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What happens if there is no police report for an accident?

UPDATED: May 29, 2020

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What you need to know...

  • There are approximately six million car crashes in the U.S. each year
  • In many cases insurance claims can proceed without a police report
  • All states require drivers to exchange information after an accident
  • Often injuries do not become apparent until days or weeks after an accident

No Police Report for an Accident

If there is no police report for an accident, remember, it's your word against theirs. Sometimes, however, like in minor car accident cases, police officers don't always come to the accident scene, especially when there are no injuries.

If you have experienced a car accident, regardless of how minor it seems, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney. Enter your ZIP code above to find an attorney that can help you after a car accident. Click here to learn more.

Do I need a police report after an accident?

Car accidents happen every day. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately six million car crashes in the U.S. alone each year.

Annual Motor Vehicle Crashes in the U.S. 2011-2016

Whether you need a police report after an accident largely depends on the the state in which you live. Many states require you to report any accident that involves an injury. Even for accidents involving only vehicle damage, some states still require drivers to report the accident if the damage is over a certain amount, typically $1,000 or $2,500. Notwithstanding the legal requirements, it may be in your best interest to file a police report, regardless of the damages.

Watch this video to learn the difference between an information exchange document and an accident report:

Can I file a car insurance claim with no police report?

After a car accident, insurance companies often want to know who was at fault to determine whose insurance is responsible for covering damages.

Police reports can provide helpful evidence of fault. They often include the officer's opinion of what caused the accident, and whether a driver was issued a ticket at the scene of the accident. All of these details can be used by insurance companies when determining fault.

Despite not having a police report, insurance claims can proceed under most circumstances. The fact of the matter is, the accident still happened, regardless of whether or not there's a police report. So yes, you can still file a car insurance claim to get compensation with no police report.

Furthermore, you can sue or be sued over a car accident without a police report. Even if the at-fault driver of a car accident denies liability, you still have the legal right to pursue and collect a settlement for your injuries, as long as that driver's negligence caused the crash.

Although not every state requires a police report after an accident, every state requires drivers to exchange information at the scene of the accident, such as contact and insurance information.

If the other driver is uncooperative, or if you have reason to believe the other driver doesn't have insurance, you should request the involvement of law enforcement at the accident scene to help you obtain this information.

What happens if you don't exchange information after an accident?

If you forgot to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver before they drove away, or if they drove away without offering this information (also known as a hit-and-run), it is crucial that you call law enforcement and get a police report. Make sure you ask for a copy of the report, as you may need it when filing your claim.

Write down everything you can remember about the vehicle, including things like the make and model, color, and license plate number if you were able to obtain it. Be as detailed as possible when noting the accident's location, as this will be helpful when speaking with law enforcement and the insurance company.

You must notify your insurance company of the accident, even if you don't have the other driver's insurance information. You should also inform them of who was at fault for the accident, even if it was you. Most insurance companies have a cooperation clause, which,  according to Investopedia, means that you need to tell them about any accident you're involved in and cooperate with any investigation they might initiate. Notifying them is also helpful in case the other driver somehow gets in touch with them. Your insurance company will be in a better position to help if they hear the details from you rather than being caught by surprise.

How long do I have to file a police report after a car accident?

You only have so many days to file a police report after a car accident. As AAA notes, the number of days is dependent upon where you live. In most cases, the drivers involved call the police from the scene of the accident, and the responding officers file a report. You don't have to file a report yourself if this occurs.

If you don't call the police from the scene of the accident, you should file a report with your local police department or the agency that has jurisdiction over the accident site.

Whether you're planning on filing a lawsuit or need to make an insurance claim for a car accident, time is of the essence. As the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University notes, this is known as the statute of limitations, any lawsuit arising from an accident or injury must be filed within a specific time frame, or the injured person's legal claim will be barred and their right to sue will be forever lost. Each state has a specific statute of limitations, requiring any personal injury suit be filed in court within a set time after the incident or injury.

Another reason to contact the police at the time of the accident is because of potential injuries. At the accident scene, or immediately after, you might believe you weren't injured. However, many injuries do not become apparent until days or weeks following the accident. If you don't immediately contact law enforcement to report the accident, and you discover at a later date that you were injured, the other driver might claim that the accident never occurred.

What To Do in a Minor Car Accident With No Damage

The police department may decline to respond to a minor accident scene if no one is hurt. However, it's still a good idea to make the call and let them decide.

Should the police choose not to come to the scene of the accident and you feel unsure about how to proceed, at the very least, you can ask the dispatcher for advice. In this case, no police report will be filed unless you go to the nearest police station and file one yourself.

Car accident cases are often complex. They can be even more complicated when there's no police report.

Having a personal injury attorney on your side after a car accident is crucial, whether you have a police report or not. They will be able to assist you in gathering all of the necessary information to strengthen your case.

If you've been in an accident, use our free tool below to get lawyer recommendations in your area.

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