You’ve caused a minor car accident – what’s next?
Few of us will get through a lifetime of driving without causing a small car accident or two — whether that’s absent-mindedly nudging the car in front of you during stop-start traffic or failing to notice another parked car behind you when reversing out of your parking spot at a shopping mall. What should you do if you’ve caused a minor car accident?
Ernest North, co-founder of digital platform Naked Insurance, says that these little incidents should not cause you too much stress or inconvenience, provided you have either comprehensive or third-party insurance. However, it’s also important to follow the correct steps in reporting the accident and claiming from your insurer to streamline the process.
The first step, according to North, is to get the details from the other driver while you’re still on the scene of the accident. Take photos and videos of both cars, ask for their contact details, and be sure to take down their vehicle registration number. If the driver is not available, take as many details as you can and leave a note with your contact details on their windscreen.
Report the accident to the police and your insurer
It’s a legal requirement to report the accident to the police within 24 hours (or as soon as is reasonably practicable), even if neither you nor the other driver plan to claim from insurance. Write down the case number and take pictures of the completed report while you’re at the police station. With all of that done, you’re ready to report the accident to your insurance provider.
ven if you do not plan to claim from your insurer for damage to your own car, you still need to report that you were involved in an accident that involved a third-party. Your insurer will take it from there, if and when the third-party or their insurance company gets in touch. Beyond the exchange of details at the site of the accident, you do not need to speak to the third-party.
The third-party can decide whether to fix the car themselves and claim afterwards from you or your insurer; or to claim directly from you or your insurer to get the car fixed; or to get their insurer to fix the car and recover the costs from you or your insurer. If they do not contact your insurer, there is no need to follow up. Claiming from your insurance company is the third-party’s responsibility.
North’s advice is not to engage directly with the third-party if they contact you, but to refer them to your insurer instead. “It’s best to limit your interaction with other drivers, both at the scene of the accident and afterwards,” says North.
Leave it to your insurance company
“Rather leave things in the hands of the insurance companies, which have the legal expertise to deal with the claims resulting from the accident. Don’t admit liability, get involved in an emotional exchange or debate who is at fault, even if you feel it was your fault or if the other driver is angry. If you stay neutral, it gives your insurer a better chance of defending you.”
Your insurer will evaluate what happened in the accident, whether it was truly your fault and if the damage caused in the accident is covered in your policy. If it is, the insurer will resolve the claim with the other driver or their insurance company. If your insurer decides that you are not responsible for the accident, it will fight the other party or their insurer on your behalf.
If your insurer decides that the damage isn’t covered by your policy, you will need to work with the third-party or their insurer on the way forward. But provided you have an insurance policy and weren’t doing something illegal or reckless at the time of the accident, like driving drunk, there is a low likelihood of this happening.
The following statements should be avoided (because saying any of these may invalidate your insurance policy, even if the third party is a friend):
- “I’m so sorry, it’s completely my fault! My insurer will pay for the repairs or refund you.”
- “I’ve got really good insurance, I’m sure they will fix your car.”
- “My dad’s friend is a panel beater, let me help you organise to get it fixed.”
- “Please get a quote for the damage, and let me know, I will refund you.”
- “If you claim from your insurer, I’ll pay your excess because it’s all my fault.”
If you don’t feel that comprehensive insurance is worthwhile for your car, you should still consider third-party cover. It can prevent a lifetime of paying off debt should you be involved in an accident with a R2 million sports car. And it won’t cost you more than a meal out at a moderately priced restaurant or a quarter of a tank of petrol.
Article with thanks to IOL.co.za