Whether you're on your way to work, driving home from a road trip with your family, or running errands, it's never a good time to get into a car accident. Regardless of who's at fault, you'll need to take care of a few things — and relatively quickly — following the incident.
Medical attention should be your first priority should you or any of your passengers suffer serious injuries. But you also may wonder:
Below, you will find general answers to these questions, including information about the statutes of limitations for accident claims and how soon certain actions should be taken following a car accident.
Should You Report a Car Accident?
There may be instances where you don't want to report a car accident at all, but those are rare. For example, if you were to scrape your car door against a steel beam while backing out of a parking space, you probably wouldn't want to report it if the repair is estimated to cost the same or less than your insurance deductible. Also, your insurer may decide to raise your rates after such a report, especially if you have prior claims (although premium hikes are unpredictable). But even low-speed collisions with minor damage can cost several thousand dollars to fix.
Keep in mind that since you are liable for any damage caused to another party's property if it is your fault, you will want to contact your insurer after a car accident in most cases. This is the case even in a single-vehicle accident. Additionally, many policies have a provision that requires you to report and cooperate with the insurance company in their investigation of any third-party claims against you. To preserve your coverage, you'll want to be sure to report the accident, especially if there's a possibility that the other party may assert a claim against you.
How Long Do You Have To Report It?
The short answer is that you should report the accident as soon as you can, even at the scene if possible. Most insurers have 24-hour accident claim hotlines and mobile apps for claims. If it's a single-vehicle accident and you're not even sure whether to call, you'll want to read through your policy and make an informed decision once you're able to do so.
Many insurance companies require policyholders to make claims within a specified window of time after the accident has occurred. But these limits are specific to each policy. If you are unsure, ask your insurance agent.
Car Accident Lawsuits and the Statute of Limitations
Lawsuits are the exception when dealing with a car accident. But they are sometimes necessary if the insurance company fails to cover your damages. Every state has strict time limits — called the civil statute of limitations — for filing a lawsuit. The time generally begins "running" on the day of the incident. If you wait six months after an accident to file an insurance claim but then decide to sue, you're already six months into the running of the statute of limitations.
It is also important to understand the discovery and tolling laws in your state when determining the statute of limitations. These are laws that affect the running of the statute of limitations.
States also have different time limits for different types of claims. In Illinois, for example, you have two years to file a personal injury claim, but five years for "injury" to personal property (in this case, damage to your vehicle).
How Do I Report an Accident to the Police?
Depending on the severity of the accident, you may also need to report the incident to the local police or law enforcement agency. Generally, you should contact the police immediately after an accident and get an accident report from a police officer if there is:
- An injury
- Significant property damage
A police report can be helpful when dealing with your insurance provider. It provides an official and objective record of the events.
Many states have laws requiring you to report accidents to the local police department or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within a certain period. This period is usually within a few days of the accident. This requirement often applies if the accident resulted in bodily injury, death, or significant property damage. If you are unsure about your state's reporting requirements, contact your local police department or DMV for guidance.
DMV Reporting and Driver's License Impact
Failing to report an accident to the DMV when required to do so can have serious repercussions. This can include penalties such as fines or even suspension of your driver's license. You could even face criminal charges, especially if the accident involved serious injuries or death.
Even if your state doesn't require you to report an accident to the DMV, your insurance company may still require it as part of your policy agreement. If you are unsure about the reporting requirements in your state or what your insurance policy requires, you should reach out to your local DMV or a car accident attorney. They can provide the necessary guidance to ensure you're complying with all regulations and laws related to your car crash.
Dealing With Insurance Companies and Adjusters
After an auto accident, you'll typically be contacted by a car insurance adjuster. This person works for the auto insurance company. Their job is to investigate the details of the accident and determine how much the insurer should pay out for the motor vehicle accident claim.
Keep all the necessary details about the accident handy. This includes:
- The date of the accident
- Contact information of the other motorist
- The driver's insurance information
- Any evidence you may have collected at the scene of the accident
If you were not the at-fault party, then you should consider waiting before giving a statement to the insurance adjuster as any information or statements you make can be used against you in the settlement negotiation process. If you feel unsure or overwhelmed by the claims process, a car accident lawyer can help you with these interactions.
How Should I Handle Minor Accidents?
For minor accidents where no one is injured and the damage is minimal, you might decide not to involve your insurance provider. If the repair costs are likely to be less than your deductible, or if you're concerned about your premium increasing, it may not be worth reporting. However, as an accident victim, you should assess the situation carefully and make sure you are not overlooking any potential liability or property damage issues that could arise later on.
Involved in a Car Accident? Get Legal Advice From a Personal Injury Lawyer
Whether you're planning on filing a lawsuit or simply need to make an insurance claim for a car accident, time is of the essence. If you have additional questions about how long you have to report a car accident or if you need to file a personal injury lawsuit, an injury attorney in your area may be able to help.