How Long Do You Have to Report a Car Accident to Insurance?

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 6 mins

Experiencing a car accident can feel like there are a million things to worry about all at once. Injuries need to be cared for immediately, and you may also be sorting out what to do with your vehicle or speaking with police at the scene.

On top of all that, many people are unsure of what comes next with insurance. Do you have to report every accident? What’s the deadline for reporting? Will you need to file a lawsuit for compensation? We answer all of these questions with this guide to insurance reporting requirements.

When Do I Have to Report an Accident to Insurance?

In most situations, reporting an accident as soon as you can is best. Most insurance companies encourage you to report accidents right away. Reporting hotlines and online apps are often available around the clock so you don’t have to wait to start a claim.

The official time you have to report your accident to insurance will depend on your insurance policy. The best place to start is checking your policy for filing deadlines. There may be a specific deadline, sometimes as quickly as within 24 hours of the accident. Alternatively, they may require you to report in a reasonable amount of time.

Additionally, some states have laws requiring you to file a claim by set deadlines. For example, Michigan requires a claim to be filed within one year of the accident. Deadlines can sometimes be short, such as in New York where claims must be made to your insurance within 30 days of the accident, or within 24 hours if the other driver was uninsured.

Insurance Risks of Waiting to Report an Accident

Sometimes car accident injuries take days or even weeks to fully develop. If you suspect your injuries are still coming to light, you may be tempted to wait until you have a better understanding of the damages you need to claim. However, waiting for clarity can unintentionally put your claim at risk.

Waiting to report is risky, even if you aren’t facing a strict filing deadline. For example:

  • You, and any witnesses, may not remember details of the accident as clearly
  • You may be less successful in proving your damages were the direct result of the accident
  • It can be more difficult to gather evidence as time passes

If your insurer believes that the delay indicates a false claim or otherwise caused harm or prejudice to them, then they may deny your claim entirely or drop your coverage. Specific penalties for failing to report an accident are detailed in your policy.

Lawsuit Risks of Waiting to Report an Accident

Waiting to report could also jeopardize your ability to file a lawsuit. If the insurance company does not agree to fair compensation, then you may wish to file a personal injury lawsuit for your damages. Each state has a deadline for filing these lawsuits, called the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations varies by state, and can be as short as one year from the accident in Louisiana and Tennessee. Two years is the most common statute of limitations length, though a few states allow up to six years.

Filing on time is only the first piece of a successful personal injury lawsuit. Fill out the form on this page to get help today.

Reporting Accidents to Police or State Agencies

In addition to reporting an accident to your insurance, some states have laws requiring accident reporting to local authorities. These laws are usually triggered when an accident has caused injuries or significant property damage.

For example, New York requires an accident report to be filed within 10 days if the accident caused property damage for one individual worth $1,000 or more. California requires a report for any accident where someone was injured or property damage occurred worth $1,000 or more. These reports are made to state agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles or local police.

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How to report a car accident to insurance

Next let’s discuss how you make a report to insurance, starting with which insurance company to contact. Who you need to file a claim with will depend on the rules in your state and who is at fault for the accident.

No-Fault Insurance States

In 12 no-fault states you work through your own insurance provider no matter who was at fault for the accident. These states require drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to cover medical expenses and lost wages for you and any passengers in your vehicle.

The 12 no-fault states are:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah

Additionally, three more states make PIP insurance optional. These states are:

  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Note that PIP insurance does not cover property damage to your vehicle. For this type of compensation, you will file a third party claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance.

At-Fault Insurance States

In an at-fault state, the insurance company of the driver who caused the accident is responsible for compensation. Any state not listed in the section above follows the at-fault system. If you were in an accident caused by another driver, then you will file a third party claim against the other driver’s insurance for all compensation.

Keep in mind that your insurance can sometimes assist you with filing a third party claim and seeking compensation from the other driver’s insurer even in an at-fault state.

Steps to File an Insurance Claim

Follow these steps to work through the insurance claim process:

  • Determine whether you need to contact your insurance or the at-fault driver’s insurer.
  • Contact the insurance company as soon as you are able to do so.
  • Provide evidence to support your claim. This typically includes a police report, witness statements, and medical documentation of injuries.
  • An insurance adjuster may contact you with questions about the accident. They may ask to arrange an inspection of your vehicle damages or for you to share medical bills.
  • The insurance company will make a settlement offer after appraising your damages. If you accept the settlement offer, then the claim will be paid and closed.

When Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with a Car Accident Claim?

Accident claims that involve significant injuries or property damage can benefit from a lawyer’s assistance. It is also common to turn to a lawyer when there is a dispute over who was at fault for the accident.

Hiring a car accident lawyer can provide several benefits:

  • Expert preparation. Paperwork and evidence gathering is handled by an expert while you recover.
  • Potential for higher settlement value. Studies have found settlements up to 3.5x higher when individuals are represented by a lawyer .
  • Effective advocacy. Negotiation is handled on your behalf and can continue to filing a lawsuit, if necessary.
  • Avoids mistakes. A lawyer will help prevent you from accidentally admitting fault through a recorded statement to the insurance company or missing filing deadlines to initiate a lawsuit.

Not sure whether you need a lawyer’s help? Fill out the form on this page to get your case evaluated for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Minor accidents typically do not have to be reported to the police. However, it can be beneficial to report the accident in case you only become aware of vehicle damage or injuries after you’ve left the scene. It can also be beneficial to your insurance claim to have a police report outlining damages and recording witness statements. In the event you need to pursue a lawsuit against the other driver, it could become a key piece of evidence.

    Some states require that you report car accidents to local authorities when the accident caused injuries or significant property damage.

  • Insurance rates after an accident can increase on average $665 per year. The amount your insurance rate may change after an accident can depend on many additional factors, including where you live, your age, and the type of vehicle you are insuring.

    Failing to notify your insurance of an accident may be a violation of your insurance policies that could lead to claim denials or dropped coverage. Check your policy for more details.

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