Here’s everything you need to know about when you have to notify the police, the insurance company, and an attorney about an accident.

An accident can throw you into a confusing new world full of rules you know nothing about, obligations you didn’t know you had, and legal and insurance terms you don’t understand.

What can you do to make things simpler? Look for dependable information from someone who spends every day navigating this world – and helping people in situations like yours make sense of it.

Read on for a personal injury attorney’s breakdown of when to report an accident to the police, when you need to notify your insurance company, and when to hire a lawyer.

Reporting an Accident to the Police

It’s always a good idea to report any motor vehicle accident to the police – yes, even a minor one.

After all, you don’t always know that a crash is minor right away. The vehicle damage may seem slight, but there could be some more serious harm beneath the hood of the car – or within your body. Some injuries, like herniated discs, can seem mild at first but worsen over the hours, days, and weeks that follow the crash.

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Calling 911 isn’t just the smart choice – it’s the law. In both NJ and PA, a car accident must be reported any time it involves a death, an injury of any kind, or vehicle damage. Drivers involved in Pennsylvania car accidents aren’t strictly required to report the crash as long as no one is hurt and the vehicle doesn’t have to be towed. But in a New Jersey car accident, you’re supposed to notify the police if there’s just $500 worth of vehicle damage.

It’s not just my opinion as an attorney that you should always report a car accident to the police. Even U.S. News Money notes that a police report is important for preventing the situation from becoming your word against the other driver’s.

If you didn’t call the police at the time of the accident, take immediate action to fix this mistake. File a police report now, based on whatever information you collected from the other driver. You may be able to do this over the phone, or you might have to go to the police station in person.

What about accidents that don’t involve a motor vehicle? You might be surprised to learn that you should also report injuries like slip and falls to the police.

Imagine this scenario: You’re walking in a residential area when a safety hazard causes you to fall.

Unlike a fall at a retail store or restaurant, you’re not surrounded by employees you can approach to report the event. You might ring the doorbell of the nearest property, only to find out that no one is at home. If no one was around to see you fall, there’s no evidence that the accident even happened.

In a case like this, you need to document that the fall occurred right away by reporting it to the police. Otherwise, the only proof you have that you fell at all are the injuries you suffered – injuries that the property owner’s insurance company might try to say you already had.

If in doubt, always err on the side of caution and report an accident or injury to the police. Having an accurate police report that backs up your claim can only help you.

Reporting an Accident to an Insurance Company

What about notifying the insurance companies involved in the accident? This can be trickier than you might think.

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Your Insurance Company

Whenever you’re involved in a car accident, you need to notify your own auto insurance company promptly. That’s true even if you weren’t driving and your car wasn’t even involved. As a policyholder, you have a contract with this company. That means you have an obligation to report the accident to the insurer.

If you’re hurt, your auto insurer is also the one that pays your medical bills in no-fault states like NJ and PA. You need to get a claim number from your insurance company so you can get medical care.

What do you say when you notify your insurer? Only the basics: that there was a crash and that you need a claim number to get medical care.

Unfortunately, even your own insurance company isn’t on your side. It’s in your auto insurer’s best interests to pay as little as possible. If you make the mistake of saying that you think your injuries are minor or that you’ve had similar problems in the past, your insurance company might try to deny you medical benefits.

So keep the conversation brief, stick to the basic facts, and decline to give any kind of recorded statement.

The Other Party’s Insurer

When it comes to the other side’s insurance company – whether the at-fault driver’s auto insurer or a commercial property owner’s business insurer – you have no contract. That means you have no obligations to fulfill.

It’s best to avoid talking to this insurer until you have an attorney to guide you.

If you do speak with this insurance company, be even more careful about discussing only the basic facts of the accident. And be prepared for the frustrating possibility that the insurance adjuster won’t cooperate with you. Often, our clients only realize they need a lawyer when the insurance adjuster begins giving them the runaround or tries to unfairly deny their claim.

Discussing an Accident with a Lawyer

As an attorney, I know that having a lawyer on your side from the start puts your case in a better position than if you wait to get representation. It means you won’t risk damaging your claim through your interactions with the other party’s insurance adjuster. When you have a lawyer from day one, you’ll never be in danger of missing important deadlines.

Getting an early start allows an attorney to investigate your case sooner. This helps me collect the kind of evidence that could vanish – like photographs, video surveillance footage, and maintenance logs.

But I also know that many accident victims don’t think they need a lawyer right away. Many of them start looking for legal representation when they run into a problem – when the insurance adjuster stops cooperating, when they see the medical bills starting to pile up, when they realize that they are really hurt.

As soon as you begin wondering whether you need a personal injury lawyer, it’s a good idea to talk to a law firm. Most accident attorneys offer free consultations, so if it turns out you don’t need a lawyer, you haven’t lost anything.

To Recap:

  • Report an accident to police right away.
  • Report an accident to your insurance company promptly – but only the basic facts!
  • Report an accident to the opposing insurance company after you speak with an attorney – and be careful what you say.
  • Contact a lawyer to discuss your accident as soon as you realize you might need help.

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