Filing a Third-Party Car Insurance Claim After an Accident

If the at-fault driver has liability car accident coverage, you might be able to file a claim with their insurance company.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

When you've been involved in a car accident, you might have the option of filing an insurance claim—for your injuries and/or your vehicle damage—directly with the at-fault driver's car insurance company. This is known as a "third party" claim.

What Is a Third-Party Car Insurance Claim?

When you file a claim with another person's insurance company, usually under their liability coverage, that's considered a "third party" insurance claim. These kinds of claims are so named because, as someone who's not one of the two primary parties in the insurer-insured relationship, you're considered an outside (or third) party.

If you suffer injuries and/or incur vehicle damage in a car accident, filing a third-party car insurance claim will usually be an option when:

  • another person (i.e. an insured driver) was completely (or at least mostly) at fault for the accident, and
  • that other person has liability car insurance, which could cover your injuries and property damage.

Third-Party Car Insurance Claims: How to File an Insurance Claim Against the Other Driver

After you report the accident to your own car insurance company, they might help you get a third-party claim started with the other driver's insurance company, and they may even facilitate things, at least initially. If your insurance company doesn't offer to help, getting a third-party claim started on your own isn't usually a big deal.

The other driver's insurance company will most likely have an online claim portal or mobile app you can use to initiate the claim process.

At the very least, an online search for the other driver's car insurance company will bring up a phone number you can call. From there, an insurance company representative can let you know how to proceed with a third-party claim.

However you initiate the process, starting the claim usually means providing some basic information about yourself and the accident, usually including:

  • your name
  • your email address
  • the date of the accident
  • the other driver's name, and
  • the other driver's car insurance policy number.

Things are likely to proceed over email from there, at least initially.

Of course, even at this early stage, you might turn your claim over to an experienced car accident lawyer and let them figure out the right approach to getting the best result.

Working With the Insurance Adjuster In a Third Party Claim

When you're filing a third-party claim, you'll need to work with (and not against) the insurance adjuster, to some extent. After all, you're asking the insurance company to compensate you for your car accident-related losses. Filing the claim and then refusing to cooperate with the adjuster's investigation and evaluation is sure to guarantee a bad outcome.

While it's important to cooperate with the adjuster, there are limits. You're under no obligation to give in to an unacceptable settlement demand, or to continue to try to negotiate a fair result if it seems like the adjuster just isn't taking you or your claim seriously.

Let's take a closer look at some of the main points of your car accident claim that the insurance adjuster is going to be concerned with, and some key steps in the process.

Establishing Fault for the Car Accident

As the term for the coverage suggests, a third-party claim filed under another driver's liability insurance coverage requires that the other driver be, in fact, liable (at fault) for the car accident. In some situations, the other driver's insurance company will accept that its insured was liable for the crash. That's especially true if:

  • it was a rear-end crash (where fault almost always lies with the tailing driver), or
  • a police report, numerous witnesses, and other evidence points to the insured as the at-fault driver.

If fault for the accident isn't clear, and you're getting significant pushback from the other driver's insurance company, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced car accident lawyer.

Substantiating Your Injuries and Other Accident-Related Losses ("Damages")

When you've been injured in a car accident and you file a third-party claim with the other driver's insurance company, the insurance adjuster handling your claim isn't just going to take your word for it when it comes to the extent of your injuries and other effects of the crash.

You need to document and substantiate every component of your damages, to the extent possible, and you'll need to be responsive to the adjuster's requests for things like:

  • requests for medical records
  • documentation of any lost income or other financial harm you suffered because of the accident, and
  • other proof that can help establish and verify the different kinds of losses (called "damages" in the language of the law) you're claiming.

Those records and that proof must relate to your claim, of course. If the adjuster is asking to see all of your medical records from the past five years, that's an inappropriate request that you can and should refuse.

All of this establishing and substantiating starts at the scene of the accident and can continue for months afterward. Learn more about:

Negotiations and (Hopefully) Settlement

At some point (perhaps pretty soon after you file your claim) the insurance adjuster will likely make you a settlement offer. It's important to remember that this first offer is just that: a first attempt at resolving your claim, often for much less than it's actually worth.
In order to make sure you get a fair result for your third-party claim, you probably need to be ready to engage in a fair amount of back-and-forth settlement negotiation with the insurance adjuster. Of course, you can always turn things over to an experienced lawyer too. Learn more about:

A Third Party Claim Might Be Your Only Option

It's quite possible that after a car accident that looks like it was the other driver's fault, your only path to getting compensation for your injuries and other losses will be a third-party claim, at least when it comes to insurance coverage.

For example, in many states, vehicle owners are only required to carry liability car insurance. This kind of insurance only kicks in when the insured vehicle owner causes a car accident, and other people (drivers, passengers, pedestrians, etc.) are injured or have their property (i.e. their vehicle) damaged. In this scenario, if the insured vehicle owner gets into an accident that's someone else's fault, their own car insurance won't apply at all.

It's a different story in no-fault car insurance states, and when the insured vehicle owner has other kinds of insurance coverage beyond just liability. With the following kinds of coverage, and depending on the circumstances, you might have the option of filing a claim with your own insurance company, or a third-party claim with the other driver's insurer (or both):

Can I Make a Third Party Claim In a No-Fault Car Insurance State?

Not right off the bat, no. In a no-fault car insurance state, when two drivers are involved and injured in a car accident, they'll typically:

  • report the crash to their own respective insurance companies
  • open a claim under their own no-fault (usually called "personal injury protection" or "PIP") coverage, and
  • get certain financial losses related to the accident (medical bills, lost income, expenses) paid for, up to PIP coverage limits.

That's the basis of no-fault car insurance schemes, after all, to remove the liability question from the equation, and streamline the claim process by having drivers turn to their own car insurance coverage to get compensation for car accident-related losses.

Depending on the no-fault state's specific rules, a third-party claim against the at-fault driver's liability insurance coverage (assuming they have such coverage) is only possible if:

  • the injured claimant's accident-related medical bills exceed a certain dollar amount, and/or
  • the claimant's accident-related injuries meet the state's definition of "serious" or otherwise qualify to take the claim out of the no-fault system.

Learn more about how no-fault car insurance works.

It's important to note that vehicle damage is a separate issue in no-fault car insurance states, since no-fault/PIP coverage doesn't usually apply to property damage of any kind. So a third-party car insurance claim for vehicle damage might be an option in no-fault states, when the other driver caused your accident.

What If the Other Driver Is Uninsured?

If the driver who caused your car accident has no car insurance, then obviously a third-party insurance claim isn't possible. In this situation, your options largely depend on:
  • the kind of car insurance coverage you have, and
  • the at-fault driver's financial situation, in case you want to try to take them to court.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Third-Party Car Insurance Claim?

No. You can always file any kind of insurance claim on your own. That doesn't necessarily mean going it alone is a good idea, though. Perhaps the more important questions here are:
  • Are you comfortable handling the claim process yourself?
  • Are you confident that you'll be able to stick with the (sometimes adversarial) negotiation process and fight for a fair result?

There's a chance that things will go relatively smoothly with the insurance adjuster, and they'll come to the negotiation table with a fair settlement offer. But remember, the adjuster's job is to pay out as little as possible on claims like yours. And that often translates into some serious pushback on key issues like fault for the accident, the nature and extent of your injuries, potential pre-existing health issues, and even your credibility.

Perhaps the best way to insulate yourself from the potentially combative nature of the car accident claim process—while hopefully ensuring the best result—is to turn the matter over to an experienced lawyer.

Should I File a Car Accident Lawsuit?

If you're making a third-party car insurance claim after a car accident, there's really only one reason you'd consider filing a car accident lawsuit, but it's a big one: The insurance company isn't coming to the settlement negotiation table with a satisfactory offer. That could be for any number of reasons (whether from the insurance company's point of view, or yours), including:

  • the insurance company can't be convinced that its own insured driver bears all or most of the fault for the accident, and
  • the insurance company doesn't believe that your injuries are as serious as you claim, or that all of the medical treatment you received was legitimate and necessary.

What Can I Recover In a Lawsuit That I Can't Get In an Insurance Claim?

Technically, not much is different. Largely the same categories of compensable losses ("damages") are available in an insurance claim and in a lawsuit. But there's more at stake. Taking a car accident case to court means escalating things for all parties involved:

  • Now you, the claimant, need to spend the time, money, and resources to prepare for a possible trial; remember, you're in court only because you couldn't get a fair result from the insurance claim process.
  • Now the at-fault driver's insurance company needs to think long and hard about boosting their settlement offer into uncomfortable financial territory, or face the prospect of an unpredictable judge or jury, and an even bigger financial hit.

If you're thinking it's going to be necessary to take your car accident case to court in order to get a satisfactory result, this is probably the point where it makes sense to discuss your situation with an experienced lawyer.

Handling your own insurance claim is one thing. A lawsuit is a completely different story. You'll need to prepare legal documents, comply with court filing rules, and start putting your best case together. And that's before the litigation process really kicks off. There will be depositions, document requests, interrogatories, and court appearances aplenty. At some point, settlement talks will intensify, and that's when negotiation skills are crucial. This is all familiar ground for an experienced attorney.

Getting Help After a Car Accident

It could be that you've tried to resolve your car accident case yourself by getting the third-party car insurance claim process started, but for whatever reason you haven't received a fair settlement offer from the insurance adjuster.

Or maybe you've read this far and decided that undertaking the process on your own doesn't make sense for you. Whatever your circumstances, it's usually a wise move to consider putting your car accident claim in the hands of an experienced legal professional.

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You can also connect with a car accident lawyer in your area directly from this page for free.

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