How to Make a Car Insurance Claim After an Accident
Claiming auto insurance coverage after an accident can be a time consuming and stressful process. The following tips will keep you on track as you navigate the claims process.
It all starts with the accident, of course. Always remember, if you’re injured or think you might be injured, consult with an attorney before dealing with the insurance company. Even if you don’t intend to sue anybody and might handle the whole process yourself, you should learn your rights and risks in order to go in with your eyes open.
So assuming you’re not injured, the recovery process starts at the scene of the accident. It’s there, in the commotion following the accident, that you establish the foundation for a successful claim. First you’ll need to record information about PEOPLE. Get the names and addresses of all witnesses, passengers, and the other driver. Also get the names and badge numbers of any police officers that show up. Finally, get the other driver’s insurance information. It’s important to get all this info first, before people like witnesses start leaving.
Next you’ll want to take pictures. Cell phone camera photos will do just fine. At a minimum, make sure you get pictures of the license plates for each vehicle, any and all damage on every vehicle, and the positioning of each vehicle in the street. You may also want to take pictures of little details like road and traffic conditions, skid marks and anything else you might want to refer to later.
Be really careful about what you say at the scene of an accident. Make sure everyone’s OK, but try to limit your conversations with the other driver, and if someone like a police officerasks you to make a statement, be sure to describe events in a way that does not suggest any fault on your part. Never admit to any fault. If you really are to blame, let the insurance company determine that from the facts. You don’t have any obligation to implicate yourself. If you’re not sure, you should tell people “I don’t know yet, I haven’t been seen by a doctor yet” if they ask whether you’re hurt.
Get your claim started as soon as you’ve got your information together to avoid delays in getting your settlement paid. Your policy probably requires you to file within a certain number of days anyway, so don’t drag your feet. Keep good records of your communications with the insurance company or companies throughout the claims process. They’re going to want to talk to you about the accident and probably take an official statement. Remember to avoid claiming responsibility for the accident here too; if it makes you more comfortable, write out your statement in advance and read it to the agent when you’re asked to make a statement.
It’s best to find out how much it will cost to repair your car before submitting your claim. The insurer is more likely to offer you an adequate settlement if they know that you know what your claim is worth. Keep them informed, and give them accurate records of what’s happening with your costs and repairs. When they do offer you a settlement, remember you don’t have to accept the first offer if it’s for an amount that won’t make you whole again financially. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your settlement.
If you think your recovery should be higher, back up your demands with detailed, itemized estimates or quotes from reputable repair shops that specialize in your vehicle type. And make sure the estimate covers original factory parts. Don’t let the insurer try to pressure you into accepting aftermarket parts. You have the right to get your car back in the condition it was in before the accident. If you feel like you’re not getting fair offers, remind the insurer of your right to the full level of recovery justified by the facts, and if you can’t negotiate an agreement, seek legal advice.