These practical tips for dealing with your insurance company after an accident will help reduce your anxiety during what might be the most stressful time in your life.
AT THE SCENE OF THE ACCIDENT
First things first: If you are involved in an auto accident, stop your car. Get medical attention for anyone who needs it.
If you are physically able, provide your name, address, phone number, insurer, and policy number to the other driver, and get similar information from the other driver at the scene.
TIP: Make a note of the date, time, and location of the accident. If you can, make notes about the location and severity of damage to your car and the other driver’s car.
REPORTING THE ACCIDENT
The terms of car insurance policies vary from driver to driver, but virtually all policies require that you report an accident to your auto insurance company as soon as you can. Report the accident to your insurer by calling the phone number listed on your proof-of-insurance card. Calls to that number will be answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You may also make a courtesy call to the insurance agent whom you buy your insurance from, but don’t expect your agent to be available 24/7 to take your call.
Now that you have reported the accident, your insurance company will open a claim file for you and assign your claim to an insurance adjuster.
TIP: Depending on where you live and how much damage was done in the accident, you may also be required to file an accident report with your state motor vehicles division. Call your local DMV office or check for information online to see what your state’s reporting requirements are.
WORKING WITH THE ADJUSTER
Insurance adjusters coordinate all the work required to process your claim. An insurance adjuster will contact you and ask you detailed questions about the accident. For instance, the adjuster may ask if the pavement was wet or dry at the time of the accident, or if either driver was wearing glasses.
The adjuster will arrange to have estimators assess the cost of repairing your car. The adjuster will decide whether the car is “totaled” or if the car should be repaired.
TIP: If you think the adjuster has undervalued your vehicle, do some homework on your own to establish a higher value. Collect classified ads in newspapers, online ads, database queries, and online vehicle auctions of cars like yours to help establish value. Send this information to the adjuster and ask the adjuster to reconsider the valuation decision based on the information you provided.
FIXING THE DAMAGE TO YOUR CAR
If your car is totaled, the adjuster will issue a check to you (or to you and your bank, if the car is being financed) for the value of the car. If that happens, the insurance company gets to sell your car for scrap metal and keep whatever they get for it.
If the car needs repairs, the adjuster will determine the approximate cost of the repairs needed, authorize any work needed to repair the damage from the accident. If your policy provides for a rental car while your car is being repaired, the adjuster will coordinate rental car arrangements.
TIP: If the adjuster orders repairs, but you think your car is totaled, you are entitled to get a second opinion from another body shop.
IF YOU ARE INJURED
If you are injured in the accident, the insurance adjuster will also manage your personal injury claim. Usually, an accident victim is allowed to see the doctor of his or her choice, but you may be required to see a specific doctor at your adjuster’s request. The adjuster will make sure your medical providers are paid according to the limits on your policy.
TIP: Remember that your insurance company is entitled to see all your medical records related to your accident. When you go to doctor’s appointments for your injuries, don’t bring up other medical problems that are unrelated to the accident unless you want the adjuster to see them.
SETTLING THE CLAIM
After you finish treatment for your injuries, the insurance adjuster will make sure the insurance company has fulfilled its obligation to pay for your medical care and your property damage.
You may be entitled to reimbursement for any time you missed from work because of medical appointments or because you could not work due to the nature or severity of your injuries. You may also be entitled to payments over and above your medical expenses to compensate you for suffering pain or for long-term treatment you may need.
If you disagree with the insurance adjuster’s assessment of the value of your claim, you may be entitled to use an independent adjuster to negotiate the claim on your behalf. If you are satisfied with the value the adjuster puts on your claim, you will sign a release acknowledging that you have been compensated for the accident. If the insurance company owes you money it has not paid yet, you will get those funds when you have signed the release.
TIP: If you had personal property in your car that was damaged in the accident, be sure to make a separate claim for personal property damage, if you had coverage.
IF YOU ARE SUED
The other driver in the accident, or a passenger or bystander who was injured because of the accident, may sue you for damages in civil court. If that happens, your insurance adjuster will hire a lawyer to represent you in the civil suit.
If the other party was gravely injured or killed in the accident, you may be liable for damages that are greater than the limits of your insurance policy.
TIP: Policyholders who find themselves in this situation usually hire a second lawyer to represent them with respect to the amount at risk over the policy limit. Many policy holders also carry excess liability insurance or umbrella insurance as protection from this sort of high risk litigation.
NOW YOU KNOW
To sum it all up, report your accident promptly; work with your adjuster to get your car fixed, and see your doctor to treat any injuries.
If you feel your insurance company has undervalued your claim, you may negotiate for a higher value or hire an independent adjuster to negotiate on your behalf.
If the accident leads to high-stakes litigation, consider hiring your own lawyer to work with the lawyer that the insurance company hires.
Here’s hoping that you never need this information; but if you are involved in a car accident, these tips for dealing with your auto insurance company will help you get proper compensation for your claim.