Should I Report a Minor Car Accident in Los Angeles?

Car accidents are an everyday occurrence in Los Angeles. Most accidents are not serious. Indeed, there may be little or no visible damage to either the vehicles or the persons inside them. That does not mean, however, that you should write-off a minor accident as “no big deal” and simply drive away from the scene.

To the contrary, you may have a legal obligation to report a “minor” car accident to local law enforcement. And even when this obligation does not apply, your auto insurance carrier will likely require a report in order to protect your access to benefits under your policy. Either way, reporting an accident is always the best course of action.

When Are You Required to Report a Motor Vehicle Accident?

Let’s start with your actual legal obligations. The California Vehicle Code requires a driver to report an accident to law enforcement within 24 hours if anyone was injured or killed. This includes not only people who were in a motor vehicle at the time of the accident, but also any pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, or other persons who may have been injured. This report should be made to either the California Highway Patrol or a local law enforcement agency like the Los Angeles Police Department.

In addition to law enforcement, California law also requires a driver to report an accident to the state Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days if there were any injuries or fatalities, or if there was property damage of more than $1,000. In this context, property damage may mean damage to a vehicle or real property (e.g., a car crashes into a fence or building).

And as noted above, you also need to report an accident to your auto insurance carrier. Here we are talking about the terms of your policy–a contract between you and the insurer–rather than a legal mandate. Put another way, the State of California does not require you to notify your insurance company about a minor accident. But if you fail to provide such notice, your insurer may later deny or disclaim coverage for any damages, including injuries to third parties.

You should review your auto insurance policy carefully and make sure you understand its notice requirements. Insurers often draft policies with imprecise terms, such as requiring notice of an accident within a “reasonable period of time.” What you consider “reasonable” may not match the insurance company’s definition of “reasonable.” In many cases, the insurer expects to be notified no later than a day or two after an accident.

What Happens After You Notify Law Enforcement?

So you are involved in a minor car accident and decide to contact law enforcement right away. What happens next? In many cases, nothing. The police may decide your accident does not sound serious enough to warrant an immediate response. Of course, if someone is injured or has been killed, the police will typically attend the scene right away.

If the police do come, an officer will prepare an official accident report. This report can prove useful if you subsequently need to file an insurance claim or bring a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver. The report should also contain important information about the accident, including the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses who saw what happened.

What Happens After You Notify Your Insurance Company?

An insurance company’s normal response is to contact the insured for more information regarding the accident. The insurer may ask you to sign a written statement under oath (i.e., before a Notary Public) giving your version of the events. In most cases, an adjuster or claims representative who works for the insurance company will conduct an investigation and evaluate any damage to your vehicle.

If your accident was indeed a minor one, the adjuster will provide an estimate of damages–i.e., the cost to make repairs to your vehicle. The adjuster may conduct additional inspections and revise their estimates if additional damage is discovered by the repair shop. In some situations, the insurer may direct you to submit competitive repair estimates.

What If I Do Not Report the Car Accident to Anyone?

Despite the law, some people still avoid reporting minor car accidents when required. Oftentimes this is because they do not want a record of a “minor” accident to affect their driving record or insurance rates. But this is never a good idea.

Let’s talk about consequences. If you are involved in an accident that must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles, your license can be suspended for up to 1 year. Remember, there is a 10-day deadline to report an accident to the DMV, and this reporting requirement exists separately from any obligation to notify law enforcement or your insurance company.

And speaking of law enforcement, if you fail to report an accident where someone was injured or killed and simply leave the scene, you could be charged with participating in a “hit and run” accident. This may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the facts. If you fail to report an accident that only resulted in property damage, however, you can only face misdemeanor charges.

Still, a misdemeanor is not something to take lightly. A conviction carries a maximum punishment of up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. For hit-and-run cases that involve personal injury or death, a felony conviction is punishable by up to 4 years in state prison and a fine as high as $10,000.

As for your insurance company, while it is not a crime if you fail to notify them, as described above you may be held in violation of your policy. This means your insurer can refuse to pay an otherwise valid claim. And if you are considered the negligent driver and sued by another injured victim, your insurer would have no obligation to defend you against the claim.

Speak with a Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney Today

Beyond making all of the legally and contractually required notifications, it is also a good idea to contact a qualified Los Angeles personal injury lawyer following an accident. Even if we are only dealing with what seems like a minor accident at the time, there may be additional damages that are not immediately apparent. More to the point, an attorney can help you negotiate a better settlement with an insurance company. So if you need legal advice or assistance, contact Fisher & Talwar today to schedule a consultation.