What to Do After a Minor Car Accident: Reporting the Crash and Proving Fault

Minor car accidents happen every day across the country. Here’s what to do after a fender-bender to protect your health and finances.

Sooner or later you’ll be driving along and someone will hit your car. The average American can expect to be in three or four car accidents in their lifetime.¹

Fender-benders are the most common car accidents, usually involving vehicle damages and no reported injuries. Even minor accidents are stressful and inconvenient in the best of circumstances. Don’t let a minor accident turn into an expensive, time-consuming nightmare.

Promptly reporting the collision and taking steps to prove the other driver’s fault can save you time, money, and further aggravation.

What To Do After a Minor Car Accident:

  1. Safety First at the Scene of the Accident
  2. Protect Yourself by Reporting Fender Benders
  3. Collect Evidence to Support Your Insurance Claim
  4. File Property Damage and Bodily Injury Claims

1. Safety First at the Scene of the Accident

When a car accident happens, even a minor accident, you may be momentarily stunned by the impact. Then your heart starts racing and frustration sets in. After all, it’s never a good time to be in an accident.

If it’s a fender-bender, there’s a good chance no one is hurt. That’s great, but the situation is still inconvenient and annoying. Save yourself from additional trouble by staying calm, and taking control of your situation.

Safety First: Unless you’re already in a relatively safe place, like a parking lot, move your car to the side of the road. Stop and put on your hazard lights.

Look for the car that hit you. Pay attention to the color, make and model, and the license plate number, just in case the other driver runs.

Call 911: Even if you think the accident was a few dents with no injuries, call the police. This is non-negotiable, so don’t let the other driver try to talk you out of calling the cops or involving the insurance company.

Give the dispatcher your location. If you aren’t sure if you are hurt, ask for medical help. Tell the dispatcher if there are any dangers, like leaking fuel, or if traffic is blocked by the accident.

Medical Care:  Don’t refuse medical care at the scene. You could be seriously injured and not realize it. Shock and anger can mask symptoms. Don’t tell anyone you’re “fine” or “just shaken up.”

If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital from the scene, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible, preferably the same day. See your doctor or go to the nearest emergency department or urgent care center.

Remember, not all injuries are obvious. Some injuries, like whiplash and brain injuries, may not show symptoms for several hours or even days. Don’t worry about payment for medical care after an accident, you can get reimbursed.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can result in your claim being denied. You’ll be giving the insurance company a reason to argue your injuries weren’t caused by the crash.

What You Say and Do Can Be Used Against You

Keep your cool. Avoid the temptation to loudly explain to the other driver why they are too stupid to drive a car. Abusive language or threatening behavior can influence witnesses against you.

On the other hand, if the other driver aggressively comes after you, stay in your car with the windows rolled up, grab your smartphone and start recording a video of the driver’s outburst. Backing away doesn’t make you a wimp, it means you’re in control.

Be careful what you say. Whether you think you’re at fault or not, don’t apologize. Don’t make excuses for what happened, like “I didn’t see you.” Apologizing or making excuses can be used as admissions against interest to help prove you are at fault for the crash.

2. Protect Yourself by Reporting Fender Benders

Minor car accidents typically cause only minor dents and dings to your car. If no one was injured, you might be tempted to leave the police and insurance companies out of it. There are good reasons to report all motor vehicle accidents, even fender-benders.

You might be worried your insurance rates will go up. However, even a seemingly minor collision can cost you plenty down the road if you aren’t careful.

Notify Local Law Enforcement

Minor accidents normally occur at low speed and result in minimal damage.

Most minor accidents are caused by:

  • Drivers backing out of parking spaces or driveways
  • Slippery roads from weather conditions
  • Distracted drivers
  • Rear-end collisions in slow-moving traffic

It’s important to report the accident to local police. Even if you suspect the collision was your fault, it benefits you to notify the police. Most states require drivers to notify police for minor auto accidents, depending on the estimated amount of vehicle damage.

In larger metro areas, the police might not respond to accidents without reported injuries or hazards. Still, you need to have an official record of the accident, even if it’s just a record of your call to the police.

Why You Should Notify Your Insurance Company

Even if the accident was your fault, you’re better off telling your own insurance company. In fact, you are probably obligated to notify them.

Nearly every auto insurance policy contains a “notification and cooperation” clause. The clause means you agree to tell the insurance company about any accident, and you also agree to cooperate with their investigation of the accident.

The notification clause looks something like this:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

Your insurance company needs to hear about the accident from you. If someone from the other car hires a lawyer, you can bet they will be contacting your insurance company with a demand for money. Your insurer would be at a big disadvantage if you hadn’t already told them about the crash.

Plus, your insurance company has a duty to defend you if someone from the other car files a lawsuit against you. You might lose that protection if you violate the notice clause.

In a no-fault insurance state, your medical bills will be paid under your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, no matter who caused the collision. Otherwise, you’ll file an injury claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Car repairs aren’t covered by no-fault insurance. You may use your collision coverage, subject to a deductible, or make a claim against the other driver’s insurance company.

3. Collect Evidence to Support Your Insurance Claim

It’s up to you to convince the other driver’s insurance company that their insured is solely responsible for the accident. To do this you’ll need evidence.

Types of evidence you should collect after a minor car accident:

Driver Information: Whether the police or security personnel are on the scene or not, make sure you exchange information, including contact and insurance information with the other driver. Write down the driver’s full name, contact information, and the name and phone number of the driver’s insurance company.

Many states require drivers to produce their driver’s license when asked. Allow the other driver to write down your driver’s license number. It would help if you did the same.

Vehicle Information: You’ll need the other vehicle’s color, make, model, and year. Write down the car’s license plate number, and a description of the damages you can see.

Photographs and Videos: Use your cell phone to take photographs and videos of the accident scene, the cars, and the point of impact. If you see any beer cans or other open bottles of alcohol, photograph them. If the police or security personnel respond, be sure to bring it to their attention.

If the driver takes a field sobriety test, photograph or video the test as it happens, unless the police instruct you to stop filming.

Witnesses: Even though it’s a minor car accident, witness statements can be powerful evidence of the other driver’s fault. Witness testimony can also help your insurance company defend you if someone from the other car comes back with exaggerated injury claims.

If the witness agrees, ask them to write down their contact information and a brief statement of what they saw.  Have them sign and date their written statement.

Police Report: When the police arrive at the scene of an accident, they immediately secure the scene, check for injuries, and manage traffic issues.

In most cases, a police officer will investigate the crash and prepare a formal police accident report. The police report will include information on the drivers and passengers, insurance policy numbers, a diagram of the scene, citations issued, and the officer’s opinion of fault.

Police reports heavily influence insurance adjusters. Contact the responding police department to request a copy of the report within a week or two of the accident.

Incident Report: Many fender-benders occur in parking lots. Large shopping centers and malls may have security guards who will write up an incident report. While it won’t have the weight of a police report, a copy of the incident report will at least prove the date and location of the accident.

4. File Property Damage and Bodily Injury Claims

When you file an accident claim with the other driver’s insurance provider, you’ll be given a claim number. You will refer to that number in all communications going forward. Your claim will be assigned to an adjuster, who will work with you throughout the claims process.

The insurance company will want proof of the other driver’s fault in the accident. The circumstances of the accident and the evidence you’ve gathered, including the official police report, should be enough to convince the claims adjuster to accept your claim.

Property Damage Claims

The at-fault driver’s insurer should pay for your motor vehicle damage even if you live in a no-fault state.

Unless there is a serious dispute over who caused the accident, your property damage claim should be resolved quickly by the claims adjuster.

You have the right to ask for:

  • A rental car while your vehicle is in in the shop
  • Repairs to be made with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts
  • Compensation for personal property lost in the crash, like the groceries you had in the trunk

Personal Injury Claims

Most minor car accident claims can be handled directly with the insurance company, without the need for an attorney. You won’t need an attorney to get your car repaired.

Most soft-tissue injury claims can also be settled directly with the insurance company for a fair amount.

If you’ve completely recovered from soft-tissue injuries like bruises, small cuts, or muscle sprains, total the cost of your medical bills and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering to come up with your expected compensation.

Serious Injuries from Minor Accidents

Minor car accidents typically happen at low speed, with low impact, and don’t cause major injuries. However, sometimes serious, hard injuries happen from low-impact automobile accidents. For example, senior citizens and people with pre-existing conditions are more likely to be seriously injured by a fender bender.

Medically fragile individuals are entitled to full injury compensation for their medical expenses and other damages, even if a healthier person wouldn’t have been injured in the crash.

If you’ve suffered hard injuries like complicated whiplash, nerve damage, or head injuries in a low-impact collision, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to get fair compensation.

Insurance companies are only interested in their profit, not your pain and suffering. They’d rather spend money on an expert who says you can’t get hurt at that speed than compensate you for a life-changing injury.

You don’t have to settle for less. Find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.

Minor Car Accident Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>