It’s tempting to think that not reporting a fender bender won’t hurt you. But what if it hurts someone else? A passenger, for example?
Many people — even those with car insurance — often hesitate to tell their provider they’ve been in an accident. Usually, this silence stems from a fear of increasing policy rates.
But aside from the fact that it’s actually illegal to not report in some states, it’s also a dangerous practice. Especially since injuries oftentimes show up after the fact.
We recently had a reader write in with such a question:
“My friend ran into a street sign while giving me a ride about a month ago. Another car swerved and hit us on the passenger side, throwing me around a little. The driver (my friend) didn’t report the accident; I’m not sure why. But now, my back and tailbone both hurt and I’m getting bad headaches. Can I do anything? I’m scared to go to the doctor because I don’t have money to pay for the checkup myself.” – Cynthia from New Mexico
Unfortunately, by not reporting the accident, Cynthia’s friend has done a disservice to her. That’s because, according to experts, not reporting the accident to either driver’s insurance allows both policies to deny any claims. This includes claims filed by passengers with injuries resulting from the crash.
There may be a couple exceptions where medical coverage might still be possible. But it’s not as straightforward as it would have been with an accident report on file. Let’s explore.
Why You Should Always Report an Accident
As aforementioned, when there is a car accident — even if it’s minor — many states require you to report it. That means it’s the law that you must file a police report and/or alert the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In most cases, the rule of thumb is that you should report a crash if there is $1000+ worth of property damage or injuries. Failure to do so could result in fines and even jail time. If you’re unsure, check with your state’s DMV to see what the rules are where you live.
However, even if it’s not a requirement in your state, it’s still a good idea to report an accident. Better to be safe than sorry. And this is doubly true in the case of injuries that are not apparent at the scene. It’s not uncommon for conditions like whiplash or internal bleeding to show up after the fact. But unless the accident is on record, there may not be protection in place for the driver or any passenger.
At the least, you should report collisions to your insurance provider. In many cases, the policy actually stipulates that the driver must report any accidents. Note that reporting an accident doesn’t mean you have to file a claim. But it covers your bases should there be any issues later.
In the case of our reader, however, it sounds like there was no “official” record of the accident. This complicates matters when trying to get medical help and not pay out of pocket.
What Coverage Can a Passenger in a Car Accident Get from the Drivers?
In most car accidents, the drivers are the ones who exchange information. But there should also always be a record of how many passengers were present. This is to protect their eligibility for coverage should health issues arise after the crash.
In the case of our reader Cynthia, however, it sounds like there was no informational exchange. So even though she said the other car hit them, there isn’t a possibility of claiming with either insurance company. That’s because there is no formal record of the crash. So even in a no-fault state, the options are nil.
There are a couple potential workarounds, however. Though we don’t know the exact details, if Cynthia’s friend were to file a claim now, she might get coverage. That’s because she said the accident was “about a month ago.” Though some states have a 30-day statute of limitations for filing a no-fault claim, this might still be within bounds.
Then if the driver has personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments coverage (MedPay) on her policy, Cynthia might qualify. She would have to file a claim through her friend’s insurance, but she might get coverage for medical that way.
The drawback here is that many states don’t require the inclusion of PIP or MedPay in basic auto insurance policies. In fact, in 2023 only 12 states require PIP and only two states (Maine and New Hampshire) require MedPay.
So, unless the driver adds that coverage, it’s not something through which a passenger can file.
What Coverage Can a Passenger in a Car Accident Get?
Another option? If an injured passenger has PIP/MedPay coverage on their own auto insurance policy, they can file their own claim.
While this may seem odd, if PIP/MedPay is on your personal policy, you can use it to pay medical bills. This holds true even if you’re a passenger in another car.
The caveat here is that there may be limits to PIP/MedPay payouts. Meaning if the treatment or test costs are high, it may not cover everything. However, this option should at least cover initial medical bills, allowing a policyholder to have potential injuries checked out.
Also, if our reader Cynthia has personal medical insurance, she could use that to get an assessment of her injuries. Though, of course, she will have to pay any deductibles or fees herself with that course of action.
Are There Any Other Options for a Passenger in a Car Accident?
There’s one other option that our reader could pursue, and that’s asking her friend to help cover her medical bills. Or she could sue her friend for liability. Though that’s probably not optimal, since it would clearly put a strain on the relationship.
The important takeaway from this situation is that drivers should always report accidents to their insurance in a timely manner. Though it may result in a rate increase, it likely won’t be nearly as much as the alternative. Legal costs, medical bills, and damages from an accident can add up fast. Especially if they must be paid out of pocket for lack of registering a timely accident report.
If you’re in a crash, don’t neglect to file so you can protect your passengers and protect yourself.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann