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Is It Necessary to Report a Minor Car Accident?

By Butler Prather LLP on June 11, 2019

Most car accidents are relatively minor. A fender bender resulting in no injuries and no major damage makes drivers wonder whether or not they should even report the accident. The answer simply depends on the situation. The accident’s severity and how well the parties communicate makes a big difference. After the exchange of insurance and contact information between drivers, they decide if they want to involve law enforcement.

Law enforcement need not always become involved in a minor accident. State law requires filing accident reports only in certain circumstances, such as when the accident results in death, injury, or over $500 of property damage.

Sometimes it is best to alert authorities anyway, even if the previous circumstances do not apply. When it is difficult to get cooperation from the other driver, or if they do not have car insurance, law enforcement involvement is helpful. An officer gathers necessary information and writes up a police report that documents the facts. A police report supports the facts of the case and often is foundational for damage claims.

If the drivers agree not to file an insurance claim, one driver could decide to go ahead and file a police report later. If the at-fault driver files a report after the other driver leaves the scene, there may be criminal charges laid. Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious crime, so usually alerting authorities is safest.

Minor car accident

Accident Reports for the Insurance Company

However, unlike law enforcement, insurance providers require the details of any accident, minor or not. Vehicle insurance policies state that the carrier receives notification of every accident. Through fear of increased rates, sometimes drivers hesitate to inform their insurance carrier. This violates the terms of the policy, even when they plan to work out any payments directly with the other driver. Enforcement of the contract clause is often difficult for the insurance company in these situations. Plus, insurance premiums only increase for the at-fault driver, so the other driver has no reason to hesitate to report the accident.

However, a failure to report even minor accidents to the insurance carrier potentially results in future conflict. Sometimes the exact value of repairs exceeds the original estimates, or the other driver discovers a later injury. When one driver clearly caused the accident, the other driver should notify their insurance company.

Accepting an at-fault driver’s promises to pay is risky. They often change their minds, when they see the final total of the repair bill. Plus, insurance policies generally allow the recovery of the deductible when someone else causes the accident. Though the driver might later file a claim,  insurance providers can deny protection when no initial report is found.

Minor Vehicle Damage or Injuries

Any injury, no matter how minor, requires notifying the drivers insurance company. Adrenaline, shock, or confusion can mask the extent of injuries, making the accident appear less serious than it really was. Plus, common car accident injuries, such as whiplash soft tissue damage, may appear only days later. Victims may seem fine right after the accident, but a few days later they may have serious back or neck pain. That is another reason why it is always best to report all accidents.

Private Property

An accident on a public street is different than a car accident on private property like a parking lot. Some accidents involve just a single vehicle on private property. Drivers who back into a fence or bang into the garage door on their own house do not always need to report the damage to their insurance company. However, with comprehensive coverage they receive funds to repair the vehicle, especially when they hit a stationary object. If the home has damage as well as the vehicle, filing both an auto insurance and homeowners claim means funds to make all the repairs.

Generally, reporting even minor accidents to insurance carriers provides the best protection. A decision to involve law enforcement rests on the specific details of the incident.

Posted in: Car Accidents

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