What is an Open Records Request, and why is it important for my case?
One of the first and most important steps in getting your personal injury case started, is to begin by obtaining all evidence and supporting documents. This is done by submitting an Open Records Request.
The Georgia Open Records Act states that records maintained by most government agencies, or private companies carrying out government functions, are open to the public and subject to inspection at a reasonable time and place.
This Act allows citizens and law firms to send requests to government agencies in order to obtain any evidence that may build a stronger case for an injured party.
What documents are requested through an Open Records Request?
When dealing with a car wreck case, some of the documents that are obtained through Open Records Requests are:
- 911 calls and CAD reports
- Accident Report
- Police Dash and Body Cam Footage from the responding police department
- Citations (traffic ticket) and the disposition of those citations.
For Premises Liability or Negligent Security cases, it is helpful to request a Crime Grid to get an idea of a history of past incidents at a particular location or area.
In cases where an injured party has suffered from a dog bite, an Open Records Request may be submitted to the local animal control agency to determine if a particular dog or location has had similar issues in the past.
All of these documents are extremely helpful and important in order to get started with a proper case investigation.
How do you submit an Open Records Request?
The first step in submitting an Open Records Request is to determine where you should send the request. E-911 Communication Centers, Police Departments, Clerk’s Offices, and Animal Control each are responsible for maintaining records and documentation that are accessible to the public. Therefore, you will need to determine which governmental agency is in possession of the documents you are wishing to obtain. Each County, State and City agency will have a different process for how they handle and fulfill requests.
Some departments will have an online portal in which you are able to submit your request, while others may have their own specific form to fill out and submit via mail, fax or email.
When submitting a request, it’s important to include any and all helpful information in order to help the agency to locate the documents you are requesting, such as dates, names, addresses, report numbers, etc.
Why are these supporting documents so important?
When submitting a demand to the insurance company or filing a lawsuit in order to settle your personal injury case, it is important to provide the insurer with ample evidence to substantiate your claim.
For example, if you are involved in a rear-end car wreck and the at-fault driver is issued a citation for following too closely, providing a copy of the disposition of a citation with a guilty plea shows the at-fault driver is admitting their negligence.
For cases involving dog bites, premises liability or negligent security, previous incidents help build a stronger case by showing the at-fault party was aware of a danger and did not act reasonably to remedy the danger.
What to expect once my Open Records Request has been submitted.
Once your request has been submitted, most Georgia agencies will have 3 business days to respond to your request and notify you the request was received. Typically, they will provide you with a request number and the contact information of who is handling your request.
It is important to remember an agency may not be able to release all requested documents right away. If you have a car wreck case and the criminal case is still pending with the at-fault driver’s citation or arrest, or if the police department is still conducting their investigation, they will not be able to release all requested materials until the investigation or criminal case file is closed.
Always be sure to have a follow up system in place in order to ensure your request is fulfilled.