When Should a Car Accident Be Reported to the Police?
The average American will have three to four traffic accidents over his or her lifetime. Most of these accidents will not be serious – fender benders or relatively minor collisions. Some will be more serious and involve extensive damage to a vehicle, and potentially serious injury or even death for the driver or passengers.
Regardless of the kind of motor vehicle accident you may have, one of the smartest things you can do is call the police. This advice holds true in almost every situation. There may be times when the accident is so minor that both motorists decide not to report it, or the police themselves say they do not need to visit the scene. Even if the police do not come, however, you should always file a report. Filing a report makes sense for many reasons, which we will discuss below.
Car Accident Laws in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there are two kinds of automobile accidents — reportable and nonreportable.
1. Reportable Car Accident
Drivers in Pennsylvania are required to file a police report in several situations:
- If anyone is injured during a car accident.
- If a vehicle cannot move on its own and must be towed away from the scene.
- If a hit and run has occurred.
You and the other driver or drivers involved are required to report these collisions immediately.
2. Nonreportable Car Accident
In Pennsylvania, the law does not require the police to report minor car accidents. These are accidents in which there are no injuries, and the cars may be driven away on their own. Regardless of the kind of accident you have experienced, one of the smartest things you can do is to contact the police. The officer will then prepare a report that you can use when you file an insurance claim, or that your attorney can use when proceeding with that claim on your behalf.
In many instances, if the police have time and there is an officer relatively close by, they will come to the accident scene and take a report. They may say no to your request, but it never hurts to ask.
If an accident takes place on private property, the police are also not obligated to file a report. Private property includes places like your driveway or a parking lot in a shopping center. Police are only responsible for reporting accidents that take place on city or country roads and highways.
In any case, you should file a report with the police about the accident. We will explain how to do that below.
What Are the Benefits of Having the Police Visit the Accident Scene?
If you have ever been in a traffic accident, you know how your thoughts and your emotions can become confused. Drivers can get over-excited, scared or angry. One of the best reasons to call the police is that when an officer arrives on the scene, they are an impartial third party. A police officer will recognize any critical issues such as signs of a potential injury, and they will also act as a calming influence on all parties involved.
When the police arrive at an accident scene, they will:
- Request immediate medical help for anyone who may be injured if the drivers have not already done so.
- Secure the area, so it is safe for those involved in the accident and passing traffic.
- Speak with both drivers about their versions of how the accident happened.
- Take notes about the weather conditions, skid marks, the location of the accident and any other details which may be relevant to their accident report.
- Interview any witnesses who may have seen the accident or relevant third parties.
- Issue tickets for violations, if necessary.
Most importantly, the officer will prepare a report that you can use when you file an insurance claim or that your attorney can use for information if there needs to be a court trial.
After the police officer has taken down all the information and the scene is secured, the officer normally gives you a “crash receipt.” The crash receipt is an essential piece of information that gives you a case number for the report the officer will file and will in most cases include the officer’s name and the police department where they work. You can also ask the officer for a card with his or her contact information if the signature on the crash receipt is hard to read.
If you wish to obtain a copy of a police report of a motor vehicle accident, you can submit an application online 15 days after the accident. The fee is $22 per report. You can also mail your request and submit a certified check or money order for the fee.
Do I Need to File A Crash Report If the Police Do Not Come?
If the police do not come to the site of a crash, you are not required to file a report. If the accident is minor enough, you and the other driver involved may decide that it is easier and cheaper to settle any damages among yourselves. If you are in a serious accident, however, and the police are unable to come to the scene during times of natural disasters, emergencies or a larger accident in another location, you are required by law to file a report with the police.
But even though you are not required to file a police report for a minor accident, it is still important to file a police report for several reasons:
- Often injuries sustained in car accidents, even minor ones, do not manifest themselves for days or even weeks. If you have not filed a crash report with the police, it is challenging to file a claim with your insurance company to cover any medical bills.
- The same is true of damages to motor vehicles. It may appear at first that your vehicle sustained little or no damage, but it is very possible some part of the car that you cannot see stops working or develops issues in the days after the accident.
- While you and any other drivers involved at the scene of a minor motor vehicle accident may decide that you can “settle this among yourselves,” people can change their minds once away from the scene. You may find yourself being forced to pay for damages or medical bills for which you are not responsible. In this case, the accident becomes your word versus their word.
- Filling a crash report with the police report helps with the insurance claims process. Many insurance companies require that you report an accident as soon as it happens, or they will not pay for any damages that develop over time. While you and the other driver may think it is easier to pay for the cost on your own, if you do develop a medical issue or your car has suffered damages not visible during the immediate aftermath of the accident, the insurance company will not pay your claim if you do not report the accident to them and if you have not filed a crash report with the police. Your attorney can also then use the police report when negotiating with your insurance company for benefits, medical care or lost wages.
How Do I File My Own Crash Report If the Police Do Not Come?
If the police do not feel it is necessary to file a report, but you wish to make a crash report about the accident, you need to gather detailed information at the accident scene:
- The names, addresses and phone numbers of all drivers involved in the accident.
- Their driver’s license numbers.
- Their insurance information.
- The names and contact information for any pedestrians or other passengers involved in the accident.
- The names and contact information of any potential witnesses.
- The license plate numbers of other vehicles involved.
- The make, model and style of the other cars.
Along with all this practical information, you should also:
- Take pictures of your car and the other cars showing any areas of possible damage, skid marks on the road or provide evidence of weather and road conditions as well as location and any nearby landmarks in street signs.
- While it is fresh in your memory, write down your version of what happened.
When you have all this information gathered, you need to download and complete a copy of form AA-600 within five days after the accident. Send the form to:
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering
P.O. Box 2047
Harrisburg, PA 17105-2047
Make a copy for yourself and your attorney and keep copies of all the notes and photographs you have taken.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?
You have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim. If someone is severely injured in a car accident and dies weeks later or even months after the accident, and the accident was the primary cause of their death, family members can file a lawsuit two years from the day of their death.
Does Filing a Crash Report With the Police Help With the Insurance Claims Process?
Yes. Whether the police filed a report or you file a form AA-600 on your own, having a crash report helps with insurance claims.
Pennsylvania is a state with “choice” no-fault insurance. When you purchase car insurance, you can choose between full tort or limited tort. You must make this choice when you purchase your insurance – you cannot change your mind after an accident has occurred. If you choose no-fault coverage or limited tort, which is a less expensive option, your own car insurance company and not the other driver’s car insurance company will pay for any damages to your car, your medical expenses and potentially lost wages.
However, under the limited tort no-fault option, you cannot sue for pain and suffering. Most experts recommend that you choose the full tort option, which is more expensive but can provide more benefits if you are ever in a serious accident.
The other important thing to know about insurance in Pennsylvania is that the state operates under a “modified comparative fault” law. If the case goes to trial, a jury or a judge needs to decide on two things — the dollar amount of damages that should be awarded to the plaintiff and the percentage of responsibility for the accident that lies with each party.
Suppose that the court awards you $50,000 in damages. If the jury also decides that you are 20% responsible for the accident, 20% of that $50,000 will be deducted from your payout, which means you will receive only $40,000.
Anyone who is responsible for more than 50% of a car accident cannot file for any damages in Pennsylvania.
This is where the police crash report or the crash report you file becomes critical. A police report will help determine how much each party is responsible for the accident. Your attorney can use the police report when negotiating with your insurance company for benefits for medical care and lost wages. While police reports are not admissible as evidence, if your claim goes to court, it can provide valuable information that your attorney can use when building your case. For instance, it makes it easier to find any witnesses to the accident who may be able to testify about what they saw happen.
What Happens If You Do Not File a Police Crash Report?
If the accident is a minor one, as noted above, you do not need to file a police report.
Filing a crash report, however, protects you against having other drivers involved in the accident file a claim against you and exaggerate their injuries or damages. And if your insurance company requires that you file crash reports on any accident, filing a crash report with the police means your coverage will not be voided.
Is It Important to Have a Lawyer After a Car Accident?
While it is not necessary, hiring an experienced car accident lawyer makes a lot of sense. Even after a minor car accident, you can still develop serious injuries or your car can show extensive damage. Filing a crash report with the police helps, but an experienced car accident attorney can take that crash report and use it to help you get the benefits you deserve.
If you are not happy with any financial settlement offered to you by an insurance company, then an experienced car accident attorney is essential. Additionally, you should never say yes to the first offer — insurance companies are notorious for sending adjusters to the scene of an accident to try to get drivers to agree to a settlement while they are in an unsettled condition.
Insurance company adjusters deal with car accidents daily. It is their job. And that job means they want to pay you as little as they possibly can. An experienced car accident attorney will know all the tricks that they may try to pull and how you can avoid them and get the benefits to which you are entitled.
If you have been in a more serious accident and are still recovering from your injuries, it may be difficult for you to pull together the information and meet all filing deadlines involved with your insurance claim. An experienced car accident attorney can help find and interview any witnesses and make sure all claims get filed on time.
Let KBG Injury Law Help You With Your Car Insurance Claim
When you been in a car accident, no matter how minor, you may end up with injuries or damages to your car that were not apparent during the initial accident. The experienced car accident lawyers at KBG Injury Law can help you negotiate your way through the car insurance claim process so that you will receive all the benefits to which you are legally entitled. We know how much this can matter to our clients who been injured in a car accident or who may rely on their vehicle for necessary transportation.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, call us at 1-800-509-1011 or contact usto schedule a free consultation with a qualified lawyer. Leave us the details about your accident and how we can get in touch with you and one of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.