Should You Always Call the Police After a Car Accident?

It’s such a seemingly minor accident, it gets a cute nickname: fender bender. When it happens, you might not think there are any injuries or any damage to your vehicle. It can be tempting, especially if you’re on your way to an appointment or work, to skip calling the cops and just exchange information so you can be on your way. But should you call the cops after a fender bender in the Bay Area? Yes, you should. Let’s go over the reasons why so you’ll understand why the extra time to call the police is worth it.

Why do You Need to Call the Police After a Car Accident?

Because fender benders are such minor accidents, many people mistakenly believe they don’t need to call the police. There are five good reasons to make sure you call the cops to report even a minor accident:

  • California law requires that you report the accident to the local police department in the city it happened in or to the California Highway Patrol within 24 hours.
  • Injuries may not be immediately obvious. By calling the cops and getting a police report, you ensure a paper trail to try to get compensation for your injuries.
  • Damage to your vehicle may not be visible. Like injuries, calling the police allows you to file a claim if you discover later that your vehicle has hidden damage.
  • Many insurance companies require a police report to file a claim, so it’s always best to ensure you have that report just in case.
  • The involvement of police ensures that the other driver doesn’t try to avoid responsibility by giving you false information, such as a fake name, old address, or an insurance policy number that is canceled.

How Long do You Have to File a Claim?

Ideally, you should contact your insurance company to file a claim as soon as possible after an accident. Many factors could cause you to delay filing your claim, which is why California offers a statute of limitations.

The California Courts allow you to file a claim for personal injury up to two years from the date of the injury. If the injury isn’t discovered immediately, you have one year from the date the injury is discovered. You have three years from the date the damage occurred to file a property damage claim.

It is important to know that you must file a Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California (SR 1) with the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident if any of the following occurred:

  • There is more than $1,000 in damage
  • There are any injuries (regardless of how minor)
  • Someone was killed

How Does California Determine Fault in a Vehicle Accident?

California law uses the theory of pure comparative fault. This means that more than one person can be held financially responsible for an accident. It also means that victims can be compensated even if they contributed to the accident. Financial responsibility is determined by the degree of fault and recovered compensation is reduced based on fault.

Let’s look at an example: Jane does a rolling stop at a stop sign and is hit by Joe, who is speeding. When the police investigate the accident, Joe is found to be 80% at fault because he was speeding and Jane is considered to be 20% at fault because she rolled through the stop sign. This means that Joe will be expected to compensate Jane for 80% of her damages and/or injuries and Jane will reimburse Joe for 20% of his damages or injuries.

What Happens if an Accident Isn’t Reported to the Cops?

If you are in an accident and do not report it to the cops, the best-case scenario is that you will struggle to be compensated for any property damage or injuries or may not be compensated at all. The worst-case scenario is that you could pay a fine, lose your license, or even go to jail.

Have You Been in a Fender Bender and Require Legal Assistance?

Whether you reported the accident or not, fender benders can get complicated. The apparent lack of severity can cause drivers and insurance companies to argue that your injuries or damage are not as significant as they are or that they weren’t caused by the accident. If you’ve been involved in an accident and need legal assistance to navigate your claim, our experienced attorneys may be able to help.