Most people know that a call to the police is in order after a serious car accident involving injuries. In that situation, a single call to 911 will typically bring both police and emergency medical services to the scene. But, what happens when the collision is relatively minor, and everyone involved is able to drive away from the accident site unharmed?
There are really two different questions in play here: when does the law require a police report, and when may it be to your advantage to obtain a police report even if it may not be required? Of course, an experienced Florida car accident lawyer is the best source of information about your legal rights and obligations after a motor vehicle crash. But, the obligation to contact the police in certain circumstances is immediate. So, you should have this basic information before you reach the point of needing an auto accident lawyer.
When are You Legally Obligated to Call the Police after a Car Accident?
Florida law requires you to call the police as soon as possible after a car accident in which:
- A person was injured
- A person was killed
- There appears to be more than $500 in damage to a vehicle or other property
While the statute doesn’t specifically say that you must call the police from the accident site, it does require you to contact law enforcement “by the quickest means possible.” In a time when nearly everyone has a cell phone, that will typically mean placing an immediate call.
Who is Responsible for Placing the Call?
The law doesn’t distinguish between the driver who was at fault in a motor vehicle accident and the one who got hit. The language of the statute requires any driver “of a vehicle involved in a crash” that meets the criteria above to notify the police.
Who Do You Call to Report a Car Accident?
The appropriate law enforcement agency to notify depends on where the accident takes place. If the accident happens within a municipality (inside city or town limits), then you are instructed to call the local police department. If you’re not within a municipality, you can call either the Sheriff’s Department for the county where the accident occurred or the nearest Florida Highway Patrol station.
Don’t worry, though: if you’re in an unfamiliar area or don’t know whether you’re inside city limits, make your best guess. If you think you’re inside the city and it turns out you aren’t, the local police department will be able to direct you to the proper law enforcement agency based on your location. And, if someone has been injured or the vehicles are creating a traffic hazard, you’ll dial 911 no matter where you are.
Should I Call the Police if My Accident Doesn’t Meet Any of the Three Criteria?
If no one has been injured or killed and there is no property damage or less than $500 in property damage, you’re not legally required to call the police. In addition to the three statutory conditions that trigger a statutory requirement to call the police, Florida Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) says you should contact the police if:
- The collision is a hit and run
- A driver appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- One or more vehicles are sufficiently damaged to require removal with a tow truck
- A commercial motor vehicle is involved in the collision
Even when a collision doesn’t obviously meet the criteria on either of these lists, there may be good reasons to contact law enforcement. One of the most common is uncertainty. While you’ll certainly know whether anyone has been killed in your motor vehicle crash, not all injuries are immediately apparent. And, if you’re like most people, you may not be qualified to eyeball $500 worth of damage.
Some damages you may think of as minor that may constitute more than $500 worth of property damage include:
- A broken windshield that requires replacement
- A bumper that requires repair or replacement
- A car door that is dented sufficiently to require replacement
These are just a few examples of damages that may not seem serious, but may be costly enough to trigger the statutory obligation to call the police.
All Crashes Must Be Reported
Not all crashes require a police report. However, if you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident that doesn’t fall into one of the categories that must be reported to the police, you are required to file your own crash report.
A Florida crash report must be filed within 10 days of the accident. You can complete a crash report online and email it or submit the completed report by mail.
A Police Report Can Help Your Car Accident Claim
Calling the police after a car accident isn’t just about fulfilling your legal obligation. If you’ve been injured seriously enough to pursue a personal injury claim against the driver who caused your accident, the police report can be an important piece of evidence. You’ll want to give your car accident attorney a copy of the report.
The easiest way to get a copy of your crash report is to order it online. If you purchase your crash report online, there will be a $2 convenience fee in addition to the standard $10 charge for the report. You can also obtain a copy in person at the nearest Florida Highway Patrol station, or by mail. If it’s been less than 60 days since your accident, you’ll have to sign a sworn statement saying that you were a party to the crash. That’s because motor vehicle crash reports are confidential for the first 60 days. If you’ve already hired an auto accident attorney, your attorney is also authorized to obtain the report directly.
Talk to a Jacksonville Car Accident Lawyer
Determining when you need to contact the police or file a report after an automobile accident and which type of report to file is just one small piece of navigating the aftermath of a motor vehicle crash. If you have been seriously injured in a traffic accident that was someone else’s fault, your best next step is to talk with an experienced auto accident lawyer. The personal injury lawyers at Harrell & Harrell have extensive experience helping people who were injured in Florida car accidents secure fair compensation. To learn more about how we can help, call 904-251-1111.