The trauma of being in a car accident is likely to leave your mind reeling, especially if you're hurt and in pain. You might find it hard to think clearly, to make good decisions, and to plan a course of action. After the dust settles, one of the first things you should do is contact your insurance agent.
In the immediate aftermath of a wreck, it won't always be clear who was responsible. And regardless of legal fault, you might need to make a claim under your own policy. For these and other reasons we'll explain, a call to your insurer is likely to be a good idea.
The answer to this question depends on whether you (or anyone else) is injured. If so, and if you need medical attention, summoning EMS should be your first priority. When an auto accident causes injuries or results in significant vehicle damage (typically $500 to $1,000 or more), state law usually requires that you notify the police.
If you aren't hurt and you can do so without interfering with first responders on the scene, you should:
Learn more about the evidence you should collect at the scene and later.
Once you've left the accident scene and received the medical care you need, you should contact your car insurance agent. If you need a day or two to collect yourself and compose your thoughts, that's fine, but don't wait too long. A lengthy delay might hinder your insurer's ability to investigate the accident.
Here are some of the reasons why it's important for you to notify your insurance company of the accident.
Your insurance policy requires it. Take a look at your auto insurance policy. Chances are it has language that requires you to promptly report an accident. You're contractually obligated to notify—and cooperate with—your insurance company, especially if you're thinking of making a claim under your policy.
You live in a no-fault state. If you live in a no fault insurance state, you first have to bring a claim for benefits under your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage before can bring a claim against the other driver. PIP will cover at least some of your medical bills, and probably part of your lost wages and the amounts you pay for replacement household services. You'll have to notify your carrier in order to make a claim for PIP benefits.
There's a dispute over who was at fault. While you might think the other driver was to blame for the accident, the other driver might be thinking the same thing about you. When the other driver might bring a claim against you, your insurance company will need timely notice of the wreck so it can do an investigation.
You need to bring a claim for other benefits under your policy. You might need to bring a claim for other benefits under your auto insurance policy. For instance, if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured, and if you have uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance, you might choose to bring a claim for benefits under one of these coverages.
Suppose there's a disagreement over who was to blame and the other driver's insurer won't pay to have your car repaired. You'll probably want to look to your own collision coverage (if you have it) to get your vehicle fixed and to rent a car while repairs are being done.
Finally, you might want to collect medical payments ("MedPay") benefits to reimburse you for medical bills. Say you've got a health insurance plan, but you're responsible for a deductible or copay. MedPay, if you have it, can be used to cover those out-of-pocket expenses.
Your insurance company can investigate and negotiate. Your insurance company can investigate the accident, uncover important evidence to help prove the other driver's responsibility, and help you negotiate a favorable settlement. If you're recovering from injuries, or you'd rather not have to carry on contentious negotiations with the other driver's insurance adjuster by yourself, you'll appreciate having this help.
For starters, simply pick up the phone and call. While you're on the phone with your agent, ask if you should also:
In addition, the best practice is to send the insurance company written notification via old fashioned snail mail. If you've already reported the wreck online or by telephone and you have a report number, be sure to use that number in your correspondence. Otherwise, you might end up with multiple accident reports—and a very confused auto insurance company.
As a rule, you'll want to provide all the information you have about the accident and who was involved. At a minimum, the agent will want:
Keep an eye out for situations where your interests and your insurance company's interests might not be the same. As long as you're only looking at the other driver's insurance for compensation, this shouldn't be a problem.
Things can get dicey, though, if you need to make a claim for benefits under your own policy. If you make a claim for PIP benefits, for instance, or for UM or UIM coverage, your interests won't always be the same as those of your insurer. You want to maximize your recovery, but your insurance company wants to pay you as little as possible.
Keep in mind that when you make a claim for benefits under your auto policy, you have a contractual duty to cooperate with your company. This means you must comply with reasonable requests for information. You might also need to do other things, like submit to an independent medical examination with a doctor of your insurer's choosing.
But the duty to cooperate is a two-way street. Specifically, your auto insurance company owes you a duty to act in good faith as it investigates your claim, and to pay you fair compensation for your injuries. If the company doesn't live up to this duty—if it acts in bad faith and refuses to conduct a reasonable investigation or offer you a fair settlement—you'll want to speak to a car accident lawyer about a possible bad faith claim.
You might be able to handle a simple car accident claim on your own, if you suffered very minor injuries and the other driver's insurance company isn't giving you the runaround on liability or damages. But if your case involves significant injuries or the other side is saying you were at fault for the accident, you'll want an experienced lawyer on your side.
Here's how to find a car accident lawyer who's right for you and your claim.