Contact Your Car Insurance Agent After a Car Accident

Even if you don’t think you were to blame for the wreck, there are lots of reasons why you should contact your auto insurance agent as soon as you can. We'll explain several of those reasons.

By , Attorney · University of Tulsa College of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

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.

What Should I Do Immediately After a Car Accident?

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:

  • get the names, contact information, and insurance information for all drivers
  • speak to eyewitnesses, and make a note of their name and contact information
  • take photos and video of the accident scene, the resting places of all vehicles, crash debris, and the vehicles themselves, and
  • write down the name, badge number, and contact information of the responding police officer, and find out how to get a copy of the police report.

Learn more about the evidence you should collect at the scene and later.

When and Why Should I Contact My Insurance Agent?

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.

How Do You Notify Your Car Insurance Agent of an Accident?

For starters, simply pick up the phone and call. While you're on the phone with your agent, ask if you should also:

  • go to the company's claims webpage to report the accident there, or
  • use the company's mobile app to make an accident report.

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.

What Information Should You Provide to Your Car Insurance Agent?

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:

  • the date, time and place of the accident
  • the name, address and telephone number for all involved drivers and all passengers
  • the insurance policy information for all other drivers, and
  • the name and contact information of the responding law enforcement agency and officer.

What Happens After You Report the Car Accident?

After you report your car accident to your insurer, and a claim is opened, the company will get started on processing and investigating your claim. This triggers a few rights and responsibilities on the part of both you and your car insurance carrier.

The Insurance Company Can Inspect Your Vehicle

You have the right to file a vehicle damage claim under your own car insurance policy (as opposed to seeking payment from the other driver's insurance carrier), as long as you have collision coverage. But your carrier has the right to inspect your vehicle, and to get its own estimates for the cost of repairing the damage. The specifics on inspection and estimate rights are detailed in your policy, so check the fine print if you have questions. Learn more about vehicle repair options after a car accident.

You Must Cooperate with the Insurance Company's Investigation

Once you set the claim process in motion, you're obligated to cooperate with the car insurance company's investigation of your accident. That includes providing the claims investigator with complete and accurate details on:

  • how the accident happened
  • who may have been at fault
  • the extent of the damage to your vehicle
  • your injuries
  • the course of your medical treatment, and
  • any other information that might be relevant to your claim.

Your obligation to cooperate in the investigation extends to whatever "reasonable" requests your car insurance company makes of you. The definition of what's reasonable isn't set in stone, but it's probably safe to assume that you don't need to give a recorded statement if you don't want to, and you don't need to put up with repeated requests for information you've already provided (or information you're not privy to).

The Insurance Company Can Examine Your Records

Once you file a claim after a car accident, your insurance carrier will most likely have the right to look at any medical records relevant to your claim— including anything that documents medical care provided by:

  • emergency services
  • your own physician
  • physical therapists, and
  • chiropractors.

So that they can get access to these medical records (and possibly also obtain information about your work history if it's relevant to your claim), an adjuster for your car insurance company will probably send you a form called something along the lines of "Authorization for Release of Records." They'll ask you to sign and return it to them.

The Car Insurance Company's Duty of "Good Faith"

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.

Things to Watch Out For

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.

Do You Need a Car Accident Attorney?

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.

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