A bad police report and a poor police investigation can be very harmful to an injured Plaintiff in personal injury cases.
In order for a Plaintiff’s personal injury case to succeed, the Plaintiff must establish that the Defendant was negligent (at fault) for the accident in question.
No fault against the other driver? No tort claim.
Regardless of how seriously injured the Plaintiff is; if the Plaintiff cannot establish fault against the other driver, they won’t have a successful tort claim. That’s not to say that they won’t have a successful accident benefit claim. Accident benefit claims are not subject to same the fault rules which we see in tort cases.
All too often, our office has seen police investigations in Ontario which frankly aren’t done properly. That’s not to say that all police investigations into motor vehicle accidents fall short. One bad apple (or a few bad apples) can certainly spoil the bunch.
There is no doubt that police resources are spread thin. Large jurisdictions like Toronto have a lot of ground to cover. Other more rural jurisdictions may not have ample resources. But the consequences of not getting the job done properly, or at all, can be devastating to a personal injury case.
What our law firm sees all too often is that the police investigations which tend to fall short involve an injured cyclists, bikers, skateboarders and youth.
Why is that? I don’t know. But I can harbor a guess that these are groups of people whom some officers just don’t like; or have a prejudice against.
Take one case out of Southwest Ontario. Our young client under the age of 20 is trying to cross the street at a crosswalk when he gets hit by a pick up truck travelling 50km/hr. The injured Plaintiff breaks his leg and is taken to hospital by ambulance for surgery.
The driver tries to flee the accident scene before the police arrive thinking he did nothing wrong. Two independent witnesses flag him down and don’t let the driver leave the scene before the police arrive.
Once the police arrive, they take a statement from the driver. But, they don’t take a statement from the witnesses who flagged the driver down. The officer also does not take a statement from the injured party at the accident scene. This is fine given that the injured party is very injured and in no shape to give any sort of statement to the police.
Later that day, in hospital right before surgery the police officer shows up at the hospital and gets a brief statement from the injured party. The statement is taken in a hospital room, surrounded by doctors and nurses. The statement is very brief because the accident victim is getting ready for surgery and is in not state of mind or state of health to give a proper statement. But the officer goes through the motions so they can tell their superiors that they have done their job and move on to the next.
24 hours later, without having interviewed any witnesses and with only conducting a brief pre-surgery statement in a hospital room; the injured youthful pedestrian is given a ticket for the accident (and not the driver).
When the injured Plaintiff is later released from hospital he tries to contact the investigating officer to explain his side of the story (while not medicated in hospital bed). The officer refuses to return any calls or emails.
The injured Plaintiff fights the charges against him in Court. At the second hearing of the case after disclosure, the Judge dismisses the charges against him given the poor and prejudicial police investigation. The Judge slams the Crown and the Police for having pursued this matter based on the lack of evidence and the clear prejudice against the accused with respect to the investigation.
We don’t hear a lot about these cases because these aren’t criminal charges. If convicted, the penalty is only a monetary fine. There is no jail time. There is no bail hearings. It cost the injured Plaintiff more money to pay a Paralegal to fight the charges in Court than to simply pay the fine. But he was right and he had been wronged. To his credit, he wasn’t just going to sit around in the face of injustice. He was going to fight and he was right to do so.
Do you think that the police would have pressed charges against a senior citizen in the same circumstances? Probably not.
Do you think that the police would have pressed charges against a middle aged person in the same circumstances? Probably not.
This sort of stuff happens more than you think. When officers are questioned they rely on their notes. They have a hard time remembering specific accidents because they tend to investigate so many accidents. When those notes are faulty, and when all of the witnesses and parties are given a fair shake to share their story; the trier of fact does not get an opportunity to properly assess what happened. When the trier of fact is relying on flawed information, the verdict will be flawed. You cannot blame a trier of fact for a flawed verdict when flawed information is all they have to rely upon.
Not every police investigation is a serious murder or drug case. Run of the mill car accident cases need to investigated with the same degree of thoroughness and meticulousness as those higher profile cases. When cases are not investigated and reported properly, our system does not work. All too often, cases involving cyclists, bikers, youth and skateboarders are pushed aside and not given the attention which they deserve. Do we not care for the well being of people in these groups? Do we feel they don’t deserve the same attention to detail and care as other groups? Or do we fell that these groups can be taken advantage of because they won’t speak up or fight back? All of these assumptions are wrong but continue to happen for one reason or another. This sort of behaviour needs to stop.
If you have a complaint against a police officer about your investigation, you can contact the OIPRD (Office of the Independent Police Review Director)