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After an accident, auto insurance policyholders can file a claim to request compensation for damage. Filing a claim is beneficial when your out-of-pocket cost exceeds the policy's deductible and can help pay for property damage, medical expenses, loss of salary due to missed work and even legal fees, depending on your coverage. You should always read your policy or contact your insurance agent or provider to understand exactly what's covered under your plan.
What is a car insurance claim?
A car insurance claim is a request for reimbursement from an insurance company for the costs of damage or injury in an auto accident.
There are several types of auto insurance coverage that address different incidents. You can’t file a claim unless you have coverage for the specific incident in question. Common coverages include:
- Liability insurance covers damage to an individual from accidents in which you are at fault. Liability insurance covers both bodily injury (BI), or physical harm to another driver or passenger, and property damage (PD), such as vehicle or structural damage. Some amount of liability insurance is required in every state except New Hampshire.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) and Medical Payments (MedPay) coverage offer bodily injury reimbursement for the costs of harm to you or your passengers in an accident, regardless of who was at fault. PIP may also cover lost wages due to missed work.
- Comprehensive and collision insurance covers damage to your car. Comprehensive insurance covers damage from 'acts of god' or events outside the driver's control, like vandalism, impact with an animal, theft or a tree branch hitting your windshield. Collision insurance covers damage from accidents while driving regardless of who was at fault, such as crashing into another car or a tree.
- Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is similar to liability insurance but covers accidents involving an at-fault, uninsured or underinsured driver. When the other driver is at fault, you would normally file a claim with their insurance provider. However, if the at-fault driver is uninsured, then your uninsured motorist insurance would cover your bodily injury and property damage. Similarly, if the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to cover your expenses, your underinsured motorist coverage would pay for the remaining damage.
- Full coverage includes all of the types of coverage listed above.
What your auto insurance covers
Required coverage varies by state, and you often need to opt-in for a specific type of coverage unless you choose a full-coverage policy. Liability insurance is almost always required, and several states also mandate PIP. Other coverages, however, are not as commonly required by law.
Read your policy to understand the coverage you have, and check with your state's insurance department about local regulations. Your car insurance may include all of these coverages or just one, so it's good to confirm as you seek help with your auto insurance claim.
How do car insurance claims work?
There are three main steps to filing a car insurance claim after an accident:
- Gather relevant evidence and documentation: Prepare to file your claim.
- Call your insurance company: File a claim and work with a claims adjuster.
- Claim settlement and payout: Receive a decision from the insurance company and appropriate compensation.
Here are further details about the procedure for filing a car insurance claim.
Gather relevant evidence and documentation
To prepare for filing an auto insurance claim, gather all evidence and documentation related to the accident. Before contacting your insurance company, you should call the police, record the details of the incident and take steps to limit your liability.
Call the police.
Contact 911 immediately if someone is hurt or there is vehicle or property damage. Your insurance company may need a police report prior to processing your claim.
Record all accident details.
Document the accident with pictures and a written summary. Take photos or notes of any car involved, not just your own. Get information about the other driver — name, phone number, license plate, vehicle model and make, insurance company and policy number.
When writing your summary, include all you can remember about what happened immediately before, during and after the accident.
Avoid mistakes that could impair your claim.
We typically recommend that you do not apologize or accept fault, or tell the other driver your coverage limits. If your insurance has a higher coverage limit, the other party may blame you to try to avoid paying for damage. You may be considered liable if you touch the other person, so we recommend avoiding physical contact. However, use your own judgment if you believe the person's life is at risk without your assistance.
We suggest you do not accept cash or agree to settle privately unless you absolutely do not plan to file a claim, as such actions could hurt your ability to ultimately receive compensation.
Call your insurance company
Calling your insurance company will officially initiate the claim. After you've prepared all the relevant documents and materials, call to open a case and work with an insurance claims adjuster to determine your settlement and payout. Check the statute of limitations deadlines to file your claim in an appropriate amount of time after your accident. Also check with your provider, as claim submission deadlines can vary by insurer and policy.
Open a case.
When you call to initiate a claim, your insurance provider will open a file regarding your case. Explain the nature of the accident and claim, including the total amount of compensation you're requesting. Offer your insurer as much information as possible to expedite the process.
Work with a claims adjuster.
After the call, your insurance company will review the material and you will be assigned a claims adjuster, also called a claims specialist. The claims adjuster will determine the value of the damage and the appropriate compensation based on your policy. He or she will manage your case on behalf of the insurance company and take the necessary steps to settle your claim.
Claims adjusters may ask to meet in person, see the damaged vehicle and may specify the repair shop to get your car fixed. Ask the claims specialist how your policy handles vehicle repairs or bodily injury claims and medical expenses. Don't hesitate to reach out to your claims adjuster to ask questions about your car insurance claim.
File the report before the deadline.
You might wonder when to file your car insurance claim or how long you have to file the claim from the date of the accident. This varies across insurance providers and states, so confirm with your provider as soon as possible to avoid any statute of limitations deadlines.
Depending on the nature of the accident, you should either call your insurance company or the other driver's insurer. Only contact the other party’s insurance company if that driver is at fault.
Sometimes fault in an accident isn't clear or is shared, which is another reason it's important to collect as much information as possible about the incident prior to filing a claim. And some states are no-fault states that require all drivers to have personal injury protection, eliminating the need to file a claim with another driver's insurance company.
Claim settlement and payouts
To settle and pay out your claim, the claims adjuster will determine the cost of the damage, appropriate compensation and any additional steps needed to repair your car. When waiting for your settlement, it helps to understand local regulations regarding insurer response times, why claims are rejected and how to negotiate payouts.
Know how long it may take to settle a claim.
Drivers often ask how quickly their claim will be processed, but the answer varies by state and insurer. Many states have legislation that protects consumers by establishing a time limit for claim settlement. California, for example, requires insurers to notify policyholders of a decision within 40 days of receiving a proof of the claim. Check with your state's insurance department if you believe your insurance company is not processing your claim in a timely fashion.
Know why claims are often rejected.
Keep in mind that your claim may get denied based on the nature of the accident or your coverage policy. For instance, your claim will likely be rejected if there is evidence you violated state law during the accident.
It's possible your claim may not be paid in full. Your coverage has limits, and insurers will only pay out for covered claims up to the coverage limits.
Negotiate your settlement offer.
If you are not satisfied with your settlement offer, you can negotiate with your provider. Prepare for these discussions by providing all the necessary evidence to support your claim, such as medical records, police reports and comparable cases. The better your evidence, the more likely you are to receive higher compensation both initially and after negotiation.
If you are still unsatisfied with the terms of settlement, you may hire an attorney to initiate a lawsuit, but be sure to consider the associated costs. You may also contact your agent for support or to obtain alternative coverage for potential future incidents.
When should you not file an auto insurance claim?
Always check with your insurance agent or provider to confirm what's actually covered under your policy. It's important to compare your deductible relative to the out-of-pocket costs of repairs, especially in the case of minor damage like a small scratch or fender bender. If the deductible is higher than the out-of-pocket costs, you won't receive any compensation.
Furthermore, you'll save time and potentially avoid rate increases by not filing a claim. A rate increase could cost you a lot more in the long run. Consider not filing a claim if the repair costs are only slightly higher than your deductible, since long-term rate increases could outweigh your short-term repair costs.
Other considerations when filing a claim
Auto insurance claims can be complicated. Here are some frequently asked questions about how to handle a car insurance claim.
Will my insurance rate go up if I file a claim?
Your rate could go up after filing a claim, but rate increases depend on several factors, including your driving history, who was at fault and the extent of damage.
If you have few or no previous claim filings, you may only see minimal rate increases. If your insurance coverage has an accident forgiveness policy, you may even receive no rate increase. Drivers with extensive accident histories are much more likely to receive large rate increases.
If you were at fault in the accident, there is a greater chance of a rate increase. If you were not at fault, you are much less likely to see your rates go up
How do I file a claim against someone else?
At the time of the accident, record the other driver's name, license plate number, insurance company and policy number. Afterward, call their provider directly to initiate a claim under the driver's liability insurance. If the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, check with your own provider to determine if you have uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Can you file a car insurance claim without a police report?
We typically do not recommend filing a car insurance claim without a police report. A police report is often the best way to gather detailed evidence about an accident, especially in cases where fault is unclear or shared. Insurance companies often require police reports to process your claim when there is damage to drivers, passengers, vehicles or other property. To process your claim efficiently, we recommend sharing the police report with your insurer as soon as possible.
The police won’t automatically send their report to your insurer