How Do I Start a Car Accident Claim?

What to consider, and what are the first steps when it comes to taking action after a car accident.

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  • After any kind of car accident, chances are that one or more car insurance claims will end up being filed. That's what car insurance is there for, after all. But how do you start the claim process, and what do you need to know at the outset? First, it might be worth considering a few threshold questions.

    Should You Even File a Car Accident Claim?

    Some drivers consider not filing a claim after an accident based on a belief that:

    • their deductible will exceed the amount of damages they'll be claiming
    • the claim will result in higher insurance premiums, and/or
    • the claim could result in their car insurance company dropping them as an insured.

    Potential outcomes like these are not easy to predict, especially when car accident scenarios vary widely. If you're having trouble making a decision, you can call your insurance agent and ask them for details on the potential consequences of submitting a claim in situations like yours.

    Where Do You File the Car Accident Claim?

    You may have two options for filing your car insurance claim: filing with your own car insurance company (a "first party" claim), or with the other driver's insurer (a "third party" claim).

    You might file a first-party claim if:

    You might file a third-party claim directly with the other driver's insurer if you think the other driver caused your accident. By doing this, you won't have to pay a deductible or worry about your car insurance company raising your rates. But the third-party claim process is sure to take longer, and you could face some bias in favor of the insurance company's own insured (the other driver) when it comes to how the accident happened (and who was at fault).

    Get more details on how car insurance coverage works after an accident.

    Starting the Car Insurance Claim Process

    Step 1: Gather Important Information

    Immediately following the accident, you should have begun the process of gathering evidence and information about the accident. Hopefully, by the time you're ready to file a claim, you'll have all of this information handy, or you're in the process of gathering it (you've requested a copy of the police report, for example).

    Step 2: Promptly Report the Accident to Your Car Insurance Company

    Most car insurance policies require you to report the accident to your car insurance company as soon as practicable. Depending on the facts surrounding your accident, as long as you report it to your car insurance company within a few days, you should be fine.

    The prompt reporting requirement is important because your car insurance company wants to immediately begin its investigation into what happened. What if the other driver is from another country and has plans to return home soon? Or maybe your car insurance company wants to send an adjuster to view the scene of the accident? If you wait to long to contact the insurance company, there can be real consequences for the investigation process.

    As for how to file the claim, you may contact your car insurance directly, whether by telephone or online. Some companies now have apps that allow you to provide accident information and submit a claim from your smartphone.

    Another option is to contact your insurance agent. They will take preliminary information about the accident and contact the car insurance company for you. Then your car insurance company will get in touch with you to get more information.

    The same process typically applies with third-party claims too. Most car insurance companies will work with their own policyholders to file a claim with another insurance company.

    Step 3: Cooperate with Your Car Insurance Company

    After you file your claim and provide information about the accident, an insurance adjuster or some other representative will investigate and handle your claim. During this process, your adjuster may reach out to you for additional information.

    For instance, let's say you told your car insurance company that you had a green light and the car that hit you had a red light. A few days into investigating your claim, your adjuster might give you a call saying that they spoke with the insurance company for the other driver and they claim they had the green light and you had the red light. Your adjuster might ask you for any additional evidence to support your assertion.

    They might ask if you know of any traffic or security cameras in the vicinity of the accident that may have recorded the accident. Or the adjuster might ask if you know of any witnesses who can corroborate your story.

    If your adjuster asks for this information, you need to make a reasonable effort to assist them. Not only are you required to do under your car insurance policy, but it can make the difference between having your claim paid out in full, or denied.

    What's Next?

    Depending on the nature of your car accident, the specifics of the insurance coverage at play, and a whole host of other factors, things may just be getting started with the car accident claim process. You might receive a settlement offer pretty quickly, you might need to negotiate your way to the best settlement outcome, or the insurance company might push back on key issues like fault for the accident and the nature and extent of your injuries, or the insurer might even try to deny your claim outright.

    If things are getting complicated, or you're just not sure you're positioned for the best outcome for your claim, your best move might be to meet with an experienced attorney to discuss your options. Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim.

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