minor accidents & fender benders

Almost every driver has been involved in a minor accident at some point in their lifetime. Maybe you were pulling out of a parking space or were bumped from behind at a red light or stop sign. Whatever the situation, because the damage to the vehicles is minor, I find that people do not know whether they should contact law enforcement. This article will explain your obligations under Florida law and provide advice if you have been in a fender bender.

What Are Your Requirements Under Florida Law If You Have Been in a Fender Bender?

If you have been in a minor accident or fender bender, you have an obligation to stop and exchange information with the other driver. But, what about whether you also need to contact law enforcement? Under Florida Statute § 316.066, you are only required to report to the police when one of these factors is present;

  1. the accident involved an injury or death
  2. a driver fled the scene
  3. someone was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  4. a vehicle was damaged to the point that it had to be towed
  5. the accident involved a commercial vehicle

However, your obligation does not end there. Under Fla. Stat. § 316.066(1)(e), you are still required to submit a written report to law enforcement within 10 days for any crash resulting in damage to another vehicle or property. If you contact the law enforcement agency, they will give you the information about how to fill that out by yourself online. It is a simple process and you will be given a report number and a copy of the report. However, given the fact that you are the one entering the information unilaterally, the report usually isn’t given much weight.

Now That You Know the Legal Requirements About Whether You Have to Call the Police, Should You?

I recommend that every person who is involved in a crash contacts the police. I understand that it is a hassle to wait for a police officer and in these situations, he does very little other than handing out a piece of paper with a report # on it. But, if you want to reduce the chances that you will get blamed for the accident or have to pay an insurance deductible, you should call the police. If you simply exchange information and then leave, then there is no way to prove what happened once the insurance companies get involved. Plus, the insurance companies are under no obligation to do what their insured said they would do. And, I cannot count how many times a client has sat across from me and told me that the other driver apologized on the scene and said he would take care of the damage only to later try to pass the blame off onto my client. The sad reality is that people have a hard time admitting that they were wrong and almost always will try to shirk their level of culpability. Therefore, in order to avoid some of these potential pitfalls, always call the police and get an independent assessment of fault and damage.

What Happens When the Police Arrive?

The responding officer is tasked with investigating the crash and creating a police report. If it is a minor accident, it is possible that the officer will refuse to create the report and simply give you instructions on how to fill one out yourself. But, it is worth it to have the officer respond and always be polite regardless of how he or she is acting. Having the officer there will ensure that you get the correct information from the other driver. If the officer takes a report, he will leave you with a “Short Form” accident report that you can use to start the insurance claim. The “Long Form” accident report is usually available 7-10 days later. If you have hired an accident attorney during that time frame, the lawyer will get notice when the report is available and be able to access it online. If you don’t have a lawyer, you may go down to the station and get a copy when it is ready.

Which Insurance Company Should You Contact?

If you run the claim through your own insurance company, you will be responsible to pay the deductible up front. If the other party is clearly at-fault for the accident, I recommend setting up the insurance claim with that company. There are caveats to this rule. If the at-fault driver had some cut rate insurance company like Ocean Harbor, Dairyland, or The General, you should run the claim through your own company. Those cut rate companies can be a nightmare to deal with, so I would try to avoid them if you can.

If you are experiencing any injuries from the accident, you have no obligation to discuss them with the other driver’s insurance company. I recommend that you speak to an auto accident attorney and let them decide whether you should give a statement. We rarely allow our clients to provide statements to the insurance company voluntarily. But, if you intend to make an injury claim, you have an obligation to report it to your own insurance company within a reasonable time after the accident and to cooperate with their investigation.

If You Have Soreness or Pain After the Accident, What Should You Do?

It is not uncommon in a minor accident or fender bender to have a delay in the onset of pain. Most clients who consult with me after a low impact accident report that the stiffness and pain was not fully realized until the following morning. Once they woke up, they realized that something was wrong and did not know what to do. They wondered whether they should go to a hospital, urgent care center, call their family doctor, or look for a chiropractor.

My advice after you realize that you’ve been injured is simple-get immediate medical treatment to get checked out. This doesn’t mean that you have to go to the hospital, but if your symptoms are that severe, then I encourage you to do so. Most of my clients who experience pain will go to an Urgent Care or make an appointment with a chiropractor. Never set an appointment with your family doctor because they will simply give you an x-ray, write you a prescription for painkillers and send you on your way.

The important factor to consider is that no one can tell you how badly you are injured until you get an MRI. If you wait a long time to get medical treatment and then find out that you have a serious injury, not only have you delayed your recovery, but you have damaged your injury claim. An insurance company will use the fact that you delayed treatment as proof that you weren’t injured and are malingering. They will devalue the money that they are willing to pay you. Therefore, do not give them an excuse not to pay you. Get checked out in a day or two after the accident and make sure you get sent off for an MRI at the appropriate medical time.

Contact an Auto Accident Attorney If You Have Questions

At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we specialize in auto accident claims. While we hope that you don’t get injured in the accident, if you do experience pain and soreness, we can help. We will take over the communication with the insurance company, help direct you to an auto accident injury medical professional, and monitor your medical bills. The process can be confusing whether you are in a serious accident or a fender bender. We are here to help answer your questions and assist you through the process. If you would like to inquire about starting a claim, please contact us immediately for a free consultation.