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Car accidents — and their aftermath — can be stressful. But making time to call your insurer is a critical step in the process. You may need to act fast, too, as many insurers have vague policies when it comes to reporting an accident.
Here’s what you need to know about how long you have to report an accident:
How long do I have to report an accident to an insurance carrier?
Most car insurance carriers don’t have a set deadline for reporting an accident. Instead, they encourage policyholders to report accidents promptly. Progressive advises that you “shouldn’t delay contacting your insurer,” while Geico recommends reporting “as soon as possible.”
States, on the other hand, do have certain deadlines. First, there may be deadlines for when you must file a report with your state department (or bureau) of motor vehicles. In California, for example, you’ll need to report your accident within 10 days if anyone is injured or killed or if there’s more than $1,000 in damages.
States also have statutes of limitations that establish when you can (and can’t) file a legal claim for an accident. In Texas, the statute of limitations is two years — meaning you have 24 months from the date of the accident to claim damages or injuries. Other states have varying deadlines, so be sure to check with an attorney in your area if this applies to your accident.
Reasons to wait to file a report after an accident
Insurers want you to report your accident promptly, but that doesn’t mean you have to call immediately after the accident occurs. In some cases, you may actually want to wait a few days.
If you’re filing a police report, for example, that can be a good reason to delay reporting the accident. A police report can speed up the claims process and provide much-needed details about the event.
You may also want to wait a few days to see if any injuries emerge. Just be sure you file a police report first, as this is critical to documenting that the accident caused the injuries.
Do I have to get a police report before I report my accident?
You don’t have to have a police report before you report the accident or file a claim with your insurer. But you might want to.
Police reports give your insurer an official record of when the accident occurred and the conditions surrounding it. They also include critical details, like the location of the accident, the names and contact information of the parties involved, the types of cars in the collision, and information about any damages.
Having a police report can also speed up claim processing, which means you’ll get reimbursed sooner if another driver owes you for damages.
How do I report a car accident to my insurance provider?
The exact process depends on your insurer, but you’ll typically need to call your insurance agent or log in to your insurance carrier’s mobile app, if it has one.
When you do get in touch, make sure you have the following information on hand:
- Names of others involved in the accident
- Date and time of the accident
- Address or cross streets where the accident occurred
- Name and badge number of the police officer on the scene
- Names of any witnesses
If you have photos of the accident, your insurer may also ask you to send those or upload them to the mobile app.
Reporting a car accident vs. filing a claim
Reporting an accident and filing a claim for the accident are two different things.
When you’re reporting an accident, you’re simply letting the police or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles know that the incident occurred.
Filing a claim, on the other hand, is seeking reimbursement from your insurance carrier to cover property damage or injuries sustained in that accident.
What to do after a car accident
It’s important to follow the right steps after a car accident to ensure your safety and to prepare for filing a claim. Here’s what to do after a car accident:
- Check for injuries and move off the roadway (if possible). If you or anyone else is injured, call 911 and wait for an ambulance. If you’re able to safely move your vehicle out of traffic, do so.
- Call the police. Calling the police even after a minor accident is helpful. But it’s especially important to call the police if the accident resulted in injuries or fatalities, or you can’t move your vehicles. You should also call the police if a driver leaves the scene, has no insurance, or appears intoxicated.
- Get information from the other driver(s). Be sure to get the names of any drivers and passengers involved, as well as their contact information, insurance carrier, and policy number.
- Take notes and photos. Write down the location of the accident, the time and date it occurred, the weather conditions, and any other notable details. Take lots of photos, from different angles, to capture any damage to your vehicle.
- Gather information from any witnesses. If others witnessed the accident, get their names and contact information. The police or your insurer may need to get in touch with them.
You don’t need to call your insurance provider from the scene, but plan to shortly after, particularly if you’ll be filing a claim for damages.
When to get legal help after a car accident
In some cases, you may want to bring in an attorney to help with your car accident claim. If you suffered serious injuries, for example, an attorney can work to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your medical expenses, pain, and suffering. If the other driver is contesting who’s at fault for the accident, an attorney may also be able to help.
Additionally, if you’re not comfortable handling the claims process or just want to ensure everything is done correctly and effectively, an attorney can assist you. They’ll spearhead the claims process, negotiate with insurers, gather evidence, and communicate with the other party’s insurance and representation.
If you’re not sure if you need legal help, consider setting up an initial consultation with a few attorneys in your area. Many offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you do.
Disclaimer: All insurance-related services are offered through Young Alfred.