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Imagine another car lightly taps your bumper and the brief impact results in a small dent. You think, “It’s not a big deal,” – you and the other driver decide not to contact your insurance carriers. You still exchange names and phone numbers, just in case something comes up. The incident is behind you, until the next time you’re at the body shop or worse, you get a call from the other driver’s insurance carrier.

After an accident, you may be startled and disoriented, even if you were not seriously injured. In the moment the fender bender or sideswipe occurs you think, “Now my rates are going to go up.” You have repairs done, which may reveal the superficial damage went deeper than it looks. To make matters worse, you never know when the other driver will claim injury – or make up a completely different account that shifts all blame onto you.

For these reasons, it’s always a good idea to contact the police after an accident occurs – even if you don’t think it’s necessary. The next time you find yourself in this situation, think about the following points.

Requirements

Although rules vary on a state-by-state basis, reporting an injury that happened at the scene of an accident is generally expected, no matter where you are. Beyond this, certain states require you to file a report if damage appears to exceed $1,000.

On the other hand, your insurance carrier expects you to file a police report if you plan to start an accident claim against the other driver. Omitting this crucial step could result in complications with your claim or worse, penalties down the road – for instance, higher rate increases or dropped coverage.

If you simply plan to pay for all auto body work out-of-pocket, you might be able to skate by. But, let’s say some of that seemingly minor damage worsens and causes more damage to your vehicle. In certain cases, a driver may file a claim with their carrier, citing a previous accident as the source. At this point, your carrier might deny the claim outright or penalize you when it’s time to renew your coverage.

Beyond insurance expectations and legalities, you’re not always required to report an accident that occurs on private property – although this factor also depends on the state. In this case, private property encompasses residences, as well as grocery store and business parking lots. As you never know what will happen after someone dents your car door in a parking lot, it’s better to be safe than sorry later on.

After You Don’t Report

Regardless of whether the fender-bender happens on a public roadway or in a private parking lot, what do you risk when you don’t file an accident report?

  • There’s no consistent narrative about what happened at the scene. At the very least, a police report helps to establish the basic details and conditions. Without this account, it’s the other driver’s word against yours if he or she decides to file an insurance claim, reach out for the cost of auto body work or get medical treatment for alleged accident-related injuries. There’s always a chance someone might shift responsibility for the incident.
  • Establishing the facts is far easier when you, your insurance carrier or a lawyer can reference a police report, which establishes the degree of the damage to each vehicle, any damage to surrounding property and who may be at fault. At this point, what seemed like a minor incident turns into a he-said-she-said case.
  • Months later, the driver could go after you, alleging damage to their vehicle or medical problems related to the incident. At this point, you lack a police report and likely also failed to document the scene of the accident with your own photos and written statements. As such, to have evidence and support in case the incident escalates, contact the police and start putting together your own records of the scene.
  • If you were the injured party, you risk the other driver denying the incident ever happened. In some cases, you feel fine at the scene, but injuries ranging from minor aches and pains to concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) show up later. Being prepared anticipates the potential medical claim.
  • You don’t know if the other driver is insured. Some drivers might not even talk about, let alone trade insurance information. Assuming you’ll move on with your life, you don’t question the other driver about his or her coverage. But, the incident can always escalate. Having law enforcement at the scene helps in one of two ways: A reluctant driver will need to hand over his or her insurance information or admit that he or she doesn’t have enough, if any, coverage. From here, you can pursue a U/UI claim through your insurance carrier.

Have you recently been involved in a motor vehicle accident, minor or major? When your insurance claim is going nowhere, it might be time to get legal representation. To move your case along and get the compensation you deserve, start by reaching out to the car accident attorneys at Trantolo & Trantolo. To learn about how we can help, give us a call today.