors, among them gaps in cross-traffic and, most importantly, accident history.

Similarly, a concentration of collisions at a given section of highway provides evidence of an unsafe condition that repeatedly produces property damage, bodily injury and even death. Again, this concentration of collisions is demonstrated through the accident history for this location.

Because the accident history for a given location is critical evidence of a dangerous condition, a number of governmental entities are trying to shield themselves from liability for their mistakes by refusing to make accident reports for their roads available to plaintiffs, even though the reports are public records.

Over the past few years, these governmental entities have tried to use a federal statute–23 U.S.C. § 409–as a basis for denying plaintiffs and their attorneys access to these traffic collision reports and related information. The federal statute provides:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data compiled or collected for the purpose of identifying, evaluating, or planning the safety enhancement of potential accident sites, hazardous roadway conditions, or railway-high crossings, pursuant to sections 130, 144, and 152, of this title or for the purpose of developing any highway safety construction improvement project, which may be implemented utilizing Federal-aid highway funds shall not be subject to discovery or admitted into evidence in a Federal or State court proceeding or considered for other purposes in any action for damages arising from any occurrence at a location mentioned or addressed in such reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data.

23 U.S.C. § 409.

More in this in my next post…