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Must I report my traffic accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)?

You must report to the DMV a motor vehicle accident that occurs on a street or highway within 10 days if:

    1. More than $750 in damage was done to the property of any person; or

    2. Anyone was injured (no matter how slightly) or killed.

Each driver (or the driver’s insurance agent, broker, or legal representative) must make a report to DMV using the Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California form (SR 1). The CHP or investigating police will not make this report for you. 

You must make this report:

    1. Whether or not you caused the accident and

    2.   Even if the accident occurred on private property.

Your driving privilege will be suspended if you don’t make this report.

Your driving privilege will be suspended for four years if you did not have proper, legally required insurance coverage. During the last three years of the suspension, your license can be returned if you provide a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22) and maintain it during this period.

Insurance Coverage

After an auto accident (traffic collision), of course, your health is your first priority and concern.  But, as an accident victim, you are also legitimately concerned about whether the other negligent driver can pay for your injuries and damages.

Insurance is typically far easier to collect than attempting to exact payments from an individual.  Frequently, those who do not carry insurance are not in a financial position to pay for your injuries and damages (although I know from experience that there are exceptions).

What if the other driver doesn’t have insurance?  What if the other driver will not disclose his or her insurance company to me? 

Some people who cause accidents do have insurance.  However, some experience fear that their insurance premiums will increase.  Sometimes, they even lie about whether or not they have insurance.  Others might refuse to provide you with their insurance information.  How can you find out if another driver has insurance coverage?

To prove that the other driver has not insurance (which is necessary to receive uninsured motorist benefits from your own insurance company), what you normally must do is request verification of no insurance coverage from the DMV by filing an SR 19 (SR19c form). The DMV normally takes approximately sixty (60) days to make a final response to the SR19c request. Such final response is presumed conclusive, but can be rebutted.  If, of course, insurance coverage from the negligent driver is later discovered, you can process a claim against the negligent driver’s insurance company.

If you have demonstrated that there is no insurance through an SR19 process, you may then consider filing a claim against your insurance company under your Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) Coverage. This coverage pays you for damages that another owes you arising from a motor vehicle accident.  I understand and have been informed that, when a policy holders presents an uninsured motorist claim, it does not cause your insurance premiums to increase if the accident was not your fault or a chargeable event.  In an uninsured motorist claim, you can claim damages from your insurance carrier up to the limits of coverage you purchased before the traffic collision.  Thus, if you have $50,000.00 UM coverage, you may make a claim up to $50,000.00.

What if the other driver does not have enough insurance to cover my claim?  

If you make a claim against the negligent driver’s insurance carrier, and the negligent driver’s coverage policy limits does not pay for all of your damages, you may, then, present a claim against your insurance carrier under the UM coverage (which includes underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage as well).   Thus, if you settle with the negligent driver’s insurance company for a policy limits amount of $15,000.00, and, let’s say, you have $50.0000.00 UM coverage, under coverage rules, you may present a claim against your insurance company for up to $35,000.00 ($50,000 - $15,000 = $35,000).  That’s the way it works.  You don’t receive the full UIM coverage but you have to first substract what the negligent driver’s insurance company paid you.

That is why you should, as a California driver, always carry UM coverage which is a relatively inexpensive coverage but can be so important.  See my article  “Uninsured Motorist Coverage - Don’t Be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish” (located at another website).

Copyright  2006.  By Matthew Tozer.  All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational only. The subject matter and applicable law in all legal areas is in a constant state of change. Laws and insurance coverage vary from state to state. No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended.