Minor fender bender, no police report: Are you in legal danger?
With some auto collisions, you know that you have to call the police for them to investigate the scene and file a report. But what about minor fender benders? No one got hurt. The damage is minimal. Do you put yourself in legal danger by deciding to go on your way without getting a police report?
Unfortunately, there are many cases where even a minor fender-bender can cause serious problems for you - legal and otherwise - if you don’t have a police report to protect you. Consider how the following scenarios might play out.
An Insurance Company Refuses to Pay Without a Report
If you have an insurance plan with a very low deductible, then you probably expect the insurance company to pay for most of your vehicle’s damages. That might not happen unless you have a police report.
Some insurance companies require a copy of the police report so they can determine who’s at fault. When you can’t produce a police report, then you’re stuck paying for the repairs on your own. It’s hardly fair, but it happens.
At this point, you’re not in legal danger. But you could lose quite a bit of money.
The Vehicle Damage is Worse Than You Thought
It’s not the end of the world when you have to pay for minor repairs out of your own pocket. What happens, though, when a mechanic discovers more damage than you knew about? What seems like a minor fender bender at the time could have caused unseen damage to your suspension, alignment, exhaust, engine, transmission, or electrical system.
Suddenly, you’re facing thousands of dollars in repairs instead of the hundred or so that you expected.
Will your insurance company pay for the damage that the mechanic discovers? If you have a police report, then you don’t need to worry about it. But if you don’t, most insurers will balk. Even if you eventually convince them to pay, you might have to spend hours on the phone talking to customer service employees and managers before you get the money you need.
Again, you don’t face any legal worries in this scenario. But you should prepare to spend a lot of money on damages that you didn’t expect.
You Discover Injuries After the Collision
Minor fender benders can cause painful injuries that you don’t feel for a day or two after the collision. Tomorrow morning, you might wake up with a sore, stiff neck or back. You felt fine the night before, but now you’re in agony.
In most cases, whiplash goes away within a few days. Some people, though, have symptoms for a year or longer. After a few days of intense pain, decreased range of motion, muscle spasms, and headaches, you’ll go to the doctor for treatment.
Now for the important question: who pays for the diagnosis and treatment?
Without a police report, you don’t have any proof that you were involved in an accident. Will your insurance company pay for medical services when it doesn’t know that a collision caused your pain?
If it doesn’t pay, then you will have to cover a bill that could include services like X-rays and MRI scans. Those things are not cheap.
You don’t face legal danger in this situation, but you could get into a legal battle with your insurance company. Whether or not this becomes a problem largely depends on the extent of your injuries and how much your treatments cost.
Someone Else Claims Injuries After the Fender Bender
What if someone in the other vehicle claims that they were injured in the accident? The person has talked to their insurance company, and the company wants your insurance to cover the medical expenses.
Now, you’re looking at legal danger that could haunt you for years.
You don’t know what medical problems the other person will claim. And you don’t know how much treatments will cost. The person may say that the accident caused serious back trauma that requires expensive surgery.
Here’s where things get even more complicated. Your insurance company may not want to pay the other person’s claim because it doesn’t have proof that a collision ever happened. Even if you weren’t at fault in the accident, how will your insurer protect you?
A police report would contain those details. Unfortunately, you didn’t get a police report. If the injured person wants to, they could take you to court to get the medical bills paid. You might win the case, but you’ll still have to pay a lawyer.
In many cases, filing a police report can feel excessive. And it’s true that you may not actually end up needing to use it. But the cases in which you do need a police report are very serious, and very high-stakes. That’s why it’s virtually always a good decision to file a police report after an accident. In other words, better safe than sorry!