February 17, 2020

How Long Do You Have to Report an Accident

Read more about Car Insurance

Car accidents can be scary. You may have to deal with injuries, damage to your car, and other immediate concerns. But failing to promptly report your accident can have serious consequences.

Just how long you have to report an accident varies by insurer. Some companies require you to report within 24 hours, while others give you 30 days or longer.

The first step after an accident should be to notify the police, even if the incident seems minor. They will document any injuries, damages, and other evidence that may be needed to file a claim.

Then you can deal with the insurance company. Whether you are at fault or not, you should report the accident to your own insurance provider. Later, you may also file a claim. That can be through your insurance if you were at fault or a "third-party" claim through the other party's company if they were responsible.

Do I Need to Report a Car Accident?

In the case of minor accidents, in which no insurance claim will be filed by the drivers involved, you may not be required to report an accident.

However, most states require you report an accident that results in injury or involves more than $1,000 to $2,500+ in property damage (depending on your state). The report can be made to either the police, DMV, or your insurance company.

Some damages or injuries may not be present right away and could take days or weeks to appear. Reporting the accident ensures that useful evidence is gathered for any claims you or the other driver may file with the insurance company.

How Long Do You Have to Report an Accident to Your Insurance Company?

Most auto insurance policies state you need to report the accident as soon as you can. This doesn't mean you have to call while you're still at the scene (though you could).

In the immediate aftermath, your safety is the biggest concern. Your first call should be to the police. They can document the incident and provide valuable information you may need later.

Generally, you can contact your insurance company within 24 hours of the accident. They may ask you some questions about the incident and damages/injuries, and then provide guidance on filing a claim. The sooner you report the accident, the sooner you can file a claim and the smoother the process will be.

Reporting an accident and filing a claim are NOT the same thing. You report an accident to the police, your insurance company or, ideally, both. You then must file a claim with your insurance company.

What Happens If You Don't Report an Accident Within 24 Hours?

Even if you aren't legally required to report an accident immediately, doing so can help ensure a smoother claims process. By waiting to report the accident, you are more likely to have your claim denied.

This is because insurance companies and claims adjusters rely on the police report and other evidence gathered at the scene to determine if they will pay a claim, and/or how much they will pay.

Without a police report and any related evidence, the insurance company may not be able to determine who was at fault and what happened. That means they may not pay your claim.

If another driver involved in the accident decides to sue you or take other legal action for damages, having an accurate and timely police report will also be critical.

How to Report a Car Accident

Follow these steps when reporting an accident and filing a claim.

  1. Notify the police
    Call the police to the scene, even if it's a minor accident. This will help ensure that all injuries are cared for and all evidence is documented in a police report. Many insurers require you to report the accident to the police and/or the insurance company within 24 hours.

  2. Document the accident
    You should also gather information at the scene too. Be sure to get the name, address, phone number, and insurance policy information from the other driver(s) involved. Take photos of all vehicles involved and damages, and record the details of the accident, including:
    1. Order of events
    2. Date
    3. Time
    4. Weather
    5. Your account of what happened
    6. The other driver's account of what happened

  3. Contact your insurance company
    You can either do this through an app if your company has one, or by calling them directly. Even if you weren't at fault for the accident, you should notify your own provider of the accident.

  4. Work with a claims adjuster
    Once you report the accident, your provider will assign you a claims adjuster, who will help you through the claims process, as well as investigate the accident or conduct any necessary follow-ups, including repairs or medical care (if applicable).

Keep copies of everything as you go through the claims process. This includes any relevant documents such as photos, bills, or medical bills or records associated with the accident.

How Long Do You Have to File a Police Report After an Accident?

Here are the time limits for reporting an accident in each state:

StateTime Limit for Reporting Accident
Alabama30 days
Alaska10 days
ArizonaImmediately (from accident scene)
Arkansas30 days
California10 days
ColoradoImmediately (from accident scene)
ConnecticutImmediately (from accident scene)
DelawareImmediately (from accident scene)
Florida10 days
GeorgiaImmediately (from accident scene)
HawaiiImmediately (from accident scene)
IdahoImmediately (from accident scene)
Illinois10 days
IndianaImmediately (from accident scene)
IowaImmediately (from accident scene)
KansasImmediately (from accident scene)
Kentucky10 days
LouisianaImmediately (from accident scene)
MaineImmediately (from accident scene)
Maryland15 days
Massachusetts5 days
MichiganImmediately (from accident scene)
Minnesota10 days
MississippiImmediately (from accident scene)
Missouri30 days
MontanaImmediately (from accident scene)
Nebraska10 days
NevadaImmediately (from accident scene)
New Hampshire15 days
New JerseyImmediately (from accident scene)
New MexicoImmediately (from accident scene)
New York5 days
North CarolinaImmediately (from accident scene)
North DakotaImmediately (from accident scene)
Ohio6 months
OklahomaImmediately (from accident scene)
Oregon3 days
Pennsylvania5 days
Rhode Island21 days
South Carolina15 days
South DakotaImmediately (from accident scene)
Tennessee20 days
Texas10 days
UtahImmediately (from accident scene)
Vermont5 days
VirginiaImmediately (from accident scene)
Washington4 days
West Virginia5 days
WisconsinImmediately (from accident scene)
Wyoming10 days

How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim?

Once you've reported the accident to your insurance company, you will have some time to file the claim. Just how much time depends on your insurance company, state, and type of coverage you have.

Some insurers say you should file a claim in as little as 24 hours after reporting the accident, while others give you as long as 2 to 3 years or more depending on the type of coverage you have.

However, the longer you wait to file a claim, the more likely it is the claim will be denied. That's because there is a higher likelihood the damage came from another incident. It may be difficult to prove the damage or injury is from the accident.

If you've previously reported the accident but didn't file a claim, your report can help support your claim and gives you a greater chance of your claim being approved.

What if you file a claim too late?
If you file a claim after the specific time period that your insurance company requires, they do not have to approve your claim. That could mean you will have to pay for medical expenses or vehicle damage out of pocket.

Are There Rules for Reporting and Filing in My State?

In most cases, auto claims fall under one of two statutes of limitations: one that limits the window for bodily injury claims, or one that limits the window for other damage claims (such as property, collision, and comprehensive damage).

Here is a list of the statute of limitations on auto insurance claims by state.

StateBodily InjuryOther Damage
Alabama2 years6 years
Alaska2 years2 years
Arizona2 years2 years
Arkansas3 years3 years
California2 years2 years
Colorado3 years3 years
Connecticut2 years2 years
Delaware2 years2 years
Florida4 years4 years
Georgia2 years4 years
Hawaii2 years2 years
Idaho2 years3 years
Illinois2 years5 years
Indiana2 years2 years
Iowa2 years5 years
Kansas2 years2 years
Kentucky1 year2 years
Louisiana1 year1 year
Maine6 years6 years
Maryland3 years3 years
Massachusetts3 years3 years
Michigan3 years3 years
Minnesota2 years6 years
Mississippi3 years3 years
Missouri5 years5 years
Montana3 years2 years
Nebraska4 years4 years
Nevada2 years3 years
New Hampshire3 years3 years
New Jersey2 years6 years
New Mexico3 years4 years
New York3 years3 years
North Carolina3 years3 years
North Dakota6 years6 years
Ohio2 years2 years
Oklahoma2 years2 years
Oregon2 years6 years
Pennsylvania2 years2 years
Rhode Island3 years10 years
South Carolina3 years3 years
South Dakota3 years6 years
Tennessee1 year3 years
Texas2 years2 years
Utah4 years3 years
Vermont3 years3 years
Virginia2 years5 years
Washington3 years3 years
West Virginia2 years2 years
Wisconsin3 years3 years
Wyoming4 years4 years

What If I Have to Sue?

Your time frame for filing a lawsuit will depend on the statute of limitations set by your state.

Most states have statutes of limitations that dictate how long you have to file a lawsuit after an accident that causes personal injury or property damage. The statues can range from 1 to 10 years (or more) depending on the state and the damages caused.

Bottom Line

You'll want to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident, regardless of who was at fault. Just remember that reporting the accident and making a claim are two separate steps. However, the sooner you report the incident, the easier the claim process may proceed.

Write to Caitlyn Callahan at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts. And remember that you can listen to CreditDonkey Radio any time.

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