Auto Insurance Basics

Filing Auto Insurance Claims

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It is overwhelming to think about dealing with insurance companies after something as traumatizing as a car accident. However, being prepared and knowing the right questions to ask will help make the process smooth and fast. After all, you are paying your insurance company to step in exactly in these times of need. 

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How to File Auto Insurance Claims

The most common way to file a claim is to call up the insurance company, and follow the voice direction until you reach the appropriate department for your case (collision accident, glass-only claim, file a new claim, and etc.) If you are reporting an accident and filing a claim with your own carrier, you can usually speed up the process by either calling your insurance agent, or reporting the claim through your carrier's online portal. Some insurers, such as Progressive, even allow their policyholders to track their claim progress through a mobile app. In many cases, you will need to file a police report to obtain an official record of the accident before filing a claim.

Here are the 4 key things we recommend you do when filing an auto insurance claim:

  1. Call 911, especially if anyone is hurt. Not only is it necessary to let injured persons get the necessary treatment, insurers often won't process a claim that invovles injuries unless there is an official police report.
  2. Record everything from the scene of the accident. Photograph or record the damage, road conditions, and the other driver’s insurance information.
  3. Report the accident to your own insurer, regardless of fault. First of all, claims through your own insurer usually get processed faster, and secondly, in case the damage turns out to be more complicated than you initially thought, having the accident on file makes sure that your loss will be accounted for.
  4. Never accept a settlement before consulting with your insurer. When you accept a settlement from the other driver's insurer and sign a waiver, you are waiving your rights for further compensation.

Who to File Your Claims With

All auto insurance claims can roughly be broken into two categories: first-party claims and third-party claims. Whether your claim falls under one or another determines who you will be filing a claim with. A first-party claim is one you file with your own insurance company, hence first-party – the policyholder yourself. A third-party claim is one you file with another insurance company, as a non-policyholder. Third-party claims are usually called for when you need to tap into another driver’s liability coverage for your loss because he or she caused the accident, which is why you need to collect the other driver's insurance company's name and contact information.

An easy way to figure out whether your claim's payout will be coming from your own insurer (first-party) or the other driver's (third-party) is by the types of coverage you have on your policy. For example, if your car was damaged in an accident, and you have collision coverage, then you can choose to file the claim with your own auto insurance company. This could allow you to speed up the process from repair to getting back onto the road. If the accident was the other driver's fault, your insurer would get the money back from the other insurer, along with however much collision deductible you paid in advance.

Filing Claims in a No-Fault State

Finally, while most rules regarding each coverage still applies, things are slightly complicated by the auto insurance laws in your state. Most states are tort states – or sometimes referred to as fault states – where the payouts of insurance companies are determined by the fault of their policyholders. In other words, whichever driver is found to cause the accident will be the one who is responsible for the costs of the damage and injuries from the accident. Among the different types of car insurance coverage, Liability Insurance, which consists of Bodily Injury and Property Damage Coverages, is only available to third-party claims. 

In no-fault states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida, the most notable difference is the order in which you seek coverage payments for bodily injuries sustained in an accident. In most cases, drivers must making first-party claims - directly with their own insurer - regardless of fault. In fault-based states’, you go after the negligent driver’s insurance company to pay for your damage in an accident you did not cause. No-fault states’ law forbids you from pursuing recovery from another driver, unless the severity of injuries and/or total amount of property damage exceeds certain thresholds established by your state's no-fault laws. In exchange for this limitation to sue, drivers living in no-fault states would almost always be compensated by their own insurance company – under first-party coverages, such as Personal Injury Protection or Medical Payments – for any injuries they sustained from an auto-related accident.

In addition to Pennsylvania and Florida above, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, and Utah are other no-fault states.

Who Are You Filing Auto Claims With?

Here is a table illustrating the relationship between types of coverage and who to file your claims with depending on the fault or no-fault status of your state:

If You Are Injured (Tort State) If Your Car Is Damaged (Tort State) In No-Fault States

First-Party Claims
(with your insurer)

Medical Payments (MedPay)
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Collision
Comprehensive

PIP
Collision
Comprehensive

Third-Party Claims
(with the other driver's insurer)

Bodily Inury (BI) Property Damage (PD) BI, but usually limited unless thresholds are met

Filing Claims After Car Crash: If You Were Injured

Collision accidents are usually the trickiest because there will be a question of fault, and possibly even injuries on either side of the party. Since you never want to be found more at-fault than you actually are, as soon as possible following an accident, collect and record as much evidence as you can – time of accident, where it happened (on the road), which way you were headed, the other driver’s plate number and driver’s license, and the name of his insurance company. In most states, you will need to file an accident report with the police if someone was injured in the accident; this report will be used when an insurer investigates negligence in the crash.

Note that, as soon as the claim involves bodily injuries, it is very likely that the claim payments will not be resolved all at once. As long as you continue to need treatments and/or care for the injuries you sustained from the accident, the claim will stay open until the coverage limits are exhausted. If you or one of your passengers receive emergency medical care, remember to keep track of the bills so they are all accounted for. Let the medics know that you were injured in an auto accident. If they charge you based on your health insurance, you may be asked to pay a certain amount of health deductible up front. Depending on the coverage you have on your policy, you might be able to get your auto insurance to cover the health deductible. Read more about MedPay and whether your health insurance is primary or secondary in these kinds of situations.

Here is a list of additional items that you should try to collect:

  • Records of the accident. Including time of accident, where it happened, which way you were headed, and etc.
  • Photos of the scene. That includes your vehicle’s damage as well as injuries you or your passengers sustained from the crash.
  • Records of the medical treatments and bills. Examinations you’ve jad, bills from the hospital, and etc.
  • Receipts of other related expenses. Such as cost to hire professional nursing, replacement home services, and etc.
  • Proof of lost wages from employer. In case you are unable to work and earn your regular income because of the injuries, have your employer prepare an official letter that states the amount of your wage.

Tips from Claims Adjusters:

When we asked a personal injury claim adjuster to offer some tips, he suggested that drivers should not have to pay hospital bills upfront. Your health care providers should be directly billing the car insurance company, so always mention that you are receiving treatments because of an auto-related accident, and give them your auto insurer’s name. Remember to carry your auto insurance card. Another important rule of thumb to remember is to consult your insurer before accepting the other insurer's settlement offer. You should be mindful of this especially in case you sustain injuries from the accident, as there may be future medical bills that you did not foresee. If you accept or deny with your insurer's blessing, you at least have the option of going back to your carrier when further compensation is needed as a result of the accident.

Filing Claims After An Accident: If Your Car Was Damaged

A rear-end accident should be a property-damage-only type of accident, which is also the most common type of auto insurance claim made in the US. When you file a claim of this type, your assigned claims agent will most likely want to assess the damage in order to determine how much of the repair can be reasonably reimbursed, and those records will help. Note that some insurers advise against accepting cash payment from the negligent driver at the scene, as this could be regarded as a sign of waiver, and can be used against you.

Insurance claims adjusters, including Venessa Lumby, also share that property damage-only claims are usually the fastest to process, whether it is a first party or third party claim. If you’re in an accident with another driver that only results in property damage, you may still want to call the police and get a police report for evidence purposes. If the other party is liable for the accident, you may file a third-party claim directly with their insurer for the costs to repair any property damage. 

Tips from Claims Adjuster:

Our property damage claim adjuster’s advice is to always file property damage claims with your own insurer. If you have physical damage insurance – collision and/or comprehensive coverage – on your policy, filing with your own insurer will likely shorten the time it takes to put you back on the road. If the damage was caused by the other driver, your insurer will pursue the other insurance company to get the repair cost back, along with however much deductible you paid out.

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