The moments after a serious car accident can only be described as a blur. One second, everything is totally normal, and the next, it’s complete chaos. Nobody gets into a car thinking that they will be involved in an accident, and it’s fairly common for injured motorists to have questions about what they should do after an accident.
If you were recently injured in a car accident and did not file an accident report, that should be your first step.
After an accident, the first thing to do is call 911 or contact the local police station to report the accident. Every state creates its own laws when it comes to which types of accidents must be reported and the timeframe motorists have to file a report. The American Automobile Association maintains a convenient list of all 50 states’ laws.
For example, all states require motorists to report an accident resulting in injury or death, and most states require motorists to report accidents that cause a certain amount of property damage. The timeframe to report an accident ranges, with some states requiring “immediate” reporting, while others give motorists up to 30 days to file the report.
The punishment for not reporting an accident varies, but it can range from a small fine to the suspension of driving privileges. There can be more serious punishments for those who willfully fail to report an accident. However, most often, those who initially forget to file a report and then file it later avoid facing severe consequences.
Aside from complying with the law, there is another crucial reason to file an accident report. In many car accidents, motorists sustain serious injuries. This can result in missed work and other financial losses, such as medical expenses. In addition, many accident victims suffer a significant amount of pain and emotional distress as a result of the accident. To get reimbursed for these expenses and damages, an accident victim will typically file a claim with either their insurance policy or the at-fault driver’s policy.
When an insurance company gets a claim from an injured motorist, the insurance adjuster is going to look for any reason to deny it. Insurance companies exist to make a profit, and paying out on every claim interferes with that objective. One of the easiest ways for the insurance company to deny a claim is to take the position that the accident never happened or that the accident was so minor that the accident victim didn’t bother reporting it.
Here is where the importance of an accident report comes in; if an injured motorist has an accident report, the insurance company will have a much harder time arguing that the accident did not occur.
For the same reason, it is essential injured motorists obtain prompt medical treatment. Otherwise, the insurance company may argue that the accident victim’s injuries were not sufficiently serious to warrant emergency care and, by extension, not serious enough to merit a payout.
What Happens If It’s Too Late to File an Accident Report?
While some states do not impose time limits on when someone can report an accident, most do. Once that time passes, an accident victim can no longer file an accident report. However, that does not necessarily mean that they cannot file an insurance claim or a personal injury case to recover damages for their injuries.
Remember, one of the purposes of filing an accident report is to document the accident. While accident reports are the easiest way to prove that an accident happened, there may be other ways. For example, if a motorist had cell phone video footage of the accident, photographs, or a statement from an eyewitness, this may do the trick. Of course, in these cases, the insurance company is more likely to deny a claim than it would be if you had an accident report.
However, just because an insurance company denies an injured motorist’s claim does not mean that the victim is out of luck. This is where a personal injury lawyer can make a big difference in your claim. By filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver (and their insurance company), an accident victim can compel the insurance company to either approve their claim or otherwise provide them with compensation for their injuries or risk going to court over the matter.
Should I Bother Filing an Accident Report if I was Partially at Fault for the Accident?
Drivers who believe that they may be partially responsible for causing an accident should still file an accident report. For one thing, drivers have a legal responsibility to report the accident. In addition, accident victims cannot know what was going on with the other driver before the accident and may be incorrect about their own role in contributing to the crash. Additionally, the determination of fault in a car accident claim often involves applying complex legal doctrines that an accident victim may not be aware of.
Most importantly, a motorist who is partially at fault for causing a car accident may still be able to recover compensation for their injuries. Most states employ some form of comparative negligence principle, which allows those drivers who shared blame in causing an accident to bring a case against other parties who were also at fault. However, in these cases, an injured motorist’s total recovery amount would be reduced by their percentage of fault. Still, reduced compensation is better than none at all.
Filing a report after a car accident is an essential step in the recovery process. However, even if an injured motorist failed to file a report, they should not give up hope. In these situations, accident victims should reach out to a dedicated car accident lawyer to better understand their options and see what they can do to hold the negligent party accountable. It costs nothing to learn more about your options and how no-win, no-fee legal representation could help you get your life back on track.