How to File a Car Insurance Complaint

By Jessica Bosari
After 13 years in personal and commercial insurance, Jessica Bosari now writes about personal finance, car insurance, risk management and related topics. Since 2008, she has been simplifying complex ideas through engaging articles for her readers.

How to File a Car Insurance Complaint

If you’re at the end of your rope with a customer service or claims representative at your insurance company, it may be time to file a car insurance complaint. Don’t worry; it’s unlikely you need a lawyer to accomplish this. Your state’s insurance department is available to help. Getting in touch with them is the first step in resolving certain disagreements that can arise between you and your car insurance company.

The Good ‘Ol Days

Sadly, there was a time when insurance companies took terrible advantage of their customers. Remember that scene from The Incredibles? — the one where Mr. Incredible’s boss chews him out for paying claims? Everything the boss said was an accurate reflection of the insurance industry in the sixties and seventies. At least, that’s what claims manager Jerry Remillard told me one day while I worked with him at Trust Insurance. In a meeting about customer service, he pointed out that the strict consumer protections in place now are a direct result of how insurance companies handled claims when he was new to the business.

According to Jerry, it was once standard procedure to answer every claim automatically with a denial letter. Then, if the insured put up a fight, the investigation started. And then, only when the insured became overwhelmingly difficult, would they pay claims. When he told me this, he looked relieved that those days were gone. It must be ever-so-much easier to adjust claims when you can treat people fairly. In my adjuster days, I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was able to help customers resolve their claims.

Car Insurance Customer Service Today

It’s rare to see the old-style callousness in a claims department these days. When it does happen, it’s usually because an adjuster has more claims than he can handle. He has to get through them, he can’t just pay and close them without a thought, but he doesn’t have time to investigate them all properly. And he certainly doesn’t have time to be answering routine questions from his customers.

It’s unfortunate, but it happens. And heaven forbid he quits because of the excessive workload. Then your claim would end up on the desk of another probably-overworked adjuster who has little interest in your problems. She already had her own mountain of claims to deal with.

If you recognize this sort of treatment coming from your insurance company’s claims department, or if you’re getting unfair treatment from a customer service agent with respect to your policy, you might need to file a complaint. Before you do that, however, you need to make sure the insurance company understands your gripe and gives you a written response as to why they don’t agree with your position.

Take the time to articulate your concerns. Get all your paperwork together–correspondence and records of phone calls made to the company. Call customer service with these items in hand, so you can answer all the questions they might ask. If, after laying out your case, you still don’t get the answer you want, ask them to send their response and the reasons behind it to you in writing. You’ll want to have both the records you prepared and the insurance company’s written response on hand when you file a complaint with your state’s insurance department.

Appropriate Reasons to File a Complaint

Understand that insurance departments won’t accept just any complaint. They are there to handle complaints that show a company violated an insurance regulation or consumer protection law. Acceptable issues include improperly denied claims, unreturned premium, unfair policy cancellations or misrepresented sales. If your case is currently involved in a lawsuit, the state won’t touch it. You’ll have to let your lawyer advise you on that.

Will a Complaint Help?

The level of help available varies by state. In Massachusetts, for example, the complaint form suggests you’ll get compassionate assistance: “We understand that insurance matters can be complex, often confusing, and sometimes lead to frustration. While we cannot resolve every situation, Consumer Service is available to help you in resolving your complaint.”

In Texas, it’s far more business-like: “After you send your complaint to us, we will:

  • send you an acknowledgment letter;
  • tell the company about your complaint and ask for a detailed response;
  • send you a copy of the company’s response and an explanation of the outcome, usually within 45 days after we receive your complaint;
  • decide if the company handled your issue appropriately and within the terms of the policy or certificate of coverage; and
  • decide if the company, agent, or adjuster broke state insurance laws or administrative rules, and take enforcement action when laws or rules are broken.

While we make every effort to help you resolve your complaint, there are certain issues that we can’t help you resolve.”

Whether your state is warm and fuzzy or all business, it’s still worth your time to file a complaint. Even if the problem falls outside of the items your insurance department is authorized to resolve, all reports go to the NAIC database, which helps identify problematic patterns with certain companies and makes your complaint available for the public to research.

Filing a Complaint

As mentioned above, car insurance complaints are submitted to and handled by each state’s department of insurance. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website can help you find your state’s insurance department. Simply navigate to “File a Complaint”, select your state from the dropdown box, and then select the link for your state’s insurance department. Follow the instructions listed there. You can often file your complaint online, but you might be asked to submit it by mail.

If you don’t receive an acknowledgement of your complaint within a week, it’s a good idea to follow up and verify that your complaint was received and is getting attention. Even the agencies designed to help us with customer service problems can have their own customer service issues. Filing a complaint against a car insurance company isn’t a “send it and forget it” deal. You have to follow up, just as you did with the insurance company itself before deciding to make your complaint official.