Most drivers are generally aware of the need to report auto accidents to local police departments and insurance companies. Beyond this general awareness, the details of when and how to file a motor vehicle accident report are frequently lost. 

Failure to file a report properly or within specified time limits can impair an accident victim’s ability to recover full compensation for injuries and losses. The car accident lawyers at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman urge all motorists in New York and New Jersey to familiarize themselves with the rules for filing reports and to carefully follow them whenever they are in an automobile accident.

How Soon After an Accident Should You File a Report with the Motor Vehicle Department?

After every vehicle accident, a driver should move their car to the side of the road, check for injuries, and summon medical help. Then, they should contact the police for further assistance. They should also file their own reports with the police even if law enforcement authorities arrive at the scene and prepare separate reports.

Failure to report an accident to the police or leaving the scene of an accident can lead to serious criminal charges.

Drivers in New York and New Jersey must also file accident reports with the state’s motor vehicle department within ten days. This obligation applies in New York for all car crashes that cause property damage over $1,000. New Jersey has a lower property damage threshold of $500. Regardless of the amount of property damage, drivers should file one for every accident that results in a fatality or any injuries.

What Information Should a Driver Include in a Report of a Motor Vehicle Accident?

Drivers should record and report to their motor vehicle department as much factual information about an accident as is possible without assessing blame or admitting fault for an accident. A thorough accident report will describe:

  • if the roads were dry, wet, or icy
  • lighting conditions (daylight, dusk, dark evening, etc.)
  • weather and precipitation conditions
  • the direction of travel of all vehicles in the crash
  • a complete description of the make, model, and condition of each vehicle
  • whether pedestrians, cyclists, or fixed objects (parked cars, road signs, etc.) were involved
  • an accurate description of where the accident happened
  • the names and addresses of each driver and the owners of all vehicles. 

Both New York and New Jersey have forms that drivers can use to report this information.

When and How Should a Driver Report an Accident to an Insurance Company?

New York and New Jersey are “no-fault” insurance states, which means that the driver’s own insurance coverage will reimburse expenses for property losses and injuries. Auto liability insurers generally expect you to report accidents promptly within 24 hours. The insurer will want the names, contact information, and license numbers for all drivers involved in the accident, details of any injuries, and contact information for any witnesses.

You might decide not to report an accident to your insurance company—especially if there are no injuries and property damage is minor. However, this can cause problems at a later date. For example, if injuries are not immediately apparent or property damage was more extensive than it first appeared to be. To avoid these issues, drivers should confer with their insurance agents after every car accident, even if they later decide to forego a claim.

How Are Accident Reports Utilized to Assess Liability?

Reports prepared by law enforcement authorities will generally allocate responsibility for an accident, and insurers will often refer to them when settling claims. They may not be definitive statements of responsibility, however, particularly where each driver has a different perspective on how the it happened.

Reports and statements that drivers make to insurance companies can be used to justify reductions in insurance reimbursements. Drivers can avoid these and other problems by retaining knowledgeable personal injury lawyers to represent them in preparing and filing accident reports and in negotiations with insurers.

Call Kantrowitz, Goldhamer, & Graifman for Assistance with Auto Accident Reports

The attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman represent car accident victims in Rockland and Bergen counties and elsewhere in New York and New Jersey. Please see our website or contact us to schedule a confidential consultation with us today.