Know How and When to File an Insurance Claim

by Rich Ellis
Filing an accident claim

For many people, their vehicle is their pride and joy.  Even for those who aren’t very attached to their vehicles, a vehicle represents a lifeline and an indispensable tool when it comes to meeting work, family, and social obligations. 
That’s why when something happens to that vehicle, it can be an upsetting experience at the very least, not to mention a costly and potentially life-changing one if there is physical damage or bodily injury to occupants. 
Fortunately, vehicle insurance helps financially protect drivers like you and provides them with some peace of mind in the event their vehicle is damaged or stolen or they are injured in an accident. The first step in that protection sequence begins when a claim is filed with the insurance company. Reasons for filing an accident or insurance claim often include everything from theft to vandalism to bodily injury. 
If any of these unfortunate events occurs, here’s what to do.

Should you file a claim?

Prior to filing a claim with your insurer, take a moment to evaluate whether doing so makes financial sense. For example, if the damage is minimal and you have a deductible that has to be paid out of your own pocket before the insurance company makes any payments, it might be wiser to just pay for the repairs out of pocket instead of potentially causing an increase in your insurance premiums by filing a claim. 
Another consideration before filing a claim is what type of insurance you have. In most cases, it’s going to be liability, collision, and/or comprehensive insurance. Many states require drivers to carry liability insurance as a minimum level of coverage. Collision insurance covers damage that results from the vehicle colliding with something else, such as another vehicle or a stationary object. Comprehensive coverage, as its name implies, covers just about everything else, including a deer running into the vehicle, or damage from hail, a falling tree, vandals, or even an errant golf ball.

If you don’t have the proper coverage for the damage in question, there’s no point in filing a claim because it probably will be denied. If, on the other hand, you determine that a claim is in order, you should be aware of the considerable information that most insurers will need, and familiarize yourself with the general steps that are often involved with filing a claim. 

Filing a Claim

When a situation arises where it’s necessary to file a claim, those first steps in filing can be critically important. 
  1. Notify emergency services or law enforcement. Even if there aren’t any injuries, or if you think the damage is minimal, many localities require drivers to alert law enforcement when an accident occurs, no matter how minor. 
  3. Notify your insurer. If you’re sure you are going to file a claim, your insurer needs to be alerted as soon as the incident occurs instead of hours or days later. Most insurers make it easy for their insureds to file claims 24/7 – just look on your insurance card for the phone number or url. 
  5. Gather information. This is a very important step that many people miss because accidents can be chaotic and nerve-wracking. Your insurance company is going to need a lot of information, and capturing as much of that information from the beginning will make the claims process a lot easier as it progresses.
    • Write down the accident details including: weather, traffic conditions, directions of travel, what you saw happen, date and time, location, and witnesses. 
    • The name of the other driver(s) involved and their insurance information – including company and policy number, license plate number, vehicle make and model, and telephone number.
    • The type of damage suffered by the other vehicle(s), structure or object.
    • The responding law enforcement agency’s name, the officer’s name and badge number or other identification, and the accident or police report number.

  6. Write down what you say. In addition to capturing all the accident details on paper, it’s also important to write down what you say, instead of trusting it to memory. Having a written record will ensure that your statements remain consistent going forward and that you don’t forget any key details. If your phone has a recorder function, use that. 

  7. Know who you’re talking with. At an accident scene, you should only talk with law enforcement about what happened. This isn’t a conversation you should be having with other drivers, witnesses or people milling about the scene. Whatever you say, can be used later should legal proceedings occur.
  9. Request a police or accident report. Many localities are increasingly reluctant to issue police reports for minor accidents. You might have to, respectfully, insist that a police report or incident report be issued, particularly if you know you’re not at fault, because this information from an impartial third party is important information that your insurer may need. 
  11. Monitor your claim’s progress. This process can vary widely from insurer to insurer. Generally, once the claim is filed your vehicle will need to be evaluated by the insurer or whomever they designate. Once that’s completed, they’ll make a determination whether your vehicle can be repaired or is considered a total loss and a discussion will ensue about compensating you.
  13. Know that you have rights. You pay your insurance company to protect you in these types of situations. If you’re not satisfied with your claim’s progression, the responses received from another driver’s insurer or a proposed settlement, then consider arbitration, legal counsel, or other legal proceedings as alternatives. 
As much as you may love your vehicle, it’s important to first focus on what really matters during an accident situation, and that’s preventing further property damage or injuries and getting everyone involved the help they need. Knowing how to contact your insurer and file a claim before a loss occurs, and keeping important information – such as registration and proof of insurance – in the vehicle at all times will enable you to provide and collect information efficiently and calmly during a stressful situation. 

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