"COVID-19 Spurs Accident Reporting Changes"
In an article published in the December 2020 issue of Risk Management, Kelly Chartash and Kori Eskridge provide insight on the reduction in automobile accident claims as a result of COVID-19. In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, some police departments across the nation have revised their procedures for responding to non-injury automobile accidents, particularly in large metro areas and COVID-19 hotspots.
In early August 2020, for example, the Atlanta Police Department implemented a temporary but controversial policy of no longer dispatching officers to the scene of non-injury automobile accidents. Instead, individuals involved in a non-injury automobile accident were directed to fill out a form online, which included the location of the accident and the vehicles and drivers involved. The temporary policy was reversed within two weeks as the number of vehicles on the streets increased, but police departments implemented similar online reporting policies for non-injury accidents in several other states, including Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado.
"For businesses that operate vehicle fleets, it is important to be aware of such law enforcement policy changes," explain Eskridge and Chartash. "To reduce the risk of costly liability, such businesses should take steps to ensure internal reporting and investigation procedures are in place in the event of an accident."
In the event of a lawsuit, the lack of a formal police report can also negate or diminish certain claims and defenses typically raised by both parties. Causation arguments may also be affected as there is no neutral individual, like a responding police officer, to document any statements regarding injuries (or lack thereof), which are often used by both sides to support or dispute the relatedness of the claimed injuries to the motor vehicle accident.
Many insurance policies, including commercial automobile policies, require that the police be notified and a police report be completed as a condition precedent for coverage. "A self-completed form may not be sufficient to qualify as a police report," said Eskridge and Chartash. "If the self-completed form is not submitted to the state’s department of driver services, insurers will not be able to submit an open records request to obtain the form and will have to instead rely on the involved parties for important information about the accident to determine coverage and liability. This presents concerns for potential fraud and misrepresentation."
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