Woodland Hills personal injury attorney, Barry P. Goldberg, has found that most clients are shocked when they learn that they could lose their licenses after an accident—even if they were not at fault and even if they had sufficient liability insurance! Moreover, most people incorrectly think that reporting an accident to the police or to their insurance company is all that is required under the law. They believe that—somehow—the California Department of Motor Vehicles will learn about the accident and be sympathetic because they were not at fault, were injured and carry at least the required amount of automobile liability insurance. But, the DMV requires the filing of an SR-1 Form which identifies you and your insurance within 10 days of an accident.
The truth is that your insurance company will not file an SR-1 Form. They probably will not even tell you that it is required. They are not your “Good Neighbor” in this respect. Further, the police and the DMV are not one in the same. The police just take down the information—they do not do anything with it! If YOU fail to file an SR-1 Form with the DMV—YOU get your license suspended for one year! No excuses accepted!
The reason that the consequences are so severe is that the little old SR-1 Form is the single link in a complex system known as the Financial Responsibility Laws. Without the SR-1 Form, the laws do not work. Many people would be surprised to learn that the state’s exclusive method of enforcing that all drivers are insured as required is from the reporting of accidents.
The law requires that traffic accidents on any California street, highway or private property must be reported to the DMV within 10 days if there was an injury, death or property damage in excess of $750. The SR-1 Form forwards your information and information about the adverse driver to the respective insurance companies for verification. When it is determined that the adverse party does not have insurance, you need this information in the form of an SR-19 Form to access your own Uninsured Motorist Coverage. The offending driver without insurance has his or her license suspended immediately.
It is a bit tricky if YOU are the one without proper insurance! Do you dare not report the accident? If you do, your license will be automatically suspended. If you do not, you must hope that the adverse party forgets to report the accident.
Remember, the law requires the driver to file an SR-1 Form regardless of fault. The report must be made in addition to any other report filed with a law enforcement agency, insurance company, or the California Highway patrol. An attorney is permitted to file the report for the driver. Our office always provides this service to clients.
California Vehicle Code section 1806 requires the DMV to record accident information regardless of fault when drivers report accidents under the Financial Responsibility Law and if law enforcement agencies make a report. In fact, insurance companies access DMV accident information to determine an applicant’s driving record and to adjust insurance premiums.
If you were in an accident and forgot to file the SR-1 Form you may still be Okay. Internal DMV policy is to give all drivers a “second chance.” If another driver filed an SR-1 Form identifying YOU, the DMV will send you a “last chance” letter to your last known address even though it is well past 10 days after an accident. If YOU receive one of these letters, you must act within 10 days or your license will be suspended for one year. Do not rely on the DMV to have your correct address thinking that you will get a “last chance.” We hear stories from clients all the time that they never got their “second chance.”
There is also an interesting internal policy that the DMV seems to selectively enforce. The DMV states that it does not accept reports or take actions against non-reporting or uninsured motorists unless the SR-1 Form is received by the DMV within one calendar year of the date of the accident. So, if you were uninsured and one year has passed, you may have gotten lucky. But, it is also a warning to accident victims to promptly file all documents in order to access Uninsured Motorist Benefits. The DMV’s internal procedure conflicts with two statute of limitations to pursue a personal injury action, including the pursuit of Uninsured Motorist claims. Although it is possible to prove that an adverse driver was uninsured without a DMV SR-19 Form, it is more difficult and always more expensive.
Of course, if you are confused or uncertain about your reporting requirements, do not ignore the law and risk losing your license. Consult promptly with and experienced personal injury attorney right away.