If you’ve had a car accident in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington, you may be wondering what your legal obligations are for reporting the accident. Do you have to report a minor fender bender? Who do you call to report a major car accident other than your initial 911 call for emergency services?
Washington has several laws in place for reporting car accidents and the state may require you to make several phone calls or online reports during the days after an accident or as soon as you are physically able.
The immediate aftermath of an accident can be traumatic and often chaotic. You may be injured and in pain and may be unable to leave your vehicle or even reach your phone in which case you should remain immobile and wait for help to arrive. If you are able to move safely without injuring yourself further, leave the vehicle and move to the shoulder of the road and out of traffic. Then call 911 to report the accident to the police.
If no one is injured, the damage is very minor, appears to be under $1,000, and both parties in the accident agree, it is not necessary to report the accident to the police. However, you should always collect the contact information of the other driver(s) and give them your own information. You should also report the fender bender to your insurance company if your car has any minor damage you wish repaired, or if the other vehicle has any minor damage and you were at fault in the accident.
After even a minor fender bender, if the damage appears that it could cost $1,000 or more, you have 4 days to report the accident through a Motor Vehicle Collision Report. If anyone is hurt or the damage appears extensive enough to cost $1,000 or more to repair, you should call the police immediately and let law enforcement file the report. By failing to report an accident with injuries or over $1,000 in property damages you could face legal consequences including a suspended driver’s license.
For most insurance policy requirements, you’re required to report a car accident within 24 to 48 hours. Since different policies may have different requirements, make sure you’re familiar with your own company’s policy on this issue. Remember, this doesn’t mean you have to wait 24 to 48 hours to make the report. You can call your insurance company as soon as possible to alert them to your upcoming claim.
When the other party in the accident was at fault, they may reach out to your very soon after the accident. It’s important to not answer questions about your accident until after you’ve retained a Seattle car accident attorney. Insurance companies are not on your side no matter how friendly and sympathetic they might sound. They can use your words out of context against you later even if you make simple statements such as:
Insurance adjusters are hired by companies to find ways to minimize your payout or to deny it completely and are trained to listen for statements they can use as admissions of fault or to undervalue your injuries and claim you don’t really require the medical treatment your doctor says you need.
Washington places a 3-year statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit for damages you’ve experienced from your car accident but typically, the sooner you file the claim the more fresh, available, and reliable you and your attorney will find the evidence.
If you have any questions about the legal requirements of reporting a car accident, call your attorney to understand your rights and obligations under Washington law.
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