Should I report a car accident to the police?
There are many reasons why you should report a car accident to the police, including that, in many cases, it is required by the law. If you leave the scene of an accident without reporting it to the police, you could be charged with a crime and it may affect your chances of recovering damages if the other driver was at fault (or your ability to defend against a lawsuit if you were at fault).
How does it help your civil case to report a car accident to the police? What happens if you leave the scene without reporting the accident?
Should I Report a Car Accident to the Police?
As a practical matter, if you are in a car accident and you don’t report it to the police, someone else will probably make the call for you, whether that’s the other driver, a bystander, or a concerned motorist passing by.
Apart from complying with SC laws that require you to 1) stop, 2) provide your information to the other driver or property owner, and 3) render aid to anyone who is injured, you should ensure that the police have the information that they need to make a complete and accurate accident report.
Why is an Accident Report Important After a Car Accident?
Although an accident report usually cannot be used as evidence in a trial, it is the starting point for the attorneys, insurance companies, and the courts when they are gathering information and trying to decide what happened.
The accident report can affect decisions about liability and damages – if the accident report leaves out information or contains inaccurate information, your attorney may have an uphill battle proving what happened and convincing lawyers, insurance adjusters, or the court that the police officer got it wrong…
What Information Goes into an Accident Report?
The responding officer should complete a report that contains:
- The date, time, and location of the accident;
- The weather conditions at the time of the accident (was it pouring rain? Sunshine? Icy roads?);
- Witness statements and contact information for witnesses;
- The contact information, insurance information, and statements made by the parties to the accident (you and the other driver or drivers); and
- A diagram of the accident scene that illustrates the officer’s findings as to how the accident happened and who was at fault.
What Information Should You Collect Yourself?
Understanding that police reports often leave out important information, you should preserve evidence from the accident scene yourself if you are able (your priority is to seek medical attention for yourself or others at the scene when necessary), including:
- Names and contact information for potential witnesses;
- Statements from potential witnesses if they are willing to provide them to you;
- Photographs or cell phone video footage that shows the extent of damage to the vehicles, the road conditions including any skid marks, any injuries to yourself or other parties, and weather conditions; and
- The insurance information for other parties to the accident.
When the police arrive, do not lose your temper or “act out” in anger – stay calm, answer their questions, and try not to leave out any details of how the accident happened. Don’t argue or engage with the other driver. Don’t admit fault to the accident – don’t apologize or agree if the other party blames you for the accident.
Point out any visible injuries to the officer, but don’t make any statements about the extent of your injuries – some soft tissue injuries, spinal cord injuries, or brain injuries may not be obvious until some time has passed, and you don’t want the officer to write in their report that you are uninjured if you later discover that you have whiplash or a spinal cord injury that was not immediately diagnosed.
What happens if you don’t report a car accident to the police?
What Happens if I Don’t Report a Car Accident to the Police?
If you are involved in a car accident, SC Code Section 56-5-1210 says that you must stop at the accident scene and remain there long enough to provide your contact, vehicle, and insurance information to the other parties. In most cases, this means stay at the scene until law enforcement arrives…
If you don’t stay at the scene of the accident, you could be arrested and charged with a crime that carries up to:
- 30 days in jail and up to one year in prison if there are minor injuries;
- 30 days and up to ten years in prison if there is great bodily injury; or
- One year and up to 30 years in prison if someone dies as a result of the accident.
If the other vehicle has someone in it (someone is driving it or it is “attended”), SC Code Section 56-5-1220 provides an additional penalty of up to one year in prison if you do not stop and provide your information.
Even if the other vehicle was unattended or if you struck “fixtures” on or adjacent to a highway, you must attempt to locate the other property owner and provide your information to them.
Section 56-5-1230 requires you to not only stay at the scene and provide your contact information, vehicle information, and insurance information to the other parties, but it also requires you to provide aid to anyone who was injured – although this ordinarily means call 911 to get EMS there, it could mean transporting the injured person to the hospital yourself if EMS is unavailable for some reason.
When am I Required to Report a Car Accident to the Police?
As a practical matter, most car accidents will be reported to the police, whether you call, or another motorist makes the call.
Technically, you are only required to provide your contact information to the other driver or property owner if there are no injuries. But, if there are any injuries, Section 56-5-1260 requires you to immediately report a car accident to the police:
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person shall immediately by the quickest means of communication, whether oral or written, give notice of such accident to the local police department if such accident occurs within a municipality, otherwise to the office of the county sheriff or the nearest office of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Even if there are no injuries, if there is property damage that could total $1000 or more, Section 56-5-1270 requires you to file a written report and verification of liability insurance coverage of the accident with the DMV – when a police officer responds to the scene and makes an accident report, the officer will do this for you.
Car Accident Attorneys in Myrtle Beach, SC