Thankfully, most car accidents are minor fender benders in which no one gets hurt, and there is little or no property damage. Most of these are rear-end accidents. In 2019, car bumper technology has risen to the point where it takes a pretty solid hit to do any significant property damage. So while you may still see scrapes and scratches in these minor crashes, you are unlikely to see real property damage or a significant dent. Sometimes, and the science is pretty clear on this, people can still suffer substantial injuries even in the absence of this property damage.
If you have been in a car accident in Maryland, a common question is whether you need to report the car crash to police or your insurance company?
Maryland law does not require you to report every car accident to the police. There are six circumstances when you are required to report a motor vehicle accident:
The smart move is almost invariably to contact the police any time there is a motor vehicle accident even if it seems insignificant at the time of the crash.
- An occupant of one of the vehicles is hurt;
- A driver in the crash is drunk
- A vehicle needs to be towed
- A driver cannot or refuses to exchange information
- A driver is not licensed
- A driver flees the scene of the collision
Even though the law does not require reporting accidents that do not meet one of this six-prong test, some Maryland drivers still report the collision to the police. Why? First, if there is some property damage, there could be a liability dispute and one of the issues may well be whether the accident ever occurred. In this case, you want to have documented evidence that the accident took place so that you and your insurance company are armed to argue that the other driver was responsible for the accident. If you do call the police, they might not do a full police report. But they will often do what is called an "exchange of information" which accomplishes your goal: proving the collision occurred.
There is often a delay between the time of the car accident and when the occupants begin to experience pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. Serious injuries, including objectively verifiable injuries like herniated discs, often do not involve immediate pain after the collision.
- How to get a police report
- Cost of getting a police report for each Maryland county
- Figuring out what your case is worth
Why does reporting the claim to police matter in these cases? One of the first things an insurance company defending a claim is going to tell us during settlement talks -- and potentially the judge or jury if it comes to it -- is that the accident was so insignificant the victim did not even bother to call the police.
Another upside of reporting the collision to the police is that the at-fault driver is often more honest at the scene of the accident. The police will often ask them the "What happened?" question and they are more likely to give an honest answer to an authority figure then they will be to you and their insurance company after the accident.
Under Maryland law, specifically Maryland Transportation § 20-107, you must provide written notice of an accident that involves bodily injury or death unless the crash "has been investigated by a police officer and a report by the police officer has been filed with the Department of State Police." Do Marylanders in accidents follow this law? Rarely.
The gist of the statute is that you must provide notice of crashes where there are injuries if the police are not involved. This is the language of the statute:
§ 20-107. Written accident report required by each driver involved in accident
Report by driver required
(a) The driver of each vehicle involved in an accident that results in bodily injury to or death of any person shall, within 15 days after the accident, report the matter in writing to the Administration.
Evidence of liability insurance or security
(b) The driver of each vehicle involved in an accident that results in bodily injury or death of any person shall, within 15 days after the accident, file with the report evidence of liability insurance or other security that satisfies the requirements of Title 17 of this article.
Additional information relating to insurance carrier and policy
(c) In addition to any other information required by the Administration, the evidence required under subsection (b) of this section shall contain:
(1) The name and address of the insurance carrier or other provider of security for the person making the report;
(2) The policy or other identifying number of the liability insurance or other security; and
(3) The name and address of the local insurance producer for the insurance carrier or other provider of security.
Report of accident from owner of vehicle
(d) If the driver is physically incapable of making the report or is unavailable or refuses to do so, the Administration in its discretion may require instead a report of the accident from the owner of the vehicle involved in the accident. In that case, the owner shall report the matter and file the evidence of insurance as required of the driver.
Supplemental written reports
(e) The Administration may require the driver or owner of the vehicle to file supplemental written reports if, in its opinion, the original report is insufficient.
Exceptions to written accident report requirements
(f) A written accident report is not required under this section:
(1) If the accident has been investigated by a police officer and a report by the police officer has been filed with the Department of State Police; or
(2) From any person while that person is physically incapable of making the report.
So under Maryland Transportation § 20-107, it is not illegal to fail to report a fender bender, assuming there are no bodily injuries. So if you are in a small accident and no one is hurt, there is no obligation imposed by law to report the crash to anyone. So if you hit a deer or have another single-car crash and there are no injuries, Maryland law does not require you to report this collision. There may be, as we discuss in the next question, a contractual obligation to notify your insurance company.
Contractually, most car insurance policies with the major insurers -- like State Farm, GEICO, or Allstate -- require you to report any car accident. If you have an accident in Maryland that is clearly not your fault, there is little reason you would not report the occurrence of the car accident to your insurance company.
You are not required to notify the at-fault insurance company of a claim. You are also not obligated to -- nor should you -- talk to them without speaking to a lawyer first.
Your insurer might also require a recorded statement. Maryland law is unclear as to whether your insurance company can deny your claim based on the refusal to give a recorded statement about your accident.
Generally, for injury victims, we comply with the request for a recorded statement but require that the victim is allowed to answer the questions with their lawyer, usually in a phone call.
Ultimately, in spite of the contractual requirement that you report a claim, people do it all of the time and get away with it. If you just handle it yourself, the insurance company is unlikely ever to know. Why do people do this? The at-fault driver usually convinces the victim not to report the claim because of the fear of increased car insurance rates.
But this is just too risky for BOTH the victim and the at-fault driver, particularly if there are injuries. Let's say you agree with the at-fault driver not to report the claim. If he does not compensate you as you agreed, his insurance company may deny the claim, leaving you without anyone to compensate you for your loss. Conversely, the at-fault driver might be stuck with a huge claim from the victim, and his insurance company might refuse to stand behind the claim because it was initially unreported.
The take-home message is clear: the upside of not reporting a claim is significantly outweighed by the risks.
You can not get every police report in Maryland online. You can learn how to get police reports in Maryland here.
If the police report is wrong in a way you can demonstrate to the police officer, the officer will likely change the report. If you do not like the police officer's conclusion or she will not change the report, there is little you can do. But you have to remember that a police report does not decide liability in a trial. A judge or jury makes the decision. The police report is inadmissible hearsay so the police report's ultimate conclusion is unlikely to hurt you at trial. The practical problem of an incorrect police report is that it makes the case far more likely to go to trial because the insurance companies pre-suit tend to assume the police report is correct.
The absence of a police report does not impede your ability to bring a claim against the at-fault driver. The insurance company, and, if necessary, a judge or jury, ultimately decides who is responsible for a car accident and what damages should be awarded.
If you have been in a car accident in Maryland, you should contact an attorney immediately. You may have as little as 180 days to take the legal steps necessary to preserve your claim. To learn how our Maryland car accident lawyers may be able to help you get compensation, complete our free case review form today or call 800-553-8082.