Auto Insurance Deep Dive: Insurers Try Limiting Payouts Through Strict Reporting Requirements

Sep 4, 2020

Knowing the ins and outs of your auto insurance policy can be a key factor in determining whether you are able to receive adequate compensation following a crash. To that end, this post continues Coffman Law’s “Auto Insurance Deep Dive” series, which provides readers with brief summaries of the most important insurance-related topics and trends. Today’s blog discusses efforts by auto insurance companies to avoid paying out their policies by imposing arbitrary requirements on how soon a police report must be filed after a crash. Specifically, this post first outlines insurance reporting requirements in Illinois before analyzing how Illinois courts approach this issue by using a recent Illinois appellate court ruling as a case study.

Are There Any Post-Crash Insurance Reporting Requirements in Illinois?

Auto insurance reporting mandates vary significantly from state-to-state. Some states – such as Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia – simply tell residents to report all crashes “immediately,” whereas most other states have specific rules with respect to what types of crashes must be reported and when the report must be filed. A complete list of every state’s accident reporting requirements can be found HERE.

Pursuant to the Illinois Vehicle Code, any crash resulting in death, injury, or property damage exceeding $1,500 (or $500 if any of the vehicles involved in the crash were uninsured) must be reported with the Illinois Department of Transportation (“IDOT”) within 10 days of the accident. According to IDOT, paper reports can be mailed or hand-delivered to the Department, but motorist crash reports can also be filed online: click HERE to access a link to IDOT’s crash report.

In preparation for filing the report, it would be helpful to gather the following information:

  • Location/time of the crash;
  • A summary of what led to the crash;
  • Driver’s license information for all involved motorists;
  • License plate numbers for all involved motorists;
  • Contact information and dates of birth for all involved motorists; and
  • Contact information for the registered owners of all cars involved in the crash.

Where Do Illinois Courts Stand on Insurance Reporting Requirements?

In the 24 hours following a crash, involved parties commonly start experiencing physical pain, trauma, shock, stress, and a variety of other difficult symptoms. However, despite these initial complications, many auto insurance companies still continue to impose ridiculously short reporting requirements, with some even forcing insureds to report a crash to law enforcement within the first 24 hours. In Illinois, the First Appellate District recently considered this issue of reporting mandates within auto insurance contracts in a case entitled Lathrop v. Safeco Ins. Co., 2020 IL App (1st) 190741 (Ill. App. Ct. July 23, 2020).

Here, Plaintiff Mark Lathrop was riding his bicycle down the streets of Evanston, Illinois when he was suddenly struck from behind by the mirror of a passing truck. As the truck quickly drove away, Lathrop fell to his right and hit his head on a parked car. Surely in a daze from the accident, Lathrop decided to go to home to rest before eventually going to the doctor several days later. After diagnosing Lathrop with a cervical fracture and placing him into an immobilizing neck brace, doctors recommended that Lathrop report the accident to the police. It was at this point – 11 days after the crash – that Lathrop officially reported the hit-and-run crash to law enforcement.

Lathrop was insured through his mother’s policy with Defendant Safeco, so shortly after the accident, Lathrop sought compensation for his injuries under the uninsured motorist coverage and medical payment provisions of the policy. However, Safeco denied Lathrop’s claim, finding that his claim failed to satisfy all criterion set out in his mother’s insurance contract. Namely, Safeco pointed to a part of the contract providing that insureds must “report the accident to the police or other civil authority within twenty-four (24) hours or as soon as practicable if a hit and run driver is involved.” Lathrop then tried to obtain compensation through the legal system, but at the trial court level, the judge granted Safeco’s motion for summary judgment on this key issue of this reporting requirement.

On appeal, the First Appellate District reversed the lower court’s order, holding that Lathrop did in fact report the hit-and-run to the police “as soon as practicable.” In coming to this conclusion, the court relied on several details regarding Lathrop’s status immediately after the crash, including that he:

  1. Did not call the police because he was in shock
  2. Had no information to report concerning the identity of the driver or the truck
  3. Saw no bystanders witness the crash
  4. Experienced severe head and neck pain
  5. Was not aware that a bicycle crash triggered his mother’s auto insurance policy

In light of all of these factors, the court determined that Lathrop’s 11-day delay “was not outside the ambit of what a fair-minded person could conclude to be reasonable.”

While the Lathrop matter did eventually turn in the insured’s favor, this case still sounds a loud alarm for all crash victims. In terms of key takeaways, the first clear message from this case is that all parties involved in a crash should report every relevant detail concerning the crash to law enforcement and their insurance company as soon as possible. Importantly, despite its eventual holding, the Lathrop decision offers several hints that insurance reporting requirements are far from being a universally disfavored concept. After all, not only did the trial court initially rule in the insurance company’s favor, but the Presiding Judge of the First Appellate District also dissented in part, emphasizing that Lathrop should have known about the 24-hour reporting requirement. Therefore, when purchasing an insurance policy, be sure to carefully read the entire policy and ask lots of questions about important topics such as reporting mandates, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and medical payment coverage, just to name a few.

Another important takeaway from the Lathrop ruling is that crash victims can benefit themselves by involving an experienced attorney in the early stages of their case. Experienced personal injury attorneys – especially those with knowledge of the auto insurance industry – can offer valuable advice that may potentially save substantial amounts of time and money. For those involved in a car, truck, or motorcycle crash and concerned over insurance proceedings, do not hesitate to reach out to Coffman Law. Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman has handled virtually every type of crash case, and through his experience defending corporate insurers for years prior to founding his own firm, Brian has also come to understand the strategies typically employed by insurance companies in these types of cases. Click HERE to contact our office for a free consultation.

About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.

Coffman Law is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate redress for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain redress for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.