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Filing a Car Insurance Claim in Easy Steps

Every year, there are almost 6 million auto accidents in the United States. These motor vehicle accidents cause damage, injury and destruction that tear apart lives. Although no one wants to think about the worst, anyone can suffer a car accident on the road.

Learn about the steps to file an auto insurance claim with your insurance company below.

What Is an Auto Insurance Claim?

An auto insurance claim is a formal request you submit to an insurance company or carrier to request money for a covered loss following an accident or non-collision policy event. In most cases, only people listed on the policy are entitled to claims.

An auto insurance claim is a formal request you submit to an insurance company or carrier to request money for a covered loss.

Insurance claims can cover medical expenses and any accident-related damages of you or a third party. They can also provide death benefits or pay lost wages.

There are several types of insurance coverage

  • Liability insurance - Most states mandate that drivers sign up for the minimum liability coverage before they can drive on the road. They usually include bodily injury liability (which pays for another driver's medical expenses) and property damage liability (which pays for vehicle damages).

  • Comprehensive insurance - This insurance pays for damages to your vehicle that occur due to non-collision-related events. These include damage caused by weather-related disasters, falling objects, vandalism or theft.

  • Collision insurance - This coverage pays for damages to your vehicle caused by collision events. These include car crashes, collisions with objects or animals.

  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP) - In no-fault states, this coverage pays for a person's medical expenses, lost wages and death benefits.

  • Medical Payments - This coverage pays for medical expenses in some states, where it is required.

Once you submit your claim documents to your insurance company, they'll send an insurance adjuster to the accident scene to determine who is at fault. Afterward, they will either validate or deny your claim.

An insurance adjuster will come to the accident scene to determine who is at fault.

Once the claims adjuster verifies your claim, they'll submit it for approval. Once your request is approved, you'll get a settlement check that covers your losses. In some cases, the insurer will send the payment directly to the shop that repairs your vehicle.

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When Should You File a Claim?

After a car accident, your first instinct may be to call your insurance company and ask for a claims adjuster to visit your home and inspect your car's damages. It is not always the best idea, however, to file a claim with your insurance company.

It is not always the best idea to file a claim with your insurance company.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before filing a claim.

  • Don't file an insurance claim if your damages cost less than your deductible (or a few hundred dollars more. You are unlikely to get a large payout that covers your expenses).

  • Filing a claim can raise your insurance rates. Your insurance company can hike rates if you file multiple insurance claims, even if you weren't at fault for the accident.

What Should You Do if You Have a Car Accident?

A car crash can be a terrifying experience. An accident can cause expensive damages that make your vehicle inoperable. It can also leave you with serious injuries that cause disfigurement, death or disability to you or your passengers. If you were involved in a recent accident or collision, you may need to repair or replace your vehicle. You may also need to receive medical attention for your injuries.

The Insurance Information Institute has listed several steps that drivers should take following an auto accident.

Ask if Anyone is Hurt, then Call 911

Following the car accident, speak to your passengers to find out if anyone was hurt. If so, call the police or dial 911. If necessary, seek medical assistance for your passengers.

Even if no one was hurt during the accident, ask for the police and other first responders to come to the scene. You'll still need to file a police report. Insurance companies require this official documentation to file insurance claims. Without a police report, you may be on your own to pay for losses.

Collect Information from Everyone Involved in the Accident

After confirming that everyone is safe, take a few moments to calm down. Car accidents are shocking events that can leave you shocked, anxious and unsettled.

After you regain your bearing, you can spend a few moments speaking with the other driver and their passengers. You'll need to collect and exchange information from everyone involved in the accident, in case you need to file a claim against their insurance.

Use your phone's note app (or a pen and paper) to write down the other driver's contact information following the car accident.

Ask the other driver for the following information.

  • Name, home address and contact information (their phone numbers and email address)

  • Car insurance carrier and policy number

  • Vehicle's make, model, license plate number and state

  • Names of all passengers

If there were witnesses at the accident scene, ask for their names and contact information. The eyewitnesses may support your version of events and help the insurance company figure out who caused the accident. Give your contact information (including your phone number) to the other driver.

Snap photographs of car damage and the accident scene

After you've collected the contact information from the other driver and witnesses, gather information about the property damage at the accident scene.

If you have your cell phone, start taking pictures with the camera app.

There are several shots you should include as proof. Take several photographs of the damages to your car and the other driver's vehicle.

Additionally, include pictures of the surrounding area and the scene. Your photos can provide background information about the damage and provide supporting evidence for your insurance claim.

File a police report with law enforcement

After law enforcement arrives on the scene, it's time to submit your official police report.

When speaking with police officers, don't admit fault. Avoid accusing the other driver of causing the accident, either. Law enforcement will determine who is to blame for the accident.

Contact your local police department and ask for access to this police report to file with your car insurance claim.

Call your car insurance agent

Call your insurance company, regardless of who is at fault for a car crash. It's essential that you let your insurance company know who is at fault for the accident and whether your insurance will cover any accident-related losses. You can even contact your local agent from the scene of the accident.

Does your car insurance policy have a time limit for resolving a claim?

Ask your car insurance company the following questions:

  • Does my auto insurance cover these losses?

  • How much is my deductible?

  • How long will it take the car insurance company to process my claim?

  • What are the deadlines I need to meet to file my claim?

  • What documents do I need to support my claim?

  • Does my car insurance policy have a time limit for resolving a claim?

  • If I'm approved for a settlement offer, how long will it take to receive compensation?

The car insurance agent will walk you through the steps of filing an auto insurance claim.

Making an Insurance Claim Against the Other Driver's Insurance

Has someone crashed into your vehicle? If so, you must file a claim with their liability insurance carriers. Insurers call these third-party claims since you are the third party to the other driver and their insurance company.

It will take time for the driver's insurance company will process the claim since they will conduct an independent investigation to learn who was at fault.

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How to File an Auto Insurance Claim in a No-Fault State?

Some states have no-fault insurance laws in place. It means you will have to file a claim with your insurance company before seeking any damages. These areas require drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP insurance) or medical payments (MedPay). You can still seek property damage against the other person's liability insurance.

You can only sue another driver for further financial damages the accident meets the legal requirements in each state. In some no-fault states, a person can only sue another driver if the accident caused serious injuries or death.

When Should I File an Uninsured/Underinsured Auto Insurance Claim?

What if the other driver doesn't have enough insurance to cover your expenses? Even though you can sue, they may not have enough money.

Were you involved in a hit-and-run car accident, or did you learn the driver that caused the crash doesn't have enough insurance to cover all of your expenses? You can sue them, but if they don't have any assets, a better option may be turning to your underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage.

How Do I File a Car Insurance Claim with My Insurance Company for a Collision Car Accident?

If you have comprehensive and collision insurance coverage, you have the option of filing a claim with your insurance provider to cover for the damages. If you are at-fault in a crash, collision is your only way of getting coverage. If the accident wasn't related to a collision, your comprehensive coverage would take care of the damages.

Use your carrier's mobile app to start the claims process

Most insurance companies offer apps that allow their policyholders to file a claim with their company. Not only do these apps allow users to file claims reports. You can also use these apps to check the current status of your insurance claim and how much your deductible will cost. You can also get reimbursed for rental cars and towing if your policy includes this coverage.

Gather pertinent materials to support your claim

Carriers ask most policyholders to provide proof to support the claims they've submitted following an accident. These include photographs, police reports, medical bills and other documentation. When filing your claim, make sure you have all of your supporting documentation in a single place. Keep copies of these records in a folder so you can refer to them later, if necessary.

File your claim before the deadline

Under most state laws, car insurance companies have deadlines to file a car insurance claim. To avoid missing these deadlines, policyholders should file car insurance claims as soon as possible. Check your insurance policy to find out the period when you need to file your claims and submit bills.

If the carrier denied your car insurance claim, submit an appeal

Your policy may also have a time limit to resolve claims disputes. Ask your insurer about the deadline you must meet to file your appeal. Additionally, ask your carrier if you need to submit additional information to support your claim. Next, find out when you can expect the insurer to make a decision.

Find out your deductible and get an estimate for your car repairs

Your claims adjuster will ask you to schedule an inspection of your vehicle at a certified repair shop. After mechanics complete their inspection, they will determine whether the vehicle can be repaired. . Ask the business for an estimate for the repair costs for your vehicle. If it's not a total loss, the claims adjuster may provide a settlement offer.

Next, ask your insurance company how much your deductible will cost. Insurance carriers usually have separate deductible amounts for collision and comprehensive insurance. If your car repairs cost less than the insurance deductible, you may be responsible for paying these repairs out of pocket.

For instance, if it costs $200 to repair a damaged side-view mirror after an accident, and your deductible is $1,000, you're better off paying for these repairs yourself.

Ask whether your insurer pays for a rental car

You may need to take your vehicle to the rental shop because your vehicle requires repairs. If so, ask if your insurer if your policy pays for the rental car.

Do you need an affordable auto insurance policy for your vehicle or are thinking of customizing a new plan at a better rate? SmartFinancial has an online insurance comparison tool that can help you shop for the best coverage in your area. To get started on a free quote, enter your zip code on this page and answer a few questions.

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