Have you ever been in a fender-bender? If so, it required a quick decision about what to do next. When there’s nothing but a tiny scrape, it seems silly to call the police and make a big deal about it.
In California, not every accident has to be reported to the authorities or to the insurance company. Any accident with an injury or death is required to be reported to the police. Accidents with damage exceeding $1,000 must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
For a minor accident, you could just let it go and accept the other person’s offer of a small cash payment to smooth things over. But should you? Maybe, maybe not.
You Might Regret Accepting a Fast Cash Payment
After an accident, the other driver might quickly offer to write you a check to cover the cost of the damage. They may ask you not to report it to your insurance company or even beg you not to call the police.
What you do next is critically important and could be a bigger deal than it seems at first. Think it over carefully before agreeing to anything or accepting a check.
Here are some things to consider:
- Your car could have expensive damage you can’t see on the surface.
- You could have injuries you can’t feel at first, like a deep muscle injury.
- The other person could claim a serious injury later and call the police on you.
- The other person could decide to put in a claim through their insurance company, which would alert yours.
- Your insurance company might penalize you for a failure to report the accident.
- Your insurance company could raise your rates or declare you uninsurable.
- Accepting a private payment could interfere with your ability to recover compensation in a lawsuit later.
To settle the matter privately and accept a payment, you’ll still need to gather the other person’s contact information and create some sort of agreement with them. Make sure you gather photo evidence from the scene and request a receipt for any payment, just in case.
Ideally, you’d still get a police report and create a paper trail. The other person could do something unexpected, like writing you a bad check
How to Handle an Accident Without Police or Insurance
If you’re absolutely determined to handle the accident without making a police report or involving the insurance companies, first make sure you won’t be breaking the law.
- Call 911 from the scene of the accident to report deaths or injuries. Don’t flee the scene.
- Contact the police within 24 hours if you plan to report minor accidents without injuries.
- You must contact the DMV within 10 days to report more than $1,000 in vehicle damage. If you get your insurance company involved, however, they will usually take care of this for you.
To continue the matter privately, an attorney can help you draft a contract with the other driver that lays out the terms of your settlement agreement. Include the date, circumstances, payment amount, and so forth. If the accident was with someone who is a minor, their parent or legal guardian will need to sign the agreement.
There’s always a risk that the other party could decide later that they don’t want to abide by the terms of your agreement. They could feel a twinge of pain in their neck or decide that the little scratch in their bumper is actually a huge problem.
To protect yourself, add language to the paperwork making it clear that it’s legally binding. Include some type of “release” that indicates agreement to give up the right to any further claims in exchange for a specified sum of money. Give your attorney an opportunity to review the final version of the contract before you sign it.
When in Doubt, Report Your Accident
As you can see, accepting a private payment for an auto accident is risky. Even fender-benders can lead to expensive car repairs, painful physical injuries, and problems with your insurance company. Don’t lose your opportunity to sue for compensation. Talk to a California car accident attorney as soon as possible to explore your options.
We Handle Your Car Accident Claim So You Can Focus on Your Life
After a motor vehicle accident, contact the traffic accident attorneys at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers. We handle many areas of traffic law, including injuries that arise from car accidents. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering from your accident while we handle the legal details. We truly care about our fellow citizens of California. Call 877-380-8852 today for a free case evaluation.