Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70 and the Georgia Open Records Act, you can request things like the 911 phone calls that were made to report your auto accident, as well as dashcam and bodycam footage from the reporting police officer. And sometimes, these can turn into a gold mine for your case.
I recently had a case where I encountered this. Not surprisingly, my client and the other party had differing accounts of who was at fault for the collision. When the officer reported to the scene, both parties swore the other party merged into them. Because of the differing tales, and no physical evidence on the scene for the officer to comfortably determine fault, the officer wrote up the police report blaming neither party.
Based on this police report, and the other party’s statement to their insurance adjuster, the other party’s insurance adjuster informed me they were denying fault. In Georgia, the Plaintiff cannot collect if she is at least 50% at fault. The adjuster didn’t specify whether he determined the parties were equally at fault, or my client was entirely at fault, but in either scenario, my client would not collect anything if a jury determined she was at least 50% at fault.
One of the things I did as part of my investigation was send out an open records request for both bodycam and 911 calls. Sure enough, just as the officer wrote in his report, the bodycam video showed the other party insisted he did nothing wrong. He stated my client had merged into him.
However, when I listened to the 911 calls, I heard a different tale. In the moments immediately after the accident, the other party called 911 to report the accident. When the operator asked him what happened, he said that he was at fault for merging into my client.
So now we had proof that the other party had admitted fault within minutes of the accident. Then when the police officer came 15 minutes later, he had an entirely different story.
Now of course in theory he could have been wrong in what he said to the 911 operator; however, it is admissible evidence that a jury would hear in determining fault. The jury would give great weight to what the other party said right after the accident, and he would have to explain why he was wrong when he acknowledged his fault. That’s a tough sell to the jury.
After being presented with this evidence, the other party’s insurance changed their tune and admitted sole fault for the accident.
Now of course there won’t always be a dispute over fault, but the open records request can still provide valuable evidence in the form of witnesses, or videos or photos, etc….
The point is always request the open records. It’s just more information about your case that can prove to be valuable. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s best to know this information at the beginning of the case. This is particularly true in identifying witnesses, who the longer you wait to locate them, are likely to have either disappeared or forgotten details.