Open Records Request for Car Accidents

Car Accident Attorneys in DallasIf you’ve been in a car accident in Dallas, Texas, or the surrounding areas, an open records requests can be very valuable.  They can aid in the investigation of you case by getting more information about your car accident that is not in the police report.

Doing an open records request is pretty simple if you know what you are doing.  However, if you have never done one before, you might want to get some advice and help from an experienced car accident lawyer.  What you request and how you request it can mean the difference in whether or not you get the information.

As a car accident attorney in the Dallas area since 1994 , information available through open records have been invaluable to my clients.  And with advances in technology, more and more information is becoming available than ever before.

Open Records Statute

Open records request are governed by the Public Information Act in Title 5 of the Texas Government Code.   The statute states that government is the “servant and not the master of the people” and “people are entitled to complete information about the affairs of government.”

So, how can public information be helpful in your car accident case? Here are some important pieces of information that might be helpful.

911 Records and Recordings.

When a serious car accident occurs, someone usually calls 911.  Sometimes the caller is a person involved in the accident.  Other times, the caller may be a witness to the accident.

The 911 call is summarized in a written log called a “call detail.”  It is a chronological log of the 911 call.  It logs the relevant times, places, and police and fire units dispatched.  It also identifies the caller. Another helpful tool is getting a copy of the actual 911 audio recordings.  Here, you can actually listen to the exchange between the caller and the 911 operator.  If the caller is a witness, you can hear their version of the accident.  If the caller is the other driver, then what is said may also help you in case there is a dispute about the accident.

Police Crash and Incident Reports.

When a serious car accident occurs, the investigating officer may prepare a police crash report.  Crash reports can be obtained through an open records request.  However, there are simpler and more efficient ways to obtain a crash report if one was made.

A police “incident report” is a little different than the police crash report.  The investigating officer will usually prepare an incident report if there are any potential criminal charges that may arise from the accident.  A perfect example would be an accident caused by an intoxicated driver.  If the driver that caused the accident was intoxicated at the time of the accident, then he may be arrested.  If that happens, then the police officer will prepare an incident report.

Many times, the incident report will have information that is not in the crash report.  That is because the crash report usually deals with the circumstances of the accident and how the crash actually happened.

On the other hand, the incident report will focus on the details of any criminal activity, such as the blood alcohol level of the intoxicated driver.  But, as you can see, both reports can contain valuable information relevant to your car accident case.

Dash Cams.

Police vehicles are normally equipped with dash-cams.  The dash cams are mounted on the dash board or windshield of the patrol car.  These videos can be quite helpful in your car accident case.

For example, I had a case where my client suffered a very serious injury from a car accident in Carrollton, Texas.  The accident happened at night.  The other driver tried to say that my client did not have her headlights on.

When I obtained the dash-cam video, however, it showed my client’s vehicle turned over on its side in the middle of the roadway with the headlights on.  Not only did the dash-cam video show the severity of the accident, it also proved that my client had her headlights on.  The dash cam video made the all difference.  My client got the settlement she deserved and avoided being dragged through a long legal battle.

Body Cams

Police officers also carry body-cams, also know as “body worn cameras.”  They are pinned to the front of their uniforms.  Unlike dash-cams, body cams can add so much more to your accident investigation.  Dash cams only record from inside the police officer’s vehicle.  However, body cams follow the officer as he investigates the accident scene and talks to the drivers and witnesses.

However, getting body cam footage is more complicated than just making a general request.  The open records rules require certain information be included in your request or else your request will be rejected.  You must include the date, time and location of the recording, as well as the name of the party(ies) to the recording.   When dealing with a car accident case, how you word and frame your request can make the difference in whether or not you get what you are requesting.

Time deadlines and retention periods

Certain records are subject to being destroyed and no longer available.  For instance, 911 audio recordings are held for only 30 days.  Dash cams and body cams are held for 90 days.

Therefore, time is of the essence to make your request properly and in a timely manner.

Making an Open Records Request

Many major cities have made open requests quite easy.  They can be done online.   Confirmations and status updates are also sent as your request is being processed.

Once your request is complete, you will be sent an invoice.  This is to cover the costs of producing the information.  The costs are usually not too high.  The amount that can be charged for the records is limited by the Public Information Act.

You can usually pay online.  Once you make payment, the documents can usually be downloaded.  However, any video or audio recordings will usually be mailed or made available for pick up in-person.

Here are some helpful links to some online request portals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area:

Exceptions to Disclosure

Not all information is subject to public disclosure.  Some information may be excluded from disclosure.  Some of the more common exclusions include:

  • Information used in the course of a pending criminal investigation;
  • Personal identification information such as driver license numbers, dates of birth,
  • Vehicle identification and license plate numbers
  • Information pertaining to a potential civil claim against the governmental entity.

If a governmental entity believes the information is not subject to public disclosure, then they must request an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office.  You may submit a response and state your reasons for why the information should be disclosed.

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