When you are involved in a car accident in California, you need to know whether you have an obligation to report it. Obligations regarding car accidents exist under California law and under the terms of most auto insurance policies and failing to timely report a car accident in California can have varying consequences depending on which obligation you fail to meet.
How Long Do You Have to Report an Accident in California?
There are four primary deadlines that apply to car accidents in California. These deadlines are as follows:
1. Reporting the Accident to the Police
If anyone was injured in your car accident, you must report the accident to the police within 24 hours. This obligation exists under Section 20008 of the California Vehicle Code, which states:
“The driver of a vehicle . . . involved in any accident resulting in injuries . . . shall within 24 hours after the accident make or cause to be made a written report of the accident to the Department of the California Highway Patrol or, if the accident occurred within a city, to either the Department of the California Highway Patrol or the police department of the city in which the accident occurred.”
In most cases, this obligation is satisfied when someone calls 911 from the scene of the accident. However, if no one called 911, then you may need to contact the California Highway Patrol or the local police department and follow their instructions for filing a car accident report.
2. Reporting the Accident to the California DMV
In addition to reporting your car accident to the police (if anyone was injured), you must also report a car accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The deadline for reporting your accident to the California DMV is 10 days from the date of the collision. You must report your accident to the California DMV if:
- Anyone was injured in the accident; or,
- The accident resulted in more than $1,000 in property damage.
Of course, if you were involved in a minor accident in California, you might not know whether the total property damage amounts to more than $1,000. If you are not sure whether you need to file a report with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, you can file just to be safe, or you can consult with a local car accident attorney.
You must report a car accident to the California DMV using the SR-1 Form. You can either submit a written report on paper or send the form electronically. You can find the form on the California DMV website.
3. Reporting the Accident to Your Insurance Company
Typically, drivers also have an obligation to report a car accident to their auto insurance company. This obligation exists not under California law but under the terms of your policy.
Auto insurance companies generally require their policyholders to report all accidents. If you fail to report a car accident, your insurance company could try to use this as a basis for terminating your policy or denying coverage for a subsequent claim.
In terms of the deadline, specific requirements vary between insurance companies. Some insurance companies impose a specific deadline (i.e. 30 or 90 days from the accident), while others require their policyholders to report all accidents “promptly” or within a “reasonable” amount of time.
If you have not yet reported your car crash to your insurance company, or if insurance adjusters are claiming that you waited too long to report an accident, you should review your policy carefully (or have an attorney review it for you).
4. Filing a Claim for Compensation
The final deadline that applies to motor vehicle accidents is California’s statute of limitations for filing a claim in court. If you are not able to obtain a settlement from your insurance company—or the other driver’s insurance company— then you may need to file a car accident lawsuit in order to recover just compensation.
Under California law, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for a car accident in most cases. However, if you have a claim against a government agency (i.e. because of an issue with the road or a collision involving a government vehicle), then you must file a “notice of claim” within six months. There are a few other possible exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations as well, and whether any of these exceptions apply will depend on the specific circumstances of your case.
Speak with a Bakersfield Car Accident Attorney For Free
If you have been involved in a car accident and have questions about your legal obligations or your legal rights, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a free, no-obligation consultation. Attorney Mickey Fine has helped car accident victims pursue just compensation for more than 25 years. He has the knowledge, skill, and resources necessary to seek the justice you deserve.
To speak with an experienced Bakersfield car accident attorney at the Law Offices of Mickey Fine in confidence, call (661) 333-3333 or tell us how we can help online now.