For consumers needing to submit auto insurance claims, how to file properly can make all the difference in the world in getting timely resolution and settlement. With more than 220 million vehicles on the road today, the chances are good that someday you will need to file an auto insurance claim. Most claims are not for personal injury – that’s the good news. And, while personal injury claims may require a different level of proof and a lot of follow-up and each state has their own insurance regulations, filing a claim typically involves following a few basic steps.
- At the Scene: If someone has been injured, call 911 immediately. If not, don’t tie up the emergency lines. Do call the police directly, however, since you’ll most likely need the police report for your insurance.
- Information Exchange: Obtain all the necessary information from the other driver (and provide your own) including: license plate number, contact information and auto insurance information. Most states require drivers to carry proof of vehicle insurance in the car at all times. Make sure to get phone numbers as well.
- Identify Witnesses: If at all possible, try to identify witnesses at the scene who may be willing to tell what they saw should it be needed later. Get their contact information. If no witnesses are available, the police report can serve as back-up. Be aware that in some jurisdictions, police will be unwilling to write up an accident report, assuming the damage is less than $500. Experts say you should insist on an incident report. Even in a mall parking lot, you can get an incident report by contacting mall security. The point is that you want a written, independent record of what happened. Who’s at fault is the reason. Remember that an insurance carrier will tend to believe the account of their policyholder first. You need a written report to back you up. Aside from a rental car and repairs to your vehicle, even if there’s no injury, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may owe you for time off work. And your insurance company can’t raise your rates if you’re not at fault.
- Contact Your Insurance Carrier: Call your own insurance company as soon as possible – at the scene or as soon as you can. Many have 24-hour claims-filing service by phone. Even if you are not at fault, experts say you should file a claim with your insurance carrier. They will go after the at-fault party’s insurance company. In addition, you’ll get better service, including help resolving disputes over what expenses should be covered. Be aware that in no-fault insurance states, you have to file with your own insurance carrier first. And each no-fault state has thresholds (which vary by state) below which your own insurance company pays all the expenses except deductible (above the threshold, you seek restitution from the other party).
- If Other Party At-Fault: Advise the other party’s insurance carrier that you will be pursuing a claim through your own insurance or file directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. Meticulously record every expense.
- Call from Other Party’s Insurance Carrier: You will get a phone call from the other party’s insurance carrier asking for your version of the events of what happened. Be prepared for this and call your own insurance company ahead of time to ask what things you should say. Write everything down so that you will say exactly what you need to. Be aware that your account of the incident will be tape recorded – and may be used against you in court in a lawsuit. Never trust your memory.
- Adjuster Inspects Your Vehicle: Before any repairs to your vehicle can be made, an adjuster comes out to inspect it and arrives at an estimate to repair it (restore it, or replace it if it’s totaled). The company will cut a check to cover the repairs, minus collision deductible. Or, they may direct you to a shop with which they have an agreement and the company pays the shop directly for the needed repairs.
- Disputes: If you believe the estimates are too low or there’s disagreement over expenses you believe should be covered, ask for arbitration to settle the dispute. If you disagree with the settlement amount offered initially, you might not be offered arbitration. You may need to consider taking the matter to court.
Remember that in auto insurance claims, how to file properly is worth the effort to know.
For more tips on car insurance, visit our section on car insurance where you can get additional tips.