Whether you drive in a leisurely coastal town or commute through a busy metropolitan area, you are rarely the only vehicle on the highway. Some of those nearby drivers follow you too closely. Others carelessly rush by in adjacent lanes.
They text and drive, become distracted, and commit negligent acts that cause accidents and injuries. While fault is often an issue, the other driver’s negligence sometimes leaves no room for doubt. Even when you believe that you did not cause the crash, you must still ask yourself an important question, “Do I call my insurance if it is not my fault?”
While reason often suggests that you should report your accident. Your instincts sometimes rationalize that your insurance company does not need to know. Even if you have never experienced post-accident insurance company backlash, you have likely heard tales from those who have.
They report leaving an accident scene believing it was not their fault, but their insurance company paid the other guy’s claim anyway. Their insurer hiked their premiums when they least expected it or issued a non-renewal.
When you sustain serious injuries in a car accident, you need someone who will provide legal guidance and protect your interests from day one. A seasoned car accident attorney addresses injury, liability, and damage issues on their client’s behalf. They help injured clients work through and resolve accident-related complications so they do not have to.
Call Your Insurance Company Even When It Is Not Your Fault
When you have an accident, you should report it to your insurer, even if you do not believe it is your fault. This should be your norm for several reasons.
Your Policy Requires It
Your insurance policy is a contract in which you and your insurer agree to comply with a long list of commitments. While not every Personal Auto Policy incorporates the same language, they all follow the same basic guidelines.
Policies include these and other coverage details.
- Who it insures
- What cars and circumstances it insures
- Where the insurance is valid
- When the coverage begins and ends
- What vehicles and cases the policy excludes
- Your duties after an accident.
Verisk (formerly Insurance Services Office) created the Personal Auto Policy form many insurers have used for decades. Their form set the standard for policy formats. It features consistent provisions and court-tested policy language. Although many insurance companies create their own branded personal auto policy versions, they retain the basic ISO policy format, modifying the language only slightly.
No matter what company underwrites your auto insurance policy, it includes provisions usually titled, Duties After An Accident Or Loss. This section explains that your insurer has no duty to pay you unless you comply with your responsibilities as an insured. The first item on the list requires you promptly notify your insurance company “how, when, and where the accident or loss happened.”
Sometimes At-Fault Drivers Change Their Minds
A driver often becomes brutally honest during a post-crash adrenaline rush. They sometimes admit that they caused an accident. They hand over their insurance card and apologize sincerely. Sadly, when that same repentant driver gets in their car and drives away, they sometimes rethink the accident and change their mind.
When the other party accepts responsibility for your accident, you drive away believing you resolved any liability questions. You decide that you do not have to report your claim to your insurance company the other person’s insurer will take care of everything so you do not. You must consider that by the time the other driver reports a claim, they might tell a different story.
People change their accident versions for several reasons.
- They contemplate a future insurance rate increase.
- They worry about their parents’ reactions if they are a youthful driver.
- A chronically bad driver often thinks about the DMV adding another point to their license.
- Some people obsess over having to pay their collision deductible.
Any of these circumstances can encourage an at-fault driver to change their story. It does not always happen immediately, but often a negligent driver begins crafting a new version before they report their claim.
Insurance Companies Do Not Like Surprises
An auto insurer never wants a lawsuit, subrogation claim, repair bill, or an attorney’s letter of representation as their first notice of an accident. This sometimes happens when an insured decides they are not at fault. They do not report their accident because they are dealing with the other driver’s insurer, but sometimes a claim experience does not move forward as anticipated. Sometimes the other driver’s insurer does not offer enough or denies liability and refuses to pay any of your claims. Sometimes it turns out that the other driver did not have insurance at all.
When you are involved in a car crash, insurers want to control the situation as much as possible. This is particularly true if any driver or passenger sustains severe injuries. The insurer wants to investigate your claim and assess liability. They must comply with a legal requirement that they establish a claim reserve. That is the process where an insurer projects future claim payments and sets aside money to pay them.
Insurers make liability decisions and issue payments on your behalf. They will not pay your first-party claims if you do not want them to, but they need an idea about the potential for all future losses.
Insurers Want to Know What Type of Claims to Expect
When you become a party to an insurance contract, your insurance company agrees to keep its commitments to you. Personal Auto Policy Insuring Agreements make certain promises.
When an insured does not tell them about an accident, the insurer decides if they must keep their commitments.
- Pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which an insured become legally liable.
- Pay a collision claim if you purchased physical damage coverage for their car.
- Pay prejudgment interest if a jury or judge awards it against you.
- Pay all the insurer’s defense costs when defending you (until they pay your liability limits).
- Settle with someone you hurt up to your limitation of liability.
- Pay your medical bills if you purchased Medical Payments coverage.
- Pay uninsured bodily injury damages or underinsured BI damages if appropriate and if you purchased UM/UIM coverage.
Fault Is a Complicated Concept
Drivers usually take a position on fault immediately following a crash, but sometimes they get it wrong. Even if you do not believe you caused the accident, there is always a possibility that your attorney, an insurer, a judge, or a jury might see it differently. Your insurer wants to make their decisions as soon as possible. They do not want the legal system to take over their decision-making process.
Whatever you believe about fault, the other driver might decide that you caused the accident. Even if the other driver’s insurer pays for his vehicle damages, they usually have a right to recover that money from you. If the other person or their passengers sustained injuries, they also expect to recover compensation for those damages.
Each State Has Different Guidelines for Determining Fault
You might sincerely believe that the other driver is 100 percent at fault, but accidents rarely happen that way. State statutes, case law, court rules, and statutory defenses acknowledge that more than one person can share responsibility for an accident. These legal guidelines come into play during your insurance company’s decision-making process.
Car accident attorneys, judges, juries, arbitrators, and other parties address negligence issues when negotiating, mediating, arbitrating, or trying a case. As a policyholder, you have no reason or obligation to understand these concepts.
When you report an auto accident, the insurer reviews the information and determines fault based on your state’s negligence guidelines.
- Pure contributory negligence: This statutory defense prevents drivers from recovering damages if they are one percent negligent or more. This guideline applies to Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D. C., accidents.
- Pure comparative fault: The person analyzing liability determines a negligence percentage for each driver. A driver has a right to recover damages even if they are 99 percent responsible for an accident. This applies to accidents in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.
- Modified comparative fault: A negligent person recovers damages if their negligence percentage does not exceed 50 or 51 percent, depending on the jurisdiction. Once they exceed this percentage, they lose their right to recover damages.
- The 50 percent rule applies to accidents in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
- The 51 percent rule applies to accidents in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
- Slight/gross negligence comparative fault: The insurer compares the driver’s negligence. They pay damages only if one driver was slightly negligent and the other was grossly negligent. This applies only to accidents in South Dakota.
No insurer expects you to recognize or consider the ramifications of your state’s negligence guidelines. They just want you to turn in your claim so they can decide on your behalf.
What About the Police Officer’s Investigative Report?
Determining fault is a legal issue that most police investigations do not address.
When they show up at an accident site, their tasks involve:
- Documenting the evidence.
- Diagramming the accident scene.
- Talking to witnesses.
- Confirming each driver’s version.
If warranted, they also test drivers for alcohol. Essentially, a police officer documents the facts.
Unless an officer witnesses an accident, their report is an opinion based on evidence. Insurance companies and car accident attorneys understand this when investigating crashes and analyzing liability. Laws like California’s Vehicle Code, Division 10: Accidents and Accident Reports: §20013, prohibit police reports from becoming an issue. They prevent anyone from presenting a police report as evidence at a trial.
What Will Your Insurance Carrier Do if You Delay Reporting Your Accident?
If you do not report your claim when you should, your insurer will not automatically decline your coverage. Their actions depend largely on the circumstances. If your claim involves significant injuries or your delay prevents them from adequately investigating, evaluating, and reserving the claim, they may take action.
If your delay consequentially jeopardizes their ability to protect your legal rights (you let a lawsuit go into default, the other driver has severe injuries, etc.), an insurance company considers taking action to protect their rights.
- Reservation of rights letter: Even when an insurer feels their insured prejudiced their case, they still need to understand their potential exposure. A reservation of rights letter explains to an insured that the insurer will continue to investigate their claim, but they reserve the right to deny coverage later. By notifying an insured of their course of action, an insurer can continue their investigation while minimizing the expectation that they will pay the claim.
- Declination of coverage/claim denial: Sometimes, an insurer decides that an insured’s actions jeopardized a case so much they refuse to provide coverage. When appropriate, they decline coverage to the insured. If the insurer is considering paying a third-party claim, they inform the other parties that they will not pay because their insured’s coverage is no longer valid.
- Declaratory judgment lawsuit: Sometimes, an insured’s inaction gravely jeopardizes the insurer’s rights. When this happens, they sometimes file a lawsuit asking for a declaratory judgment. A court looks at the evidence, evaluates the policy, and decides whether the insurer must honor the claim.
Sometimes an Insurer Pays the Claim Anyway
Insurers do not like delayed accident reports. They also prefer not to become involved in court battles with their insured. Often, they simply work their way through the difficult issues and pay the claims anyway.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney Today
If you have sustained major injuries in an accident and it is not your fault, you need a car accident injury attorney who offers unique solutions for resolving your claims. When you work with an attorney, they protect your legal rights and provide critical guidance and legal advice. When appropriate, they interact with your insurer, review any coverage issues, and take steps to recover compensation on your behalf.
When you schedule a case review, you can talk to a lawyer about your accident, ask questions, and discuss your legal options. You decide when you are ready to move forward with your claim.