A How-to Guide for Filing Your Auto Insurance Claim
Dealing with life after a car accident is never easy. On top of the normal day-to-day responsibilities of your busy life, now you’re dealing with jumping through the flaming hoops of the red tape bureaucracy that is your car insurance company. But getting your claim filed – and honored, on top of that – can be a little bit easier if you know what to do before you get into an accident in the first place. Or, even if you’re reading this right now because you need advice on your own personal situation, you can still benefit from some of the tips we have listed on this page.
What to Know Before You File
For some of the people reading this, dissection may be “too little, too late”. but if you’re in the very beginning stages of filing your claim, or you’re educating yourself and what you need to know before you get into an accident, then we advise you to take notes. Because the following information is very important.
The first proactive step you can take to make sure that your claims filing goes as smoothly as possible is to get as much documentation as possible right after the accident happened. Such steps can include:
- Call 911. The more seriously accident is, the more important it is to dial Emergency Services – especially if anyone’s car is totaled, or injuries are involved. You may be able to get away with choosing not to call the police assume in the accident involves minimal body damage and nobody was injured. But when in doubt, call 911.
- Record everything at the scene. It’s not necessarily a good idea to wait until the vehicles are cleared or your vehicle is towed away to a safe place where you can take all the pictures and video you want. Videos and pictures at the scene can help you build your case as far as weather conditions, traffic, and help prove your version of the events leading up to the accident.
- Talk to your insurance company first. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is – even if the other driver was determined to be 100% at fault for the accident, you’re going to want your insurance companies help. When it comes to getting a third party claim paid out, your insurance company has the clout and the legal resources to force them to pay up where as you may not.
- If you end up getting a third party claim settlement, make sure your insurance company appears it first. Signing anything from the at-fault driver’s Insurance company without first consulting your provider, a good lawyer, or both, is asking for trouble.
More Information About Third Party Claims
If, while reading the section above, you scratched your head and asked “what is a third party claim?” We understand the need for clarification. The claims filing process can be extremely confusing, and it’s important to understand the terminology before you get swept up in the legalese.
If you get into a crash, and it is determined that the other driver is at fault, then it’s that drivers insurance company it will be financially responsible for paying out damages – up to the limits of that driver’s liability coverage, that is. Once those limits have been met, any excess money owed comes out of that drivers own pockets; however, getting that driver to pay out is a completely other headache all together.
With any luck, the at-fault driver’s insurance policy will have enough coverage that you will only have to deal with getting the money from their insurance company. In this situation, when you have to file a claim against the other drivers insurance to get damages and medical expenses paid for, this is a third party claim. And, if you and the other driver are not insured by the same company, it can be a nightmare to get the money you are owed.
And many cases, though, your insurance company will do most of that hard work for you. In the early days after your accident, you may end up getting money from your insurance company first – especially for any immediate medical expenses and/or vehicle repairs you need to get back on the road and back to your daily life. Then, it will be up to your insurance company to deal with the at-fault driver’s ensure in order to get reimbursed. And trust us, you’d much rather have your insurance company taking care of that reimbursement then having to do it yourself. Third party claims are notoriously difficult to get paid out in full, and your insurer has the lawyers in the money to make sure it happens. Most often, drivers who are trying to file a third party claim do not.
Filing Claims in a No-Fault State
For those drivers living in a no-fault state (such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, or Utah), it can get further complicated still. This is because the no-fault laws in these states limit whether or not you are allowed to file a third party claim against the other driver’s Insurance company. this is true, even if the other driver is at fault.
Therefore, in a no-fault state, almost all of your claims will be first party claims (where your insurer handles the claim and pays out to you directly). There are some rare exceptions where egregious amounts of property damage and medical expenses (paid out of the other driver’s liability coverage) can be sought by filing a third party claim. But such exceptions are rare, and the laws which allow them will differ from one state to another. When you file a first-party claim for injuries from an accident but you did not cause an a no-fault state, it will be paid out by either your personal injury protection or medical payments coverage.
Knowing who to approach when filing your claim
When it comes time to file your claim, not only do you need to know which insurance company your filing with – you need to be aware of what coverages are paying for your claim. For first-party claims, your payout will come from one of the following types of coverage:
- Injuries in an at-fault state: medical payments, med pay, personal injury protection (PIP)
- Vehicle damaged in an at-fault state: your Collision/comprehensive coverage
- Injuries and vehicle damage In a no-fault state: PIP, collision/comprehensive
However, it works a little differently with third party claims. If you have to file a third party claim, it’ll go a little something like this:
- Injuries in an at-fault state: the other drivers bodily injury coverage
- Vehicle damage and then at fault state: the other drivers property damage liability coverage
- In no-fault States: the other drivers liability coverage (bodily injury and property damage) if and only if certain thresholds are met
A Note on Injury-Related Claims
As we stated earlier, any accident that involves injuries will require that you file a police report, and the sooner, the better. Your best bet is to call the cops and follow your police report on scene. So help legitimize your claim and make it easier for you to get your payout in an efficient, timely manner.
That being said, remember that injury claims are much more complicated than collision, comprehensive, or property damage claims. If it is a serious injury which requires many expensive treatments and/or rehabilitation, your claim will stay open for the duration of your medical care – up until coverage limits are exceeded, that is. In the event that you or passenger in your vehicle receive emergency medical treatment, let everyone know that it was the result of an auto accident so that they don’t accidentally charge your health insurance company for expenses that you or the other drivers insurer should be paying for.
Lastly – although it should probably go without saying – make sure you keep track of every medical bill and every piece of paper that gets handed to you. Any insurance company can reduce or deny your claim with ease if you fail to keep perfect track of your medical records and paperwork.
A quick note on property damage claims
For smaller collisions, such as fender-benders, it may be tempting to settle things right then and there with the other driver. If it is fairly obvious that they were at fault, and they try to persuade you and to not getting the insurance companies involved, avoid accepting cash or a verbal promise of payment at the scene. You may be ineligible for legal recourse later if the cash payment was insufficient, or if the at-fault driver cannot be found. Moderate to severe vehicle damage should always be reported to the police.
Also, depending on how severe the damages to your vehicle, you’ll get back on the road faster if you file with your insurance company first. This is true whether you are filing a first or third party claim. It should not affect your eligibility to have your claim honored if you contact your insurer first. As stated earlier, they have more leverage to get reimbursement for third party claims then you do as an individual. Unfortunately, this means that there is a high likelihood that your monthly premiums may increase slightly for filing a claim against your collision or comprehensive coverage. But that convenience is a small price to pay for getting back on the road sooner, especially if not having a vehicle drastically hinders your ability to work or take care of other responsibilities.
We understand that in the moments, days, and weeks immediately following an accident, filing your claims and getting everything sorted out can seemed overwhelmingly complicated. And if you don’t have the right insurance company on your side, I can make things even worse. Shopping around and comparing quotes is one of the best ways to make sure you end up with a reputable car insurance agency they can also give you a fair price on your monthly premium. In a matter of minutes, we can point you in the right direction.