The Role of Investigating Police Officers in a Chicago Car Accident

103116It may sound surprising but few people who live in Chicago truly know what police officers do in the time following a car accident. Some believe that it is an officer’s job just to get basic information while others think that the officers handle cases through prosecution, if necessary. The truth is more nuanced than either of those options and can have an impact on the victims of car accidents here in Illinois, even if those victims do not understand the officer’s full role.

Police officers serve many roles and their titles and position within the force will determine their daily activities. From investigating crimes to issuing parking tickets, officers can wear many hats while on-the-job. Additionally, the type of police force will influence some of the officer’s assignments. For example, the Illinois State Police Department is tasked with traffic enforcement on many of the state expressways around Chicago while local officers patrol local, city roads.

When a car accident happens and it is reported to the proper authorities, one or more officers will typically arrive on the scene of the collision to prepare a report. If circumstances allow it, the officer will talk to all drivers involved and any other witnesses who may have seen the crash. This will enable the officer to get a complete view of the incidents leading up to and following the collision which the officer can include in his or her written report, often referred to as an Illinois Traffic Crash Report.

If the officer determines that any traffic laws were violated, that officer may issue a traffic citation to the driver who allegedly erred. Similarly, if a criminal law was broken, that officer may be able to initiate criminal proceedings by charging a suspected driver and possibly detaining that driver in jail. Common traffic mistakes made include speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign. Common criminal mistakes made include driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and fleeing the scene of a collision if these events are coupled with the loss of life of a victim or serious bodily harm. The facts and circumstances surrounding a particular crash may determine whether an offense was committed, and if so, if that offense is a traffic infraction, misdemeanor criminal charge, or a felony criminal charge.

Often, an officer’s work extends beyond the scene of a collision as an officer may have to finalize a report, conduct further investigation, work with area prosecutors related to charges against a driver, and even testify in court. A complex collision with a tragic result may lead to months or even years of work by a responding officer.

This preliminary view of an officer’s basic role is a generalization. As circumstances change, so will an officer’s job. However, one thing that is not up to an officer to determine is the rights of the injury victims who are involved in a crash. Rather, the rights of those who are hurt are protected by state laws that are in place before a collision even happens, guaranteeing many the right to seek financial compensation for their damages, including medical expenses. The right to this relief is separate from any traffic or criminal charges that may be brought against a responsible driver and these claims happen in a separate court of law. In fact, even if no charges are brought against a driver, victims may still be entitled to payment for their injuries through a civil claim for damages. This can also be true if a driver is cited for her conduct in causing a crash but that driver is found not guilty or the charges against the driver are later dismissed.

If you have questions, you have the right to speak with a personal injury attorney to learn about your rights following a Chicago car accident and to learn whether you have a valid claim for your injuries.

Prior Blog Entry:

Rear-End Car Accidents are the Most Common Collisions in the Country, Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Blog, published October 13, 2016.