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How long after a car accident can you file a claim?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Even a minor fender bender can quickly turn into a major headache. One of the first things you should do is start the claims filing process.

But after an accident, you might not feel up to getting on the phone with your insurer right away. On top of that, some issues — like hidden car damage or late-blooming medical issues — aren’t immediately apparent. So it begs the question: how long do you have to file a claim after an accident?

Your car accident claim time limit will vary based on the state in which you live, the type of damage you need to report (i.e., bodily injury or property damage) and your specific insurance company. To give you the best idea possible of how long you have to file a claim, let’s dig deeper. 

How long do you have to file a claim after an accident?

If you read your auto insurance policy looking for a specific accident reporting timeline, you’ll probably be disappointed. Likely you will find unspecific language leaving you with more questions than answers. 

Geico, for example, just stipulates that an accident should be reported to them “as soon as possible.” Progressive advises you to report your accident to them “right away.” Farmers says you should get in touch with them “immediately.” 

Essentially, all of your potential insurance providers recommend that you report your accident to them ASAP, and we agree. 

Reporting your accident is not the same as filing a claim, but it is an essential part of the process. Even if you’re not worried about any damage to your car and you don’t have any injuries now, issues can arise well after the accident. 

If your insurer is already aware that the accident happened because you went through the proper reporting procedures right after the fact, you’re much more likely to file a successful claim if anything does come up in the days or weeks following the accident.

It’s also important to note that you’re subject to your state’s statute of limitations when it comes to filing a claim after an accident.

Time limits for accident reporting by state

A statute of limitations is a set time period during which you can bring forward legal action. If you wait until after the statute of limitations expires in your state, you’re going to be out of luck with your claim. 

Statutes of limitations vary by both state and by the type of claim. We’ve rounded up those timelines for the five most populous states. If you want to see a comprehensive list so you can find your home state — and the specific statutes of limitations that apply to you — use this resource from Enjuris.

State Personal Injury Claim Statute of Limitations Property Damage Claim Statute of Limitations
California2 years3 years
Texas2 years2 years
Florida4 years4 years
New York3 years3 years
Pennsylvania2 years2 years

What to do before, during and after filing a claim

Now that you know that it’s worth at least notifying your insurer about your accident sooner rather than later, let’s take a look at what that process will entail. 

As a precursor, while you’re at the scene of your accident, be mindful of indicating fault to your insurance provider before it’s officially determined by law enforcement. Indicating fault corresponds to assuming liability in the situation. 

Because this impacts which provider will pay for damages, it’s important to not verbally acknowledge your own determination of fault until an official determination has been made. 

Call 911 as necessary

If you were in an extremely minor accident, it might not be necessary to call law enforcement. But if anything got damaged or if there was potential for injury, it’s in your best interest to dial 911 and ask them to send an officer to the scene of the accident. 

It does mean waiting around for them to arrive, but this added hassle right after your accident can save you from a huge headache down the road with insurance. With a police report after a car accident, you have solid evidence to show your insurer to determine fault and extent of damage. This can be a huge asset when filing a claim and can make the process much easier for you to navigate. 

How long do I have to report an accident to the police?

Most states legally require you to report an accident to law enforcement if anyone was injured or it caused property damage over a certain dollar amount (e.g., $2,000). Unless you and the other driver are walking away without a scratch on either of you or your vehicles and no one else was affected (e.g., no pedestrian got hurt), you are typically obligated to get the police involved. 

Your specific car accident police reporting time limit varies based on your state. In some states, you need to report your accident immediately, while other states give you up to 30 days. 

If you’re going to need to contact law enforcement anyway, it makes sense to do so while you’re at the scene of the accident. That way, an officer can gather information accurate to the time of the incident to include in their report, which you can later use as evidence in your auto insurance claim. 

Collect required documentation

If you do end up filing an auto insurance claim — or the other driver files a claim — you’re going to want to have the following information provided by the other driver:

  • Name
  • Contact information
  • Name of their insurance provider
  • Policy number
  • Make and model of their vehicle
  • License plate number

If there were any eyewitnesses at the scene, it can help to get their name and contact information as well. When a police officer arrives, you can also note his or her name and badge number for future reference. 

Take lots of pictures of the scene as insurance uses them to evaluate the extent of damage. Get pictures of your car, the other driver’s vehicle and any other property damage caused by the accident. If you have visible injuries, take pictures of those too. 

Contact your insurance provider

At this point, it’s time to notify your insurer. Remember that the sooner you do this, the less likely you are to have your claim denied. We recommend contacting them while you’re waiting for the police officer to arrive at the scene of the crash. 

Your insurance provider usually has a claims center on its website to give you the resources you need to start filing your claim. Otherwise, you can call an agent directly and they will walk you through the process. 

As an added bonus, if your car isn’t driveable and you have roadside assistance coverage, contacting your insurance provider can serve two purposes. As you get your claim started, you can also have them dispatch a tow truck for you. 

Work with your claims adjuster

Once the auto insurance claim process is underway, your insurance provider will assign an adjuster to your claim. This claims adjuster is the person in charge of gathering the necessary evidence to confirm that the check provided to you is sufficient to cover your damages. 

Your adjuster will usually request specific documentation and may want to schedule a time to look at your car in person. Work with them to keep your claim moving forward without delay. 

Keep copies of documentation

The objective in filing an auto insurance claim is to get all of the expenses related to your accident covered. To ensure you have good proof of those expenses, keep any documentation related to the accident. 

This includes any doctor’s bills or auto body repair costs. It can be helpful to start a file with all the paperwork related to your claim for ease of reference — including receipts, your police report and any notes you took right after the accident. 

For more details on how to navigate the next steps after a car crash, check out our guide on what to do after any auto accident

What if you file a claim too late?

If you want to file a claim past the applicable statute of limitations in your state, you are likely out of luck. You can contact your insurer but there’s a high probability your claim will be denied. 

That said, if your neck gets sore a few months after your accident and you want to call on your personal injury protection, don’t hesitate to reach out to your insurer. If you reported your accident to them at the time the incident happened, you are in a better position to approach the claim. 

If you didn’t report your accident, you may still be able to file a successful claim. Be prepared to provide plenty of evidence to prove to your insurer that your injury resulted from the accident, not from another incident in the last few months.  

The takeaway: make your life easier by reporting your accident right away

The window of time you have to file a claim varies based on:

  • Your insurer
  • The type of claim you want to file
  • Your home state

It is best practice to report the incident to law enforcement and your insurer in the event of an accident. Additionally, it can make your claims process much easier if you report the accident to your insurer promptly.

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