What You Need to Do Before and After Filing an Auto Insurance Claim to Make Sure Your Claim Is Paid in Full and Promptly
Take a deep breath — and be thankful you’re reading this now and not after you’ve already had an auto insurance claim.
Think ahead for a moment. You’ve just had an accident. You’re not badly hurt, but you’re not in great shape, either, particularly mentally. Your car — boy, you love this car — has some significant damage, perhaps so much that you won’t be able to drive it home.
There’s a lot to remember to do, and very little time to do it. What information do you need to have from the other driver(s)? Are there any witnesses? Does someone need to call the police? Where do you take the car to have it repaired? What do you do about alternative transportation? Who do you call to make a claim? Your agent? The insurance company? The other person’s insurance company?
You are basically overwhelmed and understandably, but there are steps you can take long before you have an accident so that you are prepared and making a claim is not that difficult at all.
Over the years we have handled hundreds of auto insurance claims. As a result, we know what to do, and what not to do. There are a few steps you should take right now, before you have to file a claim because with the right preparation, you will know exactly what to do immediately after it happens.
What’s Covered — And What Isn’t
Have you read your auto insurance policy lately? Ever? Few people do – so you’re not alone. But whether you read the policy or not, you should know what your policy covers — and what it doesn’t.
No policy can cover every possible situation, but most good policies cover just about everyone. Sometimes people decide not to have certain coverage. Maybe it’s because some coverages are too expensive or not worth having because their car is fairly old.
You should know the situations in which you don’t have coverage. Call your agent, or whomever sold you the policy, and ask him or her to explain what the policy covers, but, most important, what it doesn’t.
But there’s more to know than what the policy covers. Insurance companies have certain steps you need to follow in the event you have an accident. In the policy, these steps are called “Conditions.” You should know what these conditions are.
You should also determine what you will do with your car if it needs repairing or is undriveable. Do you know of an auto body shop that does excellent work? If not, ask your agent or even your insurance company to recommend a body shop near where you live. Most insurance companies have what they consider to be “preferred” auto body shops — shops that have good reputations and that insurers trust.
Ask your agent what to do and who to call when you need to report a claim.
Now, your car. Do you have anything in the car to write with and on if you have an accident? There’s plenty of information you will need to have right at the scene. You need to have a pad of paper and a pen or pencil stored in the car, just in case you’re in an accident. In addition, if your insurance company has a form that allows you to provide details of an accident, including a sketch of the scene, keep some of those forms in the car as well.
What to Do After an Accident
- Stop the car and get help for any injured drivers or passengers. Call 911 and inform the operator how many are injured and the possible extent of the injuries. Provide whatever help you can to the injured (covering them with blankets, making them comfortable), but don’t move them. You could aggravate the injury(ies).
- Protect the accident scene. Try to prevent further damage to the vehicles involved be setting up flares and if possible, AND SAFE, take pictures of the accident scene BEFORE moving the vehicles.
- Give the police officers whatever information they require, including your version of what happened. Do not, under any circumstances, admit you were at fault, either to the police or the other driver(s). Just give the facts as you see them. Ask the investigating officer how you can get a copy of the police report. Stay at the accident scene until the police have left. If it’s a minor accident, the police may not make a report. In fact, they may not even come.
- Write down the names and addresses of all drivers and passengers involved in the accident, as well as the license number, make, model and year of each car. Make a note of the driver’s license number(s) and insurance information of the other driver(s). Write down the names and addresses of as many witnesses as possible, as well as the names and badge numbers of police officers.
- As soon as possible either dictate or write down all the details of the accident as best as you can remember, either on the accident form from your insurance company or on a pad.
- If necessary, have your car towed to a repair shop. It’s a good idea to have a repair shop in mind before you have an accident; this way, you already know where you want the car towed.
- Call your insurance agent or the local claim representative for your insurance company to report the claim. Do this as soon as possible, including, if possible, from the accident scene.
- Ask your agent or insurance company representative how to proceed and what forms or documents you will need to support your claim. Your insurer may require you to fill out a “proof of loss” form, as well as supply documents pertaining to your claim such as medical and auto repair bills, and a copy of the police report.
- Keep records of any expenses you have as a result of the accident, including any related to a temporary inability to work or perform basic household functions. Your policy may allow you to be reimbursed for such things as medical and hospital expenses or even lost wages.
- Find out, before the auto body shop starts repairing your car, what kind of parts will be used. Will they be OEM Original Equipment Manufacturer parts or so-called aftermarket parts that are generic and possibly inferior to OEM parts)? If you want only OEM parts used, you need to tell both the repair shop and your insurance company. NOTE: If you are the damaged party and your claim is being handled by the other insurance company you may not have a choice as to the parts used. Always politely ask and if you are not satisfied with the reply, reach out to your agent for help. That is what we are here for.
- If you are not satisfied with how your claim is being handled, make your feelings known to the company and to your agent, and see how they respond. Do not, at this point, use the word “lawyer.” Once you raise the prospect of seeking legal help, that will change the way your insurance company deals with you. When you say “lawyer,” you are basically threatening to sue your insurer. Don’t make this threat until you are absolutely convinced that your insurance company will not resolve the claim to your satisfaction. If you hire a lawyer, no one at the insurance company will be able to communicate with you directly; they must go through your attorney.
Remember, while no accident is a pleasant experience, proper preparation and following certain steps can assure that the claim process is resolved to your satisfaction. If your claim has the important documentation and all the key details, there’s no reason it won’t be paid in full and promptly.
But if you have any trouble, please contact your insurance agent. We are here to help you and make sure your insurance policy takes care of you as it should.