Should You Report Minor Car Accidents in West Virginia?
Imagine you are driving through the parking lot at Charleston Town Center Mall. You finally see an open spot ahead and excitedly head towards it when, out of nowhere, BAM! Another driver, backing out of a space, hits you.
Because both you and the other driver were moving at slow speeds, the accident appears to result in no injuries and little to no damage to either car. It's a classic "fender bender."
Should you report this motor vehicle accident to the police and/or your insurance company?
Your initial reaction may be to say, "No." You would not be alone.
Many people do not report these types of car crashes. They may be in a hurry to get somewhere and don't want to wait for the police to show up and complete a report. They may want to avoid making a claim and see their insurance rates go up. Or the other driver may seem to be a nice, reasonable person. They believe they can just "work it out" without having to report anything. However, none of those are good reasons. Learn more about the car wreck claim process.
Instead, you should report any accident in West Virginia that involves you and another driver. Here are five good reasons why:
1. West Virginia law may require you to file a report.
Under West Virginia traffic accident law, you must report to law enforcement any crash that results in:
- Injury to or the death of another person, or
- Total property damage to an "apparent extent" of $1,000 or more.
The law requires you to notify law enforcement "immediately by the quickest means of communication." You must call the local police if you are in a municipality. Otherwise, you must call the county sheriff or highway patrol.
If you fail to comply with this law, you face being charged with a misdemeanor that carries up to a $100 fine, as many as 10 days in prison or both.
The problem is that you may not really know whether an accident - minor as it may seem - has crossed the injury or damage reporting threshold. You are not a doctor. You are not an auto mechanic. The safest thing to do is to simply report it. The time it takes to complete the report will be well worth it.
2. You may not realize the true extent of your injuries and car damage.
Hitting another car - even at a slow speed - can put you in shock. Your adrenaline may be pumping, and your heart may be racing. You may be confused and unaware of the fact that you have, in fact, suffered a serious injury or majorly damaged your vehicle.
A few days after the accident, you may go to the doctor and learn that you suffered a lower back injury, organ damage, head or brain injury or soft tissue injury such as whiplash. You may also discover that the crash caused a fluid leak, knocked your wheels out of alignment or resulted in some other car damage.
According to Consumer Reports, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a study in which it staged a series of low-speed crashes. In one 10 mph crash involving a 2010 Toyota RAV4 and a 2010 Toyota Corolla, neither vehicle had any visible damage. However, as it turned out, they ended up needing a combined $9,800 in repairs.
As you can see, there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to car accidents.
If you failed to report your crash to the police, you would have no record of the incident, making it difficult (if not impossible) to file a motor vehicle accident claim with the other driver's auto insurance company or your own insurer. You could be on the hook for paying all of the medical expenses and car repairs that arise from the crash.
3. You want a law enforcement officer at the scene.
Even after a minor auto accident, it will be good for you to have a police officer at the scene.
The officer can protect you in case the other driver gets angry and potentially violent, or if the two of you get into a dispute about who is at fault.
The officer can also observe the vehicles, examine skid marks and other evidence and interview both you and the other driver. The officer can then prepare a report that can serve as an objective assessment of what occurred.
You can request a copy of this report by going to the West Virginia State Police website, and you can use this report later on if you decide to file an injury or property damage claim.
4. Your insurance company may find out and raise your rates.
As we stated above, many people do not want to report a minor vehicle accident to their insurance company because they don't want their insurance rates to increase. However, the failure to report the crash may still cost them in the long run.
Many auto insurance policies require you to give notice of any accident - even a minor one. What happens if the other driver changes his or her mind after a crash and files a claim with your insurer? What happens if the insurer checks your driving record when renewing your policy and sees you were in an accident or that you received a traffic citation in a crash?
The reality is that if you fail to report your accident, and the insurance company learns about it, then it could result in your premium rates going up anyway. Don't run that risk.
5. Bottom line: You should never trust a stranger.
The other driver involved in your crash may seem to be an honest person. The driver may give you contact information and say that he or she will pay for any medical bills or car repairs you need. The driver may also say that he or she will not contact the police or your insurance company.
The bottom line is that you have no idea if the other driver is sincere. The contact information may be false. The driver may refuse to pay for anything when you contact him or her at a later date. The driver may end up reporting the accident to police or filing a claim with your insurer.
Never trust a stranger after a car wreck. Instead, trust us when we say that the best thing to do is to report your accident to law enforcement and to your insurance company. It will give you peace of mind and, above all, protect your rights and interests in the long run.
Car Crash Attorneys in Charleston, West Virginia
If you have any questions about what you should do after a car crash, please see our Car Accident Checklist or simply give us a call or reach us online. The lawyers of Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC, would be glad to review your crash and help you to understand your legal rights and options as you move forward.