It's never a good time to get into a car accident, whether you're on your way to work, driving home from a road trip with your family, or running errands. But regardless of who's at fault, you'll need to take care of a few things -- and relatively quickly -- following that fender bender (or worse). Of course, appropriate medical attention should be your first priority should you or any of your passengers suffer serious injuries. But you also may wonder how long you have to report a car accident to your insurer or even if it's necessary, how long you have to file a lawsuit (if it comes to that), and other timing-related issues.
Below, you will find general answers to these questions, including information about the statutes of limitations for accident claims and how soon certain actions should be taken following a car accident.
Should You Report a Car Accident?
There may be instances where you don't want to report it at all, but those are rare. For example, if you were to scrape your car door against a steel beam while backing out of a parking space, you probably wouldn't want to report it if the repair is estimated to cost the same or less than your insurance deductible. Also, your insurer may decide to raise your rates after such a report, especially if you have prior claims, although premium hikes are unpredictable. But even low-speed collisions with seemingly minor damage can sometimes cost more than $1,000 to fix, according to tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2008.
Just keep in mind that since you are liable for any damage caused to another party's property if it is your fault, even in a single-vehicle accident, you will want to contact your insurer after a car accident in most cases. You may also want to contact your insurance company even if it's not your fault, and also file a third-party claim with the other driver's insurance company.
How Long Do You Have to Report It?
The short answer is that you should report the accident as soon as you can, even at the scene if possible (most insurers have 24-hour accident claim hotlines and mobile apps for claims). If it's a single-vehicle accident and you're not even sure whether to call, you'll probably want to read through your policy and make an informed decision once you get home.
Many insurance companies require policyholders to make claims within a specified window of time after the accident has occurred, but these limits are not made public and are specific to each policy. If you are unsure, ask your insurance agent.
Car Accident Lawsuits and the Statute of Limitations
Lawsuits are the exception when dealing with a car accident, but sometimes are necessary if the insurance company fails to adequately cover your damages. But every state has strict time limits -- called the civil statute of limitations -- for filing a lawsuit. The time begins "tolling" on the day of the incident. Therefore, if you wait six months after an accident to file an insurance claim but then decide to sue, you're already six months into the statute of limitations.
States also have different time limits for different types of claims. In Illinois, for example, you have two years in which to file a personal injury claim but five years for "injury" to personal property (in this case, damage to your vehicle).
Involved in a Car Accident? Consider Speaking With an Attorney
Whether you're planning on filing a lawsuit or simply need to make an insurance claim for a car accident, time is of the essence. If you have additional questions about how long you have to report a car accident, or related matters, an injury attorney in your neighborhood will be able to help.
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.