Under California Legal Code Section 20008, all drivers have a legal duty to report any traffic accident that results in injury or death to the California Highway Patrol or police department for the city in which an accident occurs within 24 hours of the accident. Failure to report such an accident could lead to significant legal penalties, including criminal charges for hit-and-run. However, some drivers may wonder if they need to report a minor car accident that only results in minimal property damage and no injuries or fatalities.
As a general rule of thumb, report any traffic accident to the appropriate law enforcement department so an official record of the incident exists. Even if a traffic accident appears to have been harmless at first, it is possible for an accident to cause injuries that do not immediately manifest noticeable symptoms. An injured driver in this situation could face significant roadblocks if he or she attempts to file a lawsuit after failing to report the accident.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Some drivers attempt to avoid filing insurance claims for very minor traffic accidents; they believe they can avoid a premium rate increase by simply working out a solution with the other driver. Almost every auto insurance carrier requires policyholders to report accidents immediately, regardless of their perceived value.
The reason for this is due to the fact that an insurance company prices premium rates based on an insured driver’s driving record and his or her vehicle’s accident history. A vehicle involved in an accident is more susceptible to damage from another accident in the future. Additionally, a small fender bender may cause internal structural damage or weaken parts of the vehicle, causing them to fail after some time. Reporting accidents immediately helps insurance companies maintain accurate assessments of policyholders’ levels of risk. They can also use failure to report as grounds to deny coverage if you discover damage to your vehicle weeks or months after the accident and attempt to file a claim for coverage.
Do You Call 911 for a Minor Accident?
A minor car accident may not seem like a terribly big deal at first, but the reality is that failure to report such an accident can hurt you later. Take the time to report the accident to your insurance company; if the damage is minimal and the fault clearly lies with the other driver, it is likely you will not see a premium rate increase or any other penalties. It is also important to report the accident to the police and have them file an official report. Should you need to take legal action for the accident later, having an official police record of the incident is extremely helpful.
Are You Required to Report an Accident?
After any minor accident that does not result in injuries, fatalities, or significant property damage, take a moment to take pictures or videos of the accident scene with your smartphone. Try to take pictures of the damage to your vehicle, debris from the accident, skid marks nearby, and notable surrounding landmarks. These photos could prove invaluable in a future legal case.
It is also wise to visit your doctor as soon as possible after a minor car accident. Adrenaline can dull pain sensations and you may have sustained injuries you will not feel until the day after the accident. Visiting your doctor helps to identify any easily missed symptoms and possible future medical complications you could experience. The doctor can provide you with a medical report that will outline your injuries and prognosis; this is another crucial piece of documentation for a future lawsuit.
Ultimately, it is best to report any car accident, no matter how minor, to the relevant police department or the California Highway Patrol and your insurance carrier as soon as possible. While some drivers may worry about increased auto insurance premiums after reporting a minor accident, this is a relatively small concern compared to the potential damage you could cause yourself if you fail to report an accident in a timely fashion.