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Auto Insurance Claims

Filing an auto insurance claim presupposes that you have been involved in an incident in which you or another party has suffered an injury or loss involving your car or someone else’s car. If that incident was a car crash, then how you responded at the scene of the accident will have an impact on how your claim is treated. For example, did you take notes or photos at the scene, and did you admit any liability for what happened?

There are many facts to gather and things to consider before you file a claim, such as:

  • Was anyone injured in the accident?
  • Did the accident cause damage to anyone else’s car or property, and how significant was that?
  • Did the accident cause damage to your car, and how significant was that in relation to the value of your car?
  • Who was at fault? Did you contribute to the accident in any way, or say that you contributed to the accident?
  • Where there any witnesses to the accident, and if so, do you have their contact details?
  • Did a law enforcement officer attend the accident scene, and if not, did you report it?
  • Was anyone ticketed, and if it was you, have you paid the ticket you received?

Filing a claim should not simply be an automatic course of action following an accident. Before you do anything, you need to know when to claim and when not to claim. The considerations are important, but even more so is understanding the difference between notifying your insurer and going ahead with a claim. You should know the consequences of doing or not doing either.

Filing and Processing Your Claim

You can file a claim over the phone, online or by completing a paper form. Before you file your claim, gather all the information for the questions which you will be asked. These include:

  • Your auto insurance policy number;
  • The date, time and location of the incident;
  • The name, contact phone number and address of the other driver (if applicable);
  • The names, contact phone numbers and addresses of any passengers;
  • Details of any injuries sustained;
  • Details of any property damage or loss;
  • The name of your agent (if you have one);
  • Your chosen repair shop (if applicable);
  • Your rental car details (if you have rental reimbursement coverage);
  • The Police Report Number.

When you have filed your claim you will receive confirmation together with a claim number for future reference. Keep a record of this number so you can quote it whenever you contact your insurance company in regard to the claim.

Claims Adjusters

After you have filed your claim, you will need to obtain an estimate of any repair costs. These are provided by a claims adjuster appointed by your insurance company. Your insurer will either arrange for a claims adjuster to call on you to inspect the damage, or sometimes you may have the option of taking your car to a drive-in center operated by your insurer, where your vehicle can be assessed and you can obtain an estimate on the spot. Either way the claims adjuster plays a central role in the amount that you will receive for the damage to your car.

If the claims adjuster provides you with a settlement offer which is materially less than what you expected, you have the option of obtaining one or more estimates from other sources. Don’t hesitate to obtain another estimate in those circumstances, and to take it back to the claims adjuster and negotiate a higher payout if the estimate supports that. If you have obtained two or more estimates, don’t accept less than the average of those amounts from the claims adjuster.

You normally have the right to select a repair shop of your choice, but one of your options is to use a shop approved by your insurer. These sometimes have the advantage of streamlining the repair and payment process. If you have settled on a repair shop which is not part of the insurer’s approved network, do not accept payment from your insurer until the claims adjuster and the repair shop have agreed to a price.

If the claims adjuster assesses that the cost of repairs is greater than the pre-accident market value of your car, minus it salvage value, you have a total loss claim. In that instance you need to satisfy yourself that the claims adjuster’s estimate of the pre-accident value is reasonable.

Third Party Fault

If your car has been damaged in an accident involving another driver and you believe that you were not at fault, you have the option of filing your claim with the other driver’s insurance company, depending on the state in which the accident occurred. A further option still, but one which few people realize is open to them, is to file your claim with both your own insurer and the other driver’s insurer. You won’t be able to collect and keep payments from both insurers for the same loss, of course, but you will be able to choose which insurer’s payment to accept.

For example, you might receive a better offer for your own car’s repair costs from the other driver’s insurance company. In addition, one of the advantages in filing a claim with the other driver’s insurer is to ensure that they have been notified of the accident. You shouldn’t just assume that the other driver has done that.

Be aware that you have lesser rights with the other driver’s insurer, and to that extent you should moderate your expectations. One potential disadvantage in filing your claim with the other driver’s insurer is the system for contributory and comparative negligence which has been adopted in the state in which the accident occurred. Any claim you make for damages could be reduced to the extent to which you were deemed to have contributed to the accident.

Claim Problems

It is not uncommon to experience problems at claim time. Claimants often find that these start with the claims adjuster, and that is to be expected since the claims adjuster has the job of ascertaining whether or not you are covered for the particular claim you have made, and if so, how much the insurance company will pay.

However, claimants also commonly report problems with getting back in touch with the claims adjuster after the initial contact, in order to negotiate settlement amounts or arrange for the adjuster to negotiate a price with the claimant’s repair shop of choice. If this happens to you, don’t hesitate to speak with the adjuster’s supervisor, and if that doesn’t work, escalate it further and ask to speak with the manager of the claims division. Remember, you are the customer, and you deserve to receive a prompt and efficient service from the insurer in exchange for the big premiums which you have been paying all this time. Don’t be fobbed off or settle for less.

If your insurance company won’t pay the full amount of your claim, based on reasonable estimates which you have obtained, or if in your view it unjustly declines your claim, then you have several options for redress. Knowing how to handle disputes with your insurer will give you an advantage which many people don’t have, and you will find that the claim will more likely be settled without the need to take a complaint to your state insurance office.