Do Minor Vehicle Accidents Need to Be Reported?
Find out when you're legally or contractually obligated to report an accident.
Some of the most common car accidents are minor “fender benders” that do not involve injuries. These accidents can happen in parking lots when cars are backing out from parking spaces, or when driving at an intersection as you’re trying to stop for a red light. Maybe you misjudged your stopping distance and “bumped” the rear bumper of the car ahead of you.
Frequently these accidents do not cause any injuries to the drivers or passengers. However, the collisions can still result in minor property damage to the cars, whether it’s a dented bumper or fender, or scrapes and scratches on the paint.
In those situations, the question often arises, “Do I need to report this type of accident?” There are two entities to which you might report the accident, and different considerations apply to each. Read on to learn more.
Do You Need to Report the Accident to Law Enforcement?
The answer to this question depends in large part on not only the facts and circumstances of the particular accident, but also on the state in which you live.
Many states require you to report any accident that involves an injury. Even for accidents involving only vehicle damage, some states still require drivers to report the accident if the damage is over a certain amount, typically $1,000 or $2,500.
At the accident scene one of the most important things to do is to exchange contact information with the other driver and to also obtain the other driver’s insurance information. Every state requires drivers to exchange this kind of information if they have been involved in an accident.
If the other driver is uncooperative, or if you have reason to believe the other driver does not have insurance, you should request the involvement of law enforcement at the accident scene to help you obtain this information. Depending on the location of the accident, the law enforcement agency might be municipal police, county sheriff, or the highway patrol.
Even if the other driver is cooperative, there might be a good faith dispute between you and the other driver about the cause of the accident. In that instance, it is also a good idea to ask for law enforcement assistance. This will give the investigating officer an opportunity to record interviews with drivers and witnesses, and also allow the officer to record the circumstances of any physical evidence at the scene, such as skid marks or debris.
Another reason to contact the police at the time of the accident is because of possible injuries. At the accident scene, or immediately after, you might believe that you were not injured. You may also have said as much to the other driver. However, many injuries do not become apparent until days or weeks following the accident. If you don’t immediately contact law enforcement to report the accident, and you discover at a later date that you were actually injured, the other driver might take the position that the accident never occurred. Without a law enforcement investigation of the accident, it is just your word against the other driver's.
If the accident occurs during inclement weather, your call to 911 or local law enforcement might be met with instructions stating that, if there are no injuries involved, local law enforcement personnel cannot respond to your accident scene due to other emergencies presented by the weather conditions. In that situation, nearby convenience stores or gas stations often have accident report forms that you and the other driver can complete and then mail to the local law enforcement agency.
Reporting an Accident to your Insurance Company
People who are involved in minor collisions often try to avoid reporting these types of accidents to their insurance companies for two reasons:
- the driver assumes that his insurance rates will increase, and
- the driver assumes that things can just be “worked out” with the other driver without involving the insurance companies.
It is important to understand that every single automobile insurance policy in the country requires policyholders to immediately report any accident in which they are involved. Failing to report an accident to your insurance company may result in significant complications or penalties down the road.
Let's say you agree with the other driver at the accident scene that you'll just “work things out” and not file insurance claims (which is a bad idea, by the way), what happens if the other driver gets home and realizes the damage was more severe than she first believed? Or, maybe injuries later appear that weren’t obvious at the accident scene?
If, after several weeks or months the other driver makes a claim for unnoticed vehicle damage, or for injuries that have cropped up, your insurance company might deny certain protection to you because you failed to promptly report the accident. So, your attempt to avoid a possible increase in your insurance premiums may result in even greater monetary losses down the road.
The only time it might be reasonable to avoid reporting an accident to the insurance company is if the accident happens in your vehicle, on your property, no injuries are involved, and the only damage is to property that you own. Let's say you backed into the garage door or scraped a fence next to your driveway. In that situation there is no dispute with another person about fault for the accident, and no possibility of a dispute about the cost of repairs.