If you’re involved in a car accident, there may be some legal obligations to attend to before leaving the scene.
Accidents must be reported to the police if anyone is injured or dies. The police have wide powers to get information about car accidents.
If you cause an accident you’re also responsible for any damages.
You should get legal advice when someone makes a claim against you , or if you want to make a claim against someone else for damage to your property.
If you don’t know the name of the other person involved in an accident but you have their car registration number, you may be able to find the owner’s details by searching the Department of Transport and Main Road’s Queensland Motor Vehicle register.
There are time limits for making a claim for motor vehicle property damage.
If you’re involved in a car accident, you may also be charged with a traffic offence.
Get legal advice.
If you're seeking compensation for a personal injury that occurred as a result of a car accident, you may be eligible for assistance through the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme.
Leaving the scene of an accident
If you’re involved in a traffic accident you must stop and give your name and address to the other person involved and the owner of any other property that is damaged (e.g. fence, light pole, traffic sign). If the vehicle is unoccupied, or the owner of the property is not present, you can leave your details for the owner. If there’s any damage to vehicles, other property or people involved, you should report it to the police.
If someone is injured, you must remain at the accident scene and help until the appropriate authorities arrive (eg police, ambulance etc.)—unless—you’re getting medical or other help for yourself or other people involved.
If you’ve been charged with leaving the scene of an accident, get legal advice.
Reporting an accident to the police
If you or someone else is injured because of a car accident, call the police. In an emergency, call 000.
Car accidents must be reported to the police if there’s any damage to vehicles or other property or if anyone is injured or dies. If the police come to the accident scene, they may test any drivers involved for drugs or alcohol and ask you questions about what happened.
Talking to the police
The police have wide powers to get information about traffic accidents.
If you’ve been involved in a traffic accident, you must give the police any information that will help identify:
- the vehicle’s owner
- the person in possession of the vehicle
- the vehicle’s registered owner
- the identity of anyone who can give the police the above information.
The police can also ask for information about any vehicle, person, animal or property involved in the accident or how the accident happened. This may include witnesses or passengers or other people not involved in the accident. The owner of the vehicle, even if they were not involved in the accident or a witness to it, must answer police questions to assist in identifying the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
It’s a criminal offence not to give this information to the police, or to give false information about a traffic accident.
Insurance and car accidents
If you have a car insurance policy, you should let your insurer know about the accident as soon as possible. This is a requirement of most insurance policies.
It’s a good idea to report any accident to your insurer even if you decide not to make a claim against your insurance, because the other driver may decide to make a claim against you. Even if you know the other driver is not going to make a claim you still have a duty of disclosure to report it to your insurer.
There are different types of insurance:
- Third party property insurance covers you for damage to other people’s vehicles and property. This is different to Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance. CTP insurance covers personal injuries or death caused by an accident.
- Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your vehicle as well as other people’s vehicles and property.
Your insurance policy will set out what you are covered for.
If you have a dispute with an insurance company, get legal advice.
When someone makes a claim against you
If another person thinks you were responsible for the accident (liable), they might make a claim against you for any damage to their vehicle or property.
They may sometimes send you a letter of demand asking you to pay for the damage caused by the accident.
If you’re insured you can pass this letter onto your insurer. Most insurance policies have an excess, which means you have to pay the amount of the excess before the insurance company will accept the claim.
If you’re not insured and you receive a letter of demand get legal advice about whether you are fully or partially responsible for the accident (this is called liability). Liability can be shared between more than one person (eg both you and the other driver might be at fault).
You can ask for evidence of the amount of damage being claimed against you (eg quotes or valuations). This is called quantum.
When you have all the information you should negotiate with the other person or their insurance company. Get legal advice.
If you have damage to your own car from the accident and the other driver is partially responsible, you may be able to make a claim against them for the damage to your car (a counter claim). Get legal advice.
If you can’t reach an agreement you may have to go to court.
For claims less than $25,000 you can go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). For claims over $25,000, you can go to the Magistrates or District Courts. Get legal advice to work out which court to go to.
Making a claim against someone else
If you think someone else is responsible (liable) for the accident, you can make a claim against them for any damage to your vehicle or property.
If your car can be repaired, you should get a written quote from qualified repairers for both labour and parts to repair the vehicle. It’s advisable to get more than one quote to prove that the amount you are asking for is reasonable.
If it can’t be repaired or the cost to repair the vehicle is more than the vehicle is worth (write off), you should get 2 written valuations from car yards, qualified panel beaters or other expert valuers (eg car clubs such as Redbook or Glass Guide) for the car’s pre-accident value.
If the car can be repaired, you can claim:
- the lowest quote for repairs or the average of the quotes, and
- any other necessary costs (eg towing)
If the car is written off you can claim:
- the lowest reasonable valuation for the pre-accident value less the salvage value (ie value of the wreck), and
- any other necessary costs (eg towing).
To make a claim, you should send a letter of demand with copies of quotes or valuations to the driver of the other vehicle and to their insurer asking for payment within a fixed time period (eg 14 days). If the owner and the driver are not the same person, in limited circumstances the owner may be liable as well as the driver, and a separate letter should be sent to each person. If you’re unsure about whether the owner is liable get legal advice.
If the other person doesn't pay the amount owing within the time specified in the letter of demand—or they don’t respond—then you can take action in the Magistrates or District Courts (for claims over $25,000), or in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) (for claims $25,000 or less). The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) may be able to help if you have a dispute with another person's insurance company about motor vehicle property damage. Get legal advice before lodging a dispute.
Finding out who owns the vehicle
If you don’t know the vehicle owner’s name, but you have the registration number, you can find the owner’s details by requesting a Queensland Motor Vehicle Register search.
The information requested must be about the vehicle/s involved in the incident or accident.
To make an application you must supply 1 or more of the following:
- a police traffic accident report (only if the police investigated the accident)
- a written permission from the registered operator
- an official request on letterhead from your insurance company, solicitor or lawyer supporting the vehicle incident or accident report
- a statutory declaration describing the off-road incident and property damage, with a copy of any available witness statements
- a statutory declaration describing the incident, with a repair quote.
You have 6 years to make a claim for motor vehicle property damage. To ensure the best outcome you should make a claim as soon as possible. Get legal advice.
Do I need legal advice?
You may need legal advice if:
- there’s a dispute about liability (who is at fault) or about quantum (the amount of damage)
- you‘re about to start negotiating with the insurer or other driver
- both vehicles are damaged and you think the other driver is partially to blame
- you’re going to court because you can't reach an agreement
- there is a dispute with an insurer over your motor vehicle property damage claim.
How to get legal advice
We may give legal advice for property damage disputes resulting from a car accident.
We don’t give legal advice about personal injuries—but you may be able to make an application through the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme (CLLAS) to help with some of the costs for a personal injury claim. You may need private legal advice before making an application.
Our Consumer Protection Unit (CPU) may give specialist legal advice and help where an insurer is refusing or delaying an insurance claim.
The following organisations may be able to give legal advice:
Insurance Law Service gives free specialist legal advice to anyone in Australia about insurance law or resolving a dispute with an insurer.
Rural Women's Outreach Legal Service gives free initial legal advice to rural women on a range of legal matters, including car accidents (recovery of money for repairs to the car).
Hub Community Legal gives free legal advice on a range of legal issues, including motor vehicle accidents.
Students Legal Service - University of Queensland gives free legal advice to UQ students only, including advice about motor vehicle accidents.
Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation, including lawyers who help with personal injury claims.
Who else can help?
The following organisations may also be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) make decisions to resolve disputes for a range of matters including minor civil disputes like motor vehicle property damage.
Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) offers dispute resolution for complaints about financial services, including general insurance.
Motor Accident Insurance Commission deals with compulsory third party (CTP) and personal injury claims. Contact the commission if you wish to make a claim.
National Injury Insurance Scheme Queensland is a no-fault scheme that provides necessary and reasonable lifetime treatment, care and support to those who sustain eligible serious personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident or work related accident in Queensland, on or after 1 July 2016.
RACQ Motoring Advice Service (members only) can help RACQ members with information and advice relating to the use and ownership of a motor vehicle in Queensland.
Office of Fair Trading has a helpful guide for consumers to getting motor vehicle repairs and resolving disputes.