After an accident in Columbia, South Carolina, you must obtain an official police report if you wish to pursue legal proceedings, such as a personal injury claim. Police officers write reports objectively and include critical details, such as witness statements, photographs, and accident scene diagrams. These details can help lawyers and insurance companies determine the sequence of events and identify the at-fault party.
You may need this report to receive compensation, but complicated federal, state, and local rules determine who can obtain copies of police reports and how and when you can request them. A lawyer can reduce your stress and ensure a timely response.
Why Police Reports Are Important After a Car Accident in Columbia, SC
South Carolina is an at-fault state and requires drivers to have liability insurance. After an accident, the parties involved may have different accounts of what happened and differing claims about who was at fault.
You need a police report after a car accident in Columbia for multiple reasons:
- Documentation: A police report provides official documentation of the accident. It contains crucial details such as the date, time, location, and parties involved. This information can be valuable for insurance claims and legal proceedings.
- Accurate information: Police officers objectively assess and document the accident scene. Having an attorney request an official report ensures that you receive accurately recorded relevant information, which reduces the chances of conflicting accounts later.
- Insurance claims: Insurance companies typically require a police report when processing claims. This report is an impartial third-party account of the accident, which helps establish liability and determine fault.
- Legal proceedings: If the accident leads to legal action, a police report is a vital piece of evidence. Attorneys, judges, and juries rely on these reports to understand the circumstances surrounding the accident and make fair judgments. Without a police report, it is more difficult to make your case and refute false claims.
South Carolina Law 56-5-1270 requires drivers to report accidents resulting in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000 to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) within 15 days if a law enforcement officer did not investigate the accident. Filing a police report is generally the easiest way to fulfill this requirement.
Who Can Request a Police Report in Columbia, SC?
Under South Carolina law, only certain individuals may obtain copies of police reports.
You may request a copy if you were:
- A victim of the incident or accident.
- Arrested following the incident or accident.
- An immediate family member of a victim or arrested person.
- An attorney representing a victim or arrested person.
- A representative of an insurance company.
Few restrictions limit who can purchase a copy of the police report for motor vehicle accidents. To obtain a copy, you must visit or mail the police department or sheriff's office, prove your eligibility to obtain a copy of the report, and pay any fees.
Your lawyer is best suited to navigate these complex channels and ensure you get the correct data promptly, allowing you to pursue compensation and legal recourse.
How to Get a Copy of a Car Accident Police Report in Columbia
The Columbia Police Department (CPD) and Richland County Sheriff's Department (RCSD) handle incident and accident reports in Columbia, South Carolina. These departments then submit the vehicle accident report to the SCDMV.
Your lawyer will be able to determine which agency has jurisdiction over your case and what their procedure is for requesting reports. It is essential to request a report in the right manner and from the correct source.
City of Columbia Police Department
The CPD is responsible for incidents inside Columbia city limits. If your accident took place in Columbia and the police filed a report, the CPD should have it in their records.
You can contact the CPD at the following address and phone number:
- Mail: Columbia Police Department, 1 Justice Square, Columbia, SC 29201.
- Phone: (803) 545-3500.
You may also contact or visit one of the five regional CPD locations in city neighborhoods.
Richland County Sheriff's Department
If your accident happened within Richland County, South Carolina, but outside Columbia city limits, the RCSD has jurisdiction over the incident.
You can request police reports using the following address and phone number:
- Mail: Richland County Sheriff's Department, 5623 Two Notch Road, Columbia, SC 9223
- Phone: (803) 576-3000
Alternatively, you may contact or visit one of the RCSD regional offices in Richland County.
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
The CPD and RCSD submit finalized vehicle accident reports to the SCDMV. To obtain a copy of one of these reports, contact the department or visit one of the department's branch offices with a completed request form.
An attorney can help you determine the appropriate agency to contact for your police report based on the specifics of your case. They can help ensure you have the appropriate documentation so you can get it as quickly as possible.
How to Request a Police Report in Person
You can obtain a police report in person by visiting the records unit of the CPD or the records division of the RCSD.
You will need to present a government-issued photo ID, and you should be prepare to provide the:
- Full name of the person(s) involved in the incident.
- Date and location of the incident.
- Vehicle identification numbers and/or license plate numbers for accidents involving vehicle(s).
Your attorney can visit the appropriate agency on your behalf to request a police report and can ensure that the report is complete.
How to Request a Police Report Online
Some agencies allow you to request a police report online, making the process more convenient and efficient. The CPD does not process online report requests, but you can request some RCSD reports online if the report lists you as a victim.
To request a non-accident police report from the RCSD through its online report request page, you will need to provide your:
- Full name.
- Case number.
- Driver's license state and number.
- Email address.
- Phone number.
If your report is unavailable online, your attorney may be able to request it on your behalf, allowing you to obtain the documentation you need without unnecessary hassles and delays.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain a Police Report?
While the CPD or the RCSD will respond to your request as quickly as possible, factors that may shorten or lengthen their response time include:
- How recently the accident or incident occurred.
- Your connection to the incident or accident.
- How quickly officers complete their reports.
- How rapidly supervisors approve reports.
- Whether your request included discrepancies or was incomplete.
- Whether there were issues with payment processing.
- How you requested the report (in person, by mail, or through your attorney).
An attorney can ensure your request is complete and filed according to the department's requirements to expedite the process.
When Are Police Reports Not Available?
Even when you are eligible to obtain a copy of a police report, you may sometimes encounter delays or obstructions. In such situations, it is very important to work with a lawyer to ensure that evidence is preserved and reported accurately.
Cases Under Investigation
If police are still investigating your accident, they might restrict access to the report. In such situations, the investigating law enforcement agency may deny your request for the report until the investigation concludes to protect the integrity of your case.
Police reports may contain sensitive information that is confidential or inappropriate for public disclosure. In these cases, the police might black out or omit certain portions of your report to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in the incident. Examples of sensitive information include Social Security numbers, medical information, and other information protected under the Privacy Act.
Types of Compensation That May Be Available After an Accident in Columbia, SC
After a car accident in South Carolina, you may be entitled to several types of compensation if you have been injured, depending on the specific circumstances of your case. Your lawyer will determine your options and pursue the best course of action.
You may recover compensation for all medical costs associated with the accident, such as emergency room treatment, hospital stays, surgeries, medications, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and future medical expenses related to the injuries you sustained.
If the accident caused damage to your vehicle or other property, you may recover compensation for the cost of repairs. If an assessor deems your property a total loss, you may recover the fair market value.
If your injuries prevent you from working, you may recover the income lost during your recovery period, including future lost earnings if your injuries result in long-term or permanent disability.
You may recover compensation if the accident and subsequent injuries cause physical pain, emotional distress, or mental anguish. This compensation is subjective and can vary based on the severity and impact of your injuries.
Loss of Consortium
If the accident resulted in the loss of companionship, support, or intimacy with your spouse, you or your spouse may recover compensation for this loss.
You may receive punitive damages in cases involving the at-fault party's extreme negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. Punitive damages punish the responsible party and deter similar behavior.
Dealing with insurance companies or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit can make the process of obtaining compensation complex. Consult an attorney in South Carolina who can evaluate your case, protect your rights, and help you pursue the appropriate compensation.
Obtaining Police Reports With the Help of an Attorney
Seeking the assistance of a personal injury attorney can alleviate much of the burden of obtaining a police report and seeking compensation. Your attorney can manage the request process, handle any associated fees, and advise you on limitations and restrictions that may apply to your case.
Police reports are important in personal injury cases, providing an official, objective account of an accident or incident. They represent the findings of professional law enforcement investigations and typically carry significant weight in determining fault and liability.
You may need to obtain a police report in Columbia to receive compensation for injuries or losses. Working with an attorney lets you focus on your needs while your lawyer pursues the evidence you need to obtain the compensation you deserve.