Accidents: to report or not to report?

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Published: March 24,2003

Ah, what a lovely spring day, you think as you round the corner to your office, the warm breeze blowing through the open window of your car. You reach to adjust the volume on your radio, keeping one eye on the road and then, all of a sudden, BLAM!

You could swear that SUV wasn’t there a minute ago.

Thoughts race through your mind, including the fact that your auto insurance premiums could skyrocket as a result of your accident.

What to do?

Ah, to report or not to report — the accident, that is. That is the question, and it’s a question on the minds of many an insurance holder in situations such as this.

But insurance professionals and attorneys alike all seem to agree that when any questions arise about whether to report or not to report accidents, calling the insurance agent is the best choice of action. They’re there to help you, said Bill Bryson, chairman of Bryson & Company Inc.

“That’s not a major problem with insurance companies reporting claims,” Bryson said.

Ann Sturdivant, executive director of Professional Insurance Agents Association of Mississippi, an association of independent insurance agents, agreed that getting advice from your agent after an accident is the best route to go after any accident, especially one that involves possible liability claims.

“Report it to your company and let them do the preliminary investigation that they want,” Sturdivant said. “It’s just never a good idea to not report a claim unless you hire an attorney and get all the proper documentation. I can understand people being concerned about reporting accidents especially with the way the market is now with rate increases. But it’s not that big of an increase to justify getting sued down the road.”

Bryson said what may look like a minor claim can escalate rapidly into a major claim.

“And you’re obligated to report all claims through the policies,” Bryson said.

Bryson said not reporting claims to the insurance company could jeopardize the company’s right to defend you.

“If you put the company at a strong disadvantage they could deny the claim,” Bryson explained. “That would be unusual but it could happen.”

Richard Edmonson, a partner with Armstrong Allen, PLLC, said if he were advising someone as their attorney he’d advise them to always report the accident to their insurance company.

“You’re required under the terms of most policies to report a loss,” Edmonson said. “If you fail to report the loss the company could come back and subsequently deny coverage because you failed to report it. That’s the risk you run. I’m sure you feel there’s nothing to this — the people weren’t hurt so if you just pay them a little bit of money they’ll just go away. But frequently what happens is you think they’re not hurt and then they go see a lawyer and have serious injuries. You run the risk of waiving your insurance coverage by not reporting the accident.”

Greg Copeland, partner with Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush, called it “extremely unwise” for people not to report liability claims to their insurance companies.

“Certainly any accident that is serious at all should always be reported immediately,” Copeland said.

However, Copeland acknowledged that there are issues people consider when it comes to reporting accidents to insurance agents.

“If you have property damage to your car only and it was a minor accident and you talk to your agent who tells you this will have an impact on your premiums, then that certainly may be something you might want to consider paying for yourself,” Copeland said. “But for those who haven’t had a wreck in 25 years this may not affect your premiums.”

But, Copeland warned again, it is only wise not to report wrecks to the insurance company if there is no liability involved.

“What if they show up at your door several months later saying they’re hurt?” Copeland asked. “If you have any thoughts that you might not want to report an accident you should go to your agent.” He added, “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but I’ve never seen an insured settle a bodily insurance claim on their own when they had liability insurance in effect. Once it moves from a car repair to a bodily injury claim it would be extremely unwise not to report it to your insurance company.”

Edmonson said one could hire an attorney to prepare a settlement release saying the other driver has released them from any liability. However, he, like Copeland, recommended simply reporting the accident to the insurance company, especially if there are or could be personal injuries involved.

“If it’s just property damage where there’s no possibility of personal injury then the risk is not so great,” Edmonson said. “For example, if you back into someone’s car at the grocery store parking lot and no one is in the car and you just damage the car then you may want to go ahead in that instance and pay the damages without reporting them to the insurance company. I’d say the chance is better that nothing would come back on you if nobody is in the car.

“But I’d caution everyone to be real careful about making sure they do report it to the insurance company if there’s any potential of personal injury being involved. If there are people in the car, even if it’s a minor accident, you need to report it,” Edmonson said.


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