As you’re well aware, auto accidents can take on many shapes and forms. As a passenger car operator, you can become involved in crashes with pedestrians and then different vehicles like bicycles, motorcycles, and trucks. You can even become involved in a single-car accident. And then these crashes may result in no property damage or injuries at all, or cause catastrophic injuries (including death). If you were involved in a crash while driving here in Charleston or elsewhere in our state, it’s only natural to wonder how long you have to report a car accident in West Virginia. Our firm, DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, shares what you need to know so you minimize your chances of ending up on the wrong side of the law.
Crash Reporting Requirements in West Virginia
Chapter 17C of West Virginia Traffic Regulations and Laws of the Road, and specifically §17C-4-6, specifies how any motorist involved in a crash causing $1,000 in apparent physical property damage or any individual’s injuries or death must notify law enforcement of the collision’s occurrence immediately. That same section of the code describes how the following policing agencies must be contacted depending on the jurisdiction in which the wreck occurs:
- The local police department: This is necessary if the accident occurs within a municipality (i.e., city limits)
- The county sheriff or the West Virginia State Police: Contacting one of these law enforcement agencies is necessary when crashes occur outside of city limits
You can expect a 911 dispatcher to properly route your report to the appropriate agency, depending on where you inform them that the collision occurred.
What Does It Mean To Report a Crash “Immediately”?
Our state’s statutes aren’t very clear about what the definition of immediately is, but it’s likely best to err on the side of caution and report it as soon as humanly possible, such as at the crash scene, to avoid the potential of being accused of a criminal offense and having fines and other penalties imposed.
You may want to call the appropriate law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number if you need to report property damage of less than $1,000 and, of course, 911 for more substantial property damage, injuries, fatalities, and criminal matters like hit-and-runs.
Reporting Minor Auto Collisions
Whether you should report a minor accident in West Virginia “immediately” depends on, among other factors, the nature or extent of the accident. For example, there are different requirements written into West Virginia law, which we previously covered on our blog earlier this year (as linked above) that apply in the following types of cases:
- Crashes that only involve property damage
- Hit-and-run accidents
It’s also important to point out that our state’s laws also spell out how stopping to assess the damage and confirm if anyone involved was hurt is necessary. There are also requirements for exchanging contact details with the other party and an obligation to render aid or summon paramedics to do the same. So, take time to become informed about your responsibilities listed there so as to not unnecessarily expose yourself to added legal liability.
Punishments for Not Reporting Your Car Crash to Law Enforcement
Chapter 17 of our state’s traffic regulations and laws, particularly §17C-4-10 and §17C-18-1, specify what happens when West Virginia motorists fail to immediately report a wreck to the police as required. These sections of the code detail how the following can occur:
- The state could suspend your driver’s license
- You may face misdemeanor charges, which, if you’re convicted of them, can carry a 10-day jail sentence and a $100 fine
Of course, if the car wreck causes harm to others or property damage, the penalties for not reporting the crash may get tacked on to more serious misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the severity of the physical damage and injuries.
Driver Responsibility for Reporting Car Accidents to Insurance Companies
Each insurer makes its own policies for reporting auto accidents. Details about how long you have to notify them of your crash should be outlined in your policy documents.
Most insurers allow you to file a claim in one of the following ways:
- By calling their 800 number (typically listed on your insurance card) or your local insurance agent
- Through their website, using their claims tool
- By logging into your insurer’s mobile app
Please note that while insurance companies’ reporting policies vary widely, they can be as short as a one- or two-day turnaround.
Consequences of Not Reporting Your Wreck to Your Insurer
It’s imperative that you don’t let your insurance company’s established claim filing deadline lapse without notifying them of your crash as there may be adverse implications, such as the following, if you neglect to do so:
- You could have your claim denied
- Your insurance policy could be canceled
Best Practices To Employ When Reporting Your Crash
Whether you call 911 or a law enforcement number directly, speak with a responding police officer at the scene of the accident, call an insurance representative, or simply report what happened using some kind of online form, it’s important that you’re careful with what you say.
You should certainly always tell the truth but only stick to the facts instead of making any inferences about what happened. This is one piece of advice you can expect a Charleston car accident attorney to give you when advising you of your rights in your case, starting with an initial consultation. So, schedule that free case review meeting today to discuss your crash, your responsibilities, and your rights.