According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 10 million car collisions every year. Ten million! So, you can imagine that, as a Denver accident attorney, I get asked questions about car and motorcycle accidents all the time. One of the most frequent questions I get is this: “Do I need to call the police after a minor accident?”
My first thought is, “What’s a minor car accident?” With the value of today’s cars, a minor fender-bender can amount to thousands of dollars of damage. I have a friend who bumped a tree with her brand new car and, because of the location of the hit, the body shop had to replace the whole front end cover and multiple sensors, which are like the car’s brain. That bump cost $7,000!
Unless you’re riding around in a Gremlin, I’d question whether a minor accident is really all that minor.
But still… I get it. If the accident seems minor, why waste your precious time calling police and waiting around? Especially if the other person seems as cordial and conciliatory as you are. Just exchange information and let the insurance companies battle it out, right?
Wrong. And this is especially true if the other driver hit you! You need to immediately start thinking of this as a financial transaction with thousands of dollars on the line.
If you were hit by another driver – even if the damage is minor – you should call the police.
This article shares important information about when to call the police after an accident.
When Am I Required by Law to Call the Police After an Accident?
In Colorado, drivers are legally required to file an accident report for ANY accident. Sometimes, though, you can file your accident report online rather than calling police to the scene. However, if one of the following is true, you must call the police from the scene:
- Someone is injured
- The accident is a hit and run
- Public property was damaged
- Someone is under the influence
If any of the above are true for your accident, you should call 911 immediately.
Now, while this information tells you about the few times that you are required by law to call the police to an accident scene, I’ll tell you why you should always call the police to the scene of an accident.
When the other driver pulls away, his or her head is full of fear and wondering if they might just get away with a small lie…
They Say/You Say
Consider this story from USNews.com:
JaeMi Pennington, a publicist relations specialist in Boston, was driving in Providence, R.I., last October when he was in an accident. He was at a stoplight, and a car in front of him that was trying to make space for another vehicle backed up – into Pennington’s 2007 Acura, causing about $1,500 worth of damage.
Pennington exchanged insurance information with the other driver. He also tried to flag down a police officer directing traffic. The officer said he was too busy to help, so it’s understandable that Pennington didn’t call 911 and request another officer to come in – but he wishes he had.
The fender bender happened on a Friday. Pennington and the driver left on a civil and pleasant note, and he was sure everything would work out fine. But Monday morning, when he filed his claim, his insurance company asked if a report had been filed. Pennington said no, and was told, “In that case, it’s going to turn into your word against his.”
Sure enough, the other driver argued that Pennington’s car rolled forward at the traffic light as his car was backing up.
“Even if it’s just a couple of scratches, you’ve got to file a police report. Otherwise, you’re giving room for people to be dishonest,” says Pennington.
I can’t tell you how many times people call my law firm for help with a case because they are in the exact same situation. At the time of their accident, calling the police seemed like a waste of time, especially since the other driver was taking full blame and sharing his insurance information so readily.
But remember that when the other driver pulls away, his or her head is full of fear, wondering how much their insurance will go up, how much it’s going to cost them out of pocket, and wondering if they might just get away with a small, white lie… at your expense. Even model citizens can be tempted to the dark side in this situation.
I’ve even heard that some people have been coached by their insurance company to lie about their fault in an accident! (I’m telling you, insurance companies will do anything to protect their assets.)
So, yes, you should always call the police from the scene of your accident. Don’t give the at-fault driver any wiggle room when it comes to paying for the damage they caused to your car.
And while I’m at it, let me remind you…
- To take pictures of your car, the other driver’s car and the entire scene of the accident.
- If there are witnesses, get their names and numbers, as well.
You might be embarrassed, thinking that you’re going overboard for such a minor accident, but what if you take your car to the shop and discover that the minor damage amounts to $2,000. Not so minor.
Don’t ever accept cash on the spot for what you think is minor damage.
Never, Ever Agree Not to Report an Accident to the Police
We are a society of do-gooders. I have met with dozens of empathetic, caring drivers who say, “I didn’t report the accident because I felt so bad for the other driver.” Whether it’s a teenage driver, an elderly person, a person who is obviously down on their financial luck, you can’t get so wrapped up in the other driver’s concerns that you neglect your own well-being!
Additionally, don’t ever accept cash on the spot for what you think is minor damage, and don’t ever state that the accident was too insignificant to report; you’re not a mechanic or body expert and you don’t know what you’ll find after the fact.
What to do During an Accident Alert
Now, despite all my pleas above to urge you to call police to the scene of any and every accident, there is one time in Colorado when you might have to skip that step.
In Colorado, we are used to surprising weather that brings difficult road conditions. Often, when the roads are particularly bad, police will announce an Accident Alert, which basically means that conditions are so bad and there are so many emergencies that police will be unable to respond to every crash.
When there is an Accident Alert in your area and if you’ve been in an accident, you must do the following:
- All drivers involved must exchange their name, driver’s license information, vehicle registration information and proof of insurance information.
- File a report as soon as possible by reporting the crash to your local district police station or calling 911.
However, just as I mentioned earlier, even during an Accident Alert, there are some accident scenes that police will always respond to: accidents that have closed a street off, crashes involving injuries or a fatality, someone involved who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs, if someone flees the scene, if someone doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, or if there’s damage to public property.
If you have any questions about this article, contact me today: 303-388-5304.
Diminution of Value — When a vehicle has been damaged in an accident, resale value, not just repair costs, need to be considered in a settlement.
Someone Hit My Car: Whose Insurance do I Call? — Insurance companies not even your own, are NOT on your side.