How to File an Auto Insurance Claim After an Accident?

Patient medical bills and claim form with coin jar

When you’re in an accident, whether someone is hurt, there is extensive damage to the cars or property involved, or the event is a simple fender bender, you’ll need to file an auto insurance claim for coverage.

  • If you live in a no-fault state, you’ll file with your insurance company.
  • If you’re in an at-fault state, you’ll file with the insurance company of the driver at fault.

Either way, it’s best to involve your insurance company up front so they can be your advocate. No matter who you end up filing a claim with, there are things that need to happen throughout the process.

What to Do Immediately After an Accident?

1. Call the police.

Call the police immediately following the accident, or have someone else do so for you. The police will be sure that emergency personnel are at the scene. They will also file a police report, of which you’ll want a copy.

2. Gather information at the scene.

You or someone else should gather as much information as possible.

  • The names, drivers license numbers, license plate numbers and all contact information of the other drivers.
  • If there are witnesses to the accident, get their names and contact information.
  • Note the year, make and model of involved cars.
  • Write down how many people were in each car.
  • Get the auto insurance information, including policy numbers, for other drivers involved.
  • Take photos of damage to both cars and, if you are injured in any way, have someone take photos of your injuries.
  • Write down where the accident occurred and what happened.

3. Call your insurance company.

Notify your insurance company at the scene if possible. They can provide guidance and help arrange such things as calling a towing service and obtaining a rental car. Your insurance company will open a claims file and assign an insurance adjuster to the case.

4. File an accident report with the DMV, at the scene if necessary.

State laws differ, but your state may have laws about reporting an accident. Your insurance agent can tell you about your state’s requirements. You can also contact the state insurance commissioner’s office.

What Not to Do?

At the scene, avoid doing or saying anything at the scene that could hinder an auto insurance claim at a later date:

  • Do not admit fault or apologize.
  • Avoid discussing the details of your insurance coverage.
  • Don’t agree to a private settlement at the scene.

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How Your Claim Adjuster Helps with Your Auto Insurance Claim?

The insurance claims adjuster assigned to your case can be a great resource following an accident, and can answer any questions you may have about your auto insurance claim. The adjuster can assist in a variety of ways including:

  • Facilitate your claim
  • Inspect your car and assess the damage
  • Communicate with other drivers’ insurance companies and other third parties
  • Recommend a garage for repairs, or let you know if a specific garage is required
  • Review the garage’s estimated costs for repairs
  • Arrange for a rental car while your car is in for repairs, if rentals are covered by your policy

Getting Your Vehicle Repaired

After the repair estimate has been approved by your insurance company, you will know how much you will pay, which will depend on your deductible. You’ll also be informed about what repairs are approved. If your insurance policy covers it, you’ll have a rental car to drive until you are able to drive your own car again.

If Your Car is A Total Loss

Sometimes the damage to the car is more costly than its value. If your car is a total loss, your insurance company may pay you a lump sum for the car’s assessed value at the time just prior to the accident. Gap coverage, if you included it when you purchased insurance, will pay the difference between your car’s actual cash value and the balance you still owe on a loan or lease.

When It’s a Good Idea to File a Claim?

Some typical scenarios can drive your decision as to whether to let your insurance company know about a crash include:

1. The incident involves another car.

Some people make a deal and pay for the other person’s repairs so they won’t get a ding on their insurance records. But this is a risky move. You never know if the other person might sue in the future, especially for physical problems after the fact. Your liability insurance will cover your legal defense, so keep your provider in the loop.

2. You cause sizable damage to your own car.

If your car’s repairs will cost more than the deductible you’d pay, or the total cost will be more than you can afford, inform your insurance broker or company.

When It Can Be a Good Idea to NOT File a Claim?

1. If you don’t have collision coverage on your policy.

Even if you have liability coverage, if you didn’t also buy collision protection, there’s no point in filing because it won’t be covered.

2. You cause minor damage to your own car and repairs are minimal.

If you dent your car and no one else is involved and repair costs are less than your deductible, go ahead and pay for the repairs yourself without filing. Some might decide to just live with the dent or damage.

Do Rates Always Go Up When You File a Claim?

Although it’s common to have your premiums go up after filing a claim, you may not be affected. It depends on your provider and what your claims history looks like. If the insurance company’s rules allow and you have a clean claims record, you may not see your rates go up.

Before you ever need to decide whether or not to file an auto insurance claim, ask your broker or insurance provider how much they typically raise rates after a claim, a process that’s called a surcharge schedule.

When Your Claim is Resolved

If for any reason you are not happy with the adjuster you worked with or the service you were provided, it may be time to change your insurance. In this case, do your homework and compare costs and coverage offered by other insurance companies.

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