Fender benders may seem minor in many cases, but they are considered accidents and could warrant a claim if damage or injuries result from them. Even in the case of minor accidents, drivers and others involved have certain legal responsibilities.
This complete guide to fender benders will cover what exactly they are, along with how to handle these accidents and when you may need an attorney to help you file an accident claim.
What Is a Fender Bender?
A fender bender typically takes place at a low speed. In these accidents, the vehicles’ fenders endure the majority of the damage. Consequently, many vehicles involved in fender benders require repairs to their fenders, and sometimes other parts.
Many fender benders involve rear-end collisions, with approximately 2.1 million of them taking place each year. Despite being relatively minor accidents, they can cause serious damage to vehicles along with minor to severe injuries that require treatment. Never underestimate fender benders. Treat them as seriously as other types of accidents.
Common Causes of Fender Benders
Some common causes of fender benders include:
- A driver hitting the car behind them while backing out of a parking space.
- A driver suddenly braking and the vehicle behind rear-ending them.
- A distracted driver hitting a parked or moving vehicle.
Under any of these circumstances, people involved in fender benders need to know what to do following one of these accidents. Performing the appropriate actions after fender benders can help mitigate the potential damage these accidents may otherwise cause.
Steps to Take After a Fender Bender
Immediately after a fender bender and in the days and weeks afterward, you should take the following steps:
#1. Stop Your Vehicle
The very first step that anyone should take when they are involved in a fender bender is to stop their vehicle. If the accident is minor and the vehicles are still safe to operate, drivers can pull off the road and find a place to park. After getting out of the way of other traffic, turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights. You will also need to turn on your hazard lights if you can't move your vehicle at all following an accident.
In most states, it’s illegal to drive away if you were involved in any accident, regardless of who was at fault. Even if nobody sustains injuries, hit-and-runs can result in serious legal repercussions and hefty fines.
#2. Notify the Authorities
After ensuring you’re in a safe spot, call the police to report the accident, regardless of whether any injuries resulted from the accident. The police can provide an objective viewpoint and generate a detailed report that may support a car accident claim.
#3. Take Pictures of the Scene and Damages
As you await the arrival of police, take the time to capture photos or video footage of the vehicles involved and the scene of the accident, if possible. Make sure you record any visible damage.
#4. Exchange Insurance and Contact Information
One crucial step to take is to exchange information with the other motorist involved in the accident. This should include both insurance and contact details.
Using documentation such as your driver’s license and insurance card, share and collect:
- Phone numbers;
- Email addresses;
- Insurance policy numbers;
- Insurer contact details;
- Driver’s license numbers;
- Driver’s license expiration dates;
- The types of vehicles involved, including the make, model, and year;
- Vehicle license plate numbers; and
- Witness contact details.
Additionally, as for names, badge numbers, and accident report numbers from any police officers who respond to the scene of the accident.
#5. Avoid Admitting Fault
Generally, it’s best not to say too much when speaking to the other driver after an accident. Even apologizing when you weren’t at fault could lead the other driver or their insurers to claim that you were. Instead, speak mainly to the police and remain both factual and honest when relaying the details of the accident.
#6. Get a Copy of the Accident Report
Law enforcement in most states will create a police report for an accident, particularly when it results in substantial damage exceeding $1,000. The report might include details about the accident and the circumstances surrounding it, along with information about witnesses if they were present. When filing a claim or lawsuit, an accident report can be extremely helpful.
#7. Contact Your Insurer
Regardless of the severity of the fender bender, contact your insurance company as soon as possible to let them know you were in an accident. This is usually required by your policy, but will also help make sure your insurance adjuster anticipates that the other driver’s insurer will contact them regarding the accident.
#8. Get an Estimate for Damage to Your Vehicle
When getting ready to seek repairs for your vehicle, start by requesting an estimate for the damage. A local auto body shop can provide you with an accurate estimate. Insurance adjusters may also look over the damage and assess it themselves.
#9. Cover Your Insurance Deductible
Before your insurance company can start covering the costs of repairs, you need to pay the deductible on your policy. However, the other party may be responsible for covering the deductible if they were at fault, in which case your insurer will seek payment from them.
#10. Seek Medical Attention
Many fender benders don’t result in serious injuries, but it’s in your best interests to seek medical attention as soon as possible following an accident. Even if you don’t believe you were injured, symptoms could appear at a later time. Seeing a doctor will give you the chance to receive an accurate diagnosis of any injuries, along with a treatment plan. You’ll also create medical records that could go a long way in supporting your claim.
Fender Benders Can Lead to Serious Physical Pain
Whiplash and other serious and painful injuries can result from what appear to be very minor accidents. A fender bender might seem harmless, but it could lead to severe pain or even life-threatening injuries.
#1. Low-Speed Accidents Can Still Cause Injuries
Regardless of the speed of impact, an accident can injure tendons, muscles, bones, and ligaments. In fact, the Spine Research Institute of San Diego found that a majority of injuries in car accidents result from crashes occurring at speeds of 6-12 mph. Although drivers and passengers may not feel any pain at first, they may begin to feel it within hours or days following the incident.
#2. Airbags and Seat Belts Can Contribute to Injuries
Airbags and seat belts are life-saving devices in many accidents, but they can also cause injuries. Airbags contain a nitrogen gas that rapidly inflates the airbag on impact, hitting occupants at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. As a result, these devices can cause injury to the head and neck. Seat belts can cause injuries when an accident throws occupants into them and the ensuing pressure stresses soft tissues and the spine.
Overwhelmingly, you’re better off with these safety features than without them—and when they work as promised, the blame for the injuries lies with the person who caused the accident.
#3. The Importance of Seeking Professional Treatment
Following any type of accident including a fender bender, you should get an evaluation from medical professionals as soon as possible. Through a proper evaluation, a doctor can determine whether you sustained potentially serious underlying injuries even if you are experiencing no pain at the time. Cuts and bruises are often obvious signs of injury, but some injuries are not visible on the surface and don’t result in immediate pain.
Other Types of Accidents
In addition to fender benders, many other types of accidents can warrant an insurance or personal injury claim.
Other types of common car accidents that can result in serious injury include:
- Head-on Collisions - Accidents involving two vehicles headed in opposite directions that collide with each other’s front ends.
- Rear-end Accidents - One vehicle collides into another’s back end, often because the vehicle in front suddenly stops.
- Rollover Accidents - Accidents in which a vehicle rolls onto its side or roof, potentially leading to catastrophic injuries.
- T-bone Collisions - One vehicle collides with another’s side, forming a “T” shape with both vehicles.
Regardless of the type of accident you experienced, reporting it to law enforcement and insurers is critical. You should also seek medical treatment as soon as you can, even if you don’t appear to have sustained serious injuries immediately after the accident.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim After a Fender Bender?
Most insurance companies ask that you report your accident to them as soon as possible following any type of accident. While reporting may not be quite the same as beginning a claim, it’s a crucial step to take. The sooner you make your insurance company aware of an accident, the more likely you are to file a successful claim if you need to.
Additionally, state laws set a statute of limitations for filing a car accident claim. A statute of limitations is a specific amount of time in which you have to file a claim or lawsuit. The statute of limitations for filing a property damage or personal injury claim is normally two to three years after the date of the accident.
What Happens If I File Too Late?
If you attempt to file a claim after your state’s statute of limitations has passed, your claim is far less likely to be successful. Although you can still contact your insurance company, they will likely deny your claim at this point. On the other hand, if you experience pain and suspect an injury developed within the months after an accident and wish to use personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, you may be able to file a successful claim with your insurer. Generally, you’ll have better luck if you report the accident to your insurance carrier at the time of the accident.
When to Hire a Car Accident Attorney
Victims and defendants involved in a fender bender may decide to seek legal counsel to represent them in the event of a disagreement between the parties to the accident. There are a couple of specific circumstances when it may be in your best interests to consult with a car accident lawyer.
Consider contacting an attorney if:
There’s Disagreement Regarding Fault
If drivers can’t agree on who was at fault after a fender bender or other accident, they may want to take the case to court where a judge and jury ultimately determine who was at fault.
Whether you are an injury victim or a defendant in a car accident case, consult with an accident attorney who may be able to advise you on the matter. A lawyer can also help determine if your case is in a no-fault state, where fault doesn't matter in accidents with minor injuries.
Reports Contradict Each Other
In some cases, you may notice certain contradictory information in police, medical, or insurance reports regarding an accident. An attorney can investigate these conflicting documents and help determine which document accurately describes the accident. Speak with a lawyer if you find that any documents contradict your version of events, as this could help you paint the most accurate picture to support your claim.
Taking the right steps following a fender bender or any other kind of accident can maximize your chances of filing a successful claim. If you want to learn more about the options available to you after getting involved in an accident, consider speaking with a licensed car accident lawyer to discuss your case.