We’ve all been there – being involved in a car accident can be a stressful experience, especially when you believe you are not at fault. One of the most difficult questions that arise after the wreck is whether it is necessary for the person who was NOT at fault to report the collision to their insurance company after a collision. This blog, authored by Gary Bruce and based on what we see at our law firm, addresses why reporting a collision is crucial—even if you are not at fault.

  1. Necessity of Reporting a Collision

So it’s simple: Regardless of fault, it is essential to report any car accident to your insurance company. And it is essential to do it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This initial step ensures that you comply with the terms of your insurance policy, which typically requires prompt reporting of any accident. Many policies require you to notify your insurer “as soon as practicable,” which is an ill-defined and confusing term but failure to report your accident ( and the potential need to utilize uninsured or UNDERINSURED motorists coverage) could jeopardize your coverage, leaving you vulnerable to unexpected liabilities and unable to make claims on your policy.  Think of reporting your wreck as “planting a flag pole” for any potential claim that may arise out of the collision.  You don’t have to use the coverage, but you do have to let them know there has been an event that might lead to claims – from you and others.

  1. Understanding Legal Obligations

When you purchase an insurance policy, you enter into a legally binding contract with your insurer that includes the obligation to report any incidents. This is a material term of the contract. Even if you think the other party is at fault, I can tell you from years of experience the other guy might see the situation differently, potentially leading to disputes. As you can probably guess, liability disputes are the number one reason insurance claims proceed to litigation, often unnecessarily.  Moreover, not reporting an accident can lead to severe consequences, such as the denial of coverage. For instance, a delay of nine months has been held to be an “unreasonable” delay barring coverage of an underinsured motorist claim under Georgia law. ( Alabama law is not as harsh as of this writing – but I suspect the movement is coming toward limiting claims what were not promptly reported)  It is not fair.  It is not defined – but it is a defense raised often by insurance company adjusters trying to deny a claim or reduce the payout.

  1. Steps to Take After an Accident

Here are some practical steps to take immediately following an accident:

  1. Ensure the safety of others by checking on all parties involved and moving to a safe location.
  2. Always call the police to report the accident, no matter how minor.
  3. Exchange information with the other driver, including names, contact details, and insurance information.
  4. Document the scene by taking photos and video of the vehicles, the location, and any relevant signs or signals. These will become very useful down the road.
  5. Notify your insurance company about the accident, even if you believe you are not at fault.
  6. If you have injuries, and you have uninsured motorists’ coverage, make sure to set up THAT claim as well for everyone in the auto.
  1. Real-Life Consequences in the Chattahoochee Valley

In Columbus and Phenix City, we’ve seen cases where failing to report an accident transformed a potential six figure claim into a situation where the insurance company denies coverage – it happens all the time.  Fortunately, when pushed, they usually have to acknowledge the law is not as clear as they want to believe, but it is a hurdle that no one needs to complicate a case.  In a notable case going on now, a client who did not report an accident immediately because they believed they were not at fault and did not realize they were injured.  It turned out that they did have a serious injury that developed over time. The delay resulted in their insurance company denying coverage for underinsured motorist benefits, significantly impacting and delaying their ability to recover damages.  This issue is not fair and should be reviewed by the Georgia Supreme Court – but for now, we are left with untested law which can be harmful to insureds who thought they had 2 years to make a claim.

Conclusion: Trust in Gary Bruce

With over 30 years of experience in the Chattahoochee Valley, the Law Offices of Gary Bruce have established a reputation for trust and effective legal representation, as evidenced by strong testimonials and online reviews. If you find yourself in a car accident, it is crucial to understand your obligations and rights. We are here to help guide you through the process and ensure your interests are protected. For more insights and a free consultation, contact our office today.  If you have questions about reporting a wreck or making a claim, the first assumption should be to do so immediately – but a lawyer can also help you with how to follow up to make certain you are protected.

Gary Bruce discusses this topic further on WTVM’s Legal Break in Columbus. Watch the segment here for more detailed information on handling car accidents and insurance claims in our local area.