Under California law, there are times when you are and are not required to file a police report after a car accident. However, a police report has several benefits, and you should always consider filing one. This blog post will address when you do and do not have to file a police report after an accident, as well as the impacts and consequences of either choice. If you’ve recently been in a car accident, reach out to a San Mateo County car accident lawyer today and we’ll help you get the compensation you deserve.
Guidelines for Filing a Car Accident Police Report in California
You are not legally required to report every car accident, but doing so is considered a best practice as it is typically beneficial. Laws regarding car accident reporting vary from state to state. In California, you must report an accident if someone is injured, killed (in which case you have 24 hours to file a report), or if there was property damage over $750.
A scratch on a car could cost more than $750 to repair, so it can be difficult for someone who isn’t a mechanic to determine the value of damage on sight. This is another reason you should always report a car accident, to ensure that you don’t leave an accident you were required to report unreported by mistake.
California has another reporting requirement. In certain cases, you are required to report an accident not just to the police, but also to the local DMV. These are largely the same situations as you would file a report to the police: if someone was injured or killed and if the accident caused property damages in excess of $750.
Consequences of Not Filing a Police Report in California
If you decide not to report, you may find yourself legally vulnerable. The other driver might claim that you left the scene of an accident. Running from the scene of an accident is a criminal offense in California, so that accusation would in turn open the floodgates to criminal charges against you. California law requires that you stop when there is an accident, regardless of whether the accident was your fault or whether there in fact were damages and injuries.
Leaving the scene of an accident is known as a hit-and-run. California Vehicle Code Section 20002 punishes a hit-and-run where there is no accident as a misdemeanor, and a hit-and-run that involves a death as a felony charge with a mandatory jail sentence of up to four years and a fine up to $10,000.
But even leaving aside the possibility of criminal charges, quite a number of negative situations could also happen. The other driver might also decide to file an insurance claim and accuse you of being at fault. You might later learn that you were injured, and if you were, it’s going to be an order of magnitude more difficult if the other driver didn’t have insurance.
Should you decide to file a police report, these negative possibilities are limited or removed. For instance, the officer would most likely be able to determine whether the other driver has insurance. Then, with a police report, it would be easier to file an insurance claim for being in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, if that is necessary.