Area of Law: Highway Traffic Law
Answer # 518
Your legal obligations when in an automobile accidentRegion: Ontario Answer # 518
If you are directly or indirectly involved in an accident that causes property damage, bodily injury, or death, there are several things that you are legally obligated to do. There are also some things that you should do to legally protect yourself if the accident injures someone or causes property damage.
1. Stay at the scene
First, you must remain at, or immediately return to the scene of the accident. It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident, whether you were directly or indirectly involved in the accident.
2. Call for help for someone who is injured
You should call an ambulance if it appears that someone is injured. You should not touch the injured person, unless you have medical training or unless the victim’s needs are clear. For example, if a car is burning, you can pull the victim from the car. If you can do so safely, you should help prevent further accidents by warning approaching traffic, such as putting on your hazard signals, or raising the hood of your vehicle.
3. Call the police, or report to a collision centre
Property damage under $2,000, where no one was injured
If the accident does not involve personal injury and none of the drivers involved are suspected of a law violation, such as driving while their ability was impaired, and the property damage is under $2,000 (total, combined damage to both vehicles), there is no legal requirement to call and wait for the police. Generally, under these circumstances, police will not attend the scene. The exception to this is if there has been damage done to someone else’s property, such as to telephone poles, guard rails or someone’s lawn. In most cases, you are simply required to take your car to a Collision Reporting Centre.
Property damage over $2,000, and / or if someone is injured
When someone is injured in an accident, or any of the drivers involved are suspected of a law violation, or there is property damage over $2,000, you are required by law to contact the police before leaving the scene of the accident. The police may require you to wait for them to arrive, or they may instruct you to take your car to a Collision Reporting Centre.
Collision Reporting Centres
After an accident occurs, you are required to bring your vehicle to a Collision Reporting Centre within 24 hours. If the centre is closed on weekends, you may have up-to 48 hours. At the Collision Reporting Centre, your vehicle will be inspected and the damage photographed, and you will get assistance with completing a police report. The police do not send these reports automatically to your insurance company. If the accident was reported to a Collision Reporting Centre, the Centre will automatically advise your insurance company, unless you request them not to.
The Collision Reporting Centres are partnerships between the local police services, insurance providers and private enterprise.
4. Contact your insurance company
All automobile insurance policies state that you are required to report all accidents, regardless of the amount of damage. Even if you pay for the damages caused by the accident yourself, if the accident was 100% your fault or you were partially at-fault, the accident will count against you. Insurance companies base their rates on “risk” regardless of who pays for the accident. If you are not at-fault, the accident will not count against you and your insurance rate will not increase.
What if you don’t tell your insurance company?
Generally, people who want a make an insurance claim will bring their vehicle to a reporting centre, and report the accident to the insurance company. Those who do not want to make a claim often choose not to report the accident.
If the damages caused by the accident were under $2,000 and you didn’t report it, and the other driver did, their insurance company will contact your insurance company, so your own insurance company will find out about it. If you failed to report the accident to your insurance company, even if you were not at fault for the accident, the insurance company has the right to cancel your policy or not renew it.
What else should you do?
There are also several other things that you should do if you are involved in an accident.
You should write down everything about the accident:
- the licence plate of the other car, its make, model, and year;
- the other driver’s licence number, address, and telephone number;
- the name of the other driver’s insurance company and their insurance policy number; and
- the names and phone numbers of witnesses to the accident.
Upon request, you must provide in writing, your name, address, phone number, vehicle permit number, and insurance information to other drivers who were involved in the accident, or to police officers or witnesses. But you should be careful about what you say. You should not admit anything. You should not apologize or make a statement to anyone except a police officer. You should not offer to pay for anything, and you should not accept any payments from anyone.
You should contact your lawyer or an insurance agent before you accept a payment or sign a release. You should also keep a record of your medical or mechanical expenses, damaged property, and injuries.
For more information about what to do if you are in an automobile accident, visit the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
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