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A car accident is a collision involving at least one vehicle and any other object. While there are several definitions of what is considered to be an actual car accident, an actual car accident is generally considered to be one that results in property damage, injury, or loss of life.

Property Damage

The most minor type of crash that is still considered an accident is one that causes property damage but no injuries. This includes incidents like:

  • Hitting a guardrail
  • Scraping another vehicle while parking
  • Driving over a curb and damaging the underside or tires of a car
  • Backing into a light pole or other stationary object

In such cases, photos showing the damage are helpful to document an accident even if injuries are not claimed. However, many states still require that if a crash causes over $500 to $1,000 in damage or more, it must be reported to the police or relevant transportation authorities.

Personal Injury

Any accident that results in a personal injury to one or more parties, no matter how minor, is also considered an actual accident that should be reported. Common injuries in auto accidents include:

  • Whiplash or other neck sprains or strains
  • Back sprains or strains
  • Concussions or other head trauma
  • Cuts requiring stitches
  • Broken bones
  • Muscle strains or sprains in arms and legs
  • Burn injuries

Injuries can range from very minor and treatable at home to severe, debilitating, or even fatal. Any injury apparent immediately or that develops later and that a driver, passenger, or pedestrian relates to the accident makes it an actual accident that should be reported to insurance providers. Documentation from emergency responders or healthcare providers will establish proof.


The most severe category is auto collisions that result in fatal injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or other persons involved in the incident. A single fatality requires that the crash be thoroughly investigated by law enforcement and recorded as a fatal accident. Even if the victim dies later from complications of injuries rather than at the scene, if the medical examiner identifies injuries from the crash as the cause or a contributing factor in the death, in most places that necessitates an amended report reclassifying the collision as fatal.

Sample Accident Reporting Table

The following table summarizes different types of collisions and whether they meet the requirement for reporting as an actual accident based on the damage and/or injuries involved:

Accident Type Property Damage Only? Personal Injury Involved? Fatality Involved? Considered an Actual Accident?
Hit guard rail Yes No No Yes
Scraped the vehicle while parking Yes No No Yes
Drove over the curb, damaging car’s underside Yes No No Yes
Backed into a light pole Yes No No Yes
Rear-ended another vehicle Yes Possible No Yes
Struck pedestrian, minor injuries Yes Yes No Yes
Head-on collision, driver concussion Yes Yes No Yes
Multi-car pile-up, broken bones Yes Yes Possible Yes
High-speed single-vehicle rollover, fatal injuries Yes Probably Yes Yes

As this table shows, auto accidents involving property damage of over $1,000, any kind of injury to a party involved, and especially fatalities, should all be considered actual accidents needing reporting based on regulations in most states. When judging whether a collision meets the threshold for a reportable accident, the general rule is to err on the side of caution if any damage or injuries are apparent.

Practical Implications of Different Accident Categories

The degree of property damage, injuries, or loss of life often dictates important details about how an accident is handled, including:

Accident reporting: As previously mentioned, many states have a dollar threshold where the accident legally must be reported even if no one was hurt. Any injury accident should always be reported.

Insurance claims: Those involved in the collision will almost always file a claim after accidents involving moderate property damage, injuries, or death. Photos, witness statements, medical reports, and police reports become vital for supporting the claim.

Legal action: Victims of serious injury wrecks or families of wrongful death victims often pursue legal action against negligent parties to receive compensation for current and future medical bills, lost income and benefits, pain and suffering, or other damages. Documenting the accident thoroughly and proving fault then becomes critical.

Settlements or judgments: Multi-million dollar out-of-court settlements from insurance providers or legal judgments often result from motor vehicle injury claims or wrongful death lawsuits. The injured party may receive lump sums or structured payments to cover lifetime medical care and provide for basic needs.

Criminal charges: Only intentional or reckless acts like DUI, distracted driving leading to fatalities, or hit-and-run deaths typically lead to felony criminal charges like homicide or manslaughter convictions. However, some states allow charges like assault with a deadly weapon or criminal negligence for accidents with very severe outcomes.

License suspension or revocation: A driver responsible for causing an accident with injuries or getting multiple violations for offenses like DUI or reckless driving may have their license suspended for months or years by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Repeat or egregious offenses can result in permanent loss of driving privileges.

Key Takeaways

The essential points to remember are:

  • All injuries and most incidents involving over $500-$1,000 in vehicle damage are legally considered an accident needing reporting to authorities. Higher thresholds up to $3,000 exist in some states.
  • Crashes clearly involving fatalities, visible injuries, or ambulance transport must be reported and investigated even more rigorously due to severe outcomes.
  • Thorough documentation via photos, witness statements, medical reports, and police reports protects those involved and assists with insurance claims and possible lawsuits.
  • More extensive property damage, traumatic injuries, or deaths can result in large insurance settlements, civil judgments, or even criminal charges depending on state laws and circumstance specifics.

In short, an actual car accident is best defined as any collision involving another vehicle, person, animal, or object leading to vehicle damage over several hundred dollars or personal injury of any kind. When judging borderline incidents, take the safe route and report crashes on the police non-emergency line for guidance on proper procedures. Clear documentation and communication with involved parties, insurers, police, and state transportation agencies can ensure optimal outcomes.


About the Author



When you are pursuing legal action in Houston, do not settle for just any lawyer. You must receive the attention and care of a local attorney who will advocate for you. Associate Colin W. Jacobson does not view his role of bringing you justice for your pain and suffering as just a job; it is his passion. He instills his firm’s values of honesty and integrity within his practice. Colin’s greatest reward is giving his clients confidence in any aspect of their case.

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