In Pennsylvania, it’s difficult to know what does and doesn’t fall under the state’s right to know law. It’s also difficult to know exactly who is able to access your information and for what reasons. One of the most common queries is whether or not accident reports are part of this pool of publicly accessible records. If you’ve recently been involved in an accident and are wondering whether or not your accident report is publicly available, here’s what you need to know.
Right to Know laws
Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law ensures that you’re able to both access and obtain copies of public records that are in the possession of government agencies. The specifics of the law are defined by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. While it’s a convenient way for you to retain copies of police reports and additional information pertaining to your accident, it doesn’t provide for any clauses of exclusivity.
This means that, while your accident record isn’t on display for the rest of the world to see, it is within the public domain and will be provided to those making a request. This includes prospective employers who often verify your driving history before offering employment, educational institutions, or any other entity that conducts background checks including driving information. So yes, ultimately, your accident report is part of a public record.
When is an accident report necessary?
Depending on the severity of your accident, you may not be legally obligated to file a report at all. If your accident is a minor fender bender, swapping information and handling the matter informally is often an option. However, in Pennsylvania, if the accident wasn’t investigated by the police or resulted in severe injuries or fatalities, the burden falls to the motorist to report the accident. It’s also necessary to conduct a health information exchange in the event of injuries to ensure that nobody is crushed under the weight of exorbitant medical bills.
Keep in mind that even if the accident only results in a minor scrape, there are plenty of reasons to file a report anyways. One of the biggest reasons is the prevention of any liability. Say you lightly rear end another car and leave their bumper with a minor scrape. You exchange information and agree to pay for the repair. Both parties decide not to file a report in what is essentially a good faith agreement. Unfortunately, this in no way prevents the other party from filing a report of their own, inflating claims of damages or injuries, or accusing you of a hit and run down the road. If you involve the authorities and file a police report, you’re avoiding liability later on.
Do I need a lawyer?
There’s no hard and fast rule for determining whether or not you need an accident attorney in Pennsylvania. Oftentimes, exchanging information and filing a report is enough in the event of a minor accident. When injuries are involved, matters become a bit more complex. Claims may get denied, your insurance company may refuse to pay, your settlement could get reduced to a paltry sum; there are numerous instances in which a qualified attorney is a must-have.
If you think you need a lawyer following an accident, chances are that you probably do. When you’re looking for an attorney, find one that specializes in auto accidents and claims. Always research them beforehand. Consider their reputation and their rate of favorable case outcomes. Many accident lawyers offer free consultations which are a great tool for evaluating your potential working relationship as well.
At the end of the day, the best way to ensure your accident report doesn’t become part of a public record is to avoid an accident altogether. Always practice defensive driving when you’re behind the wheel and keep an eye on your fellow drivers so you’re able to adjust accordingly. In the event that you are in an accident, follow the proper steps afterwards to mitigate liability and ensure that everyone involved is safe and unharmed. Car accidents are a part of life but they don’t have to derail you so make sure you always drive safely.