10 Things To Know About the Car Insurance Claim Process

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man taking a photo at scene of car accident

What do big highways, fast freeways, and little side roads have in common? Car accidents occur on each and every one. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, car crashes have an economic and social impact on US drivers of at least 871 billion dollars annually, which is only going up. 

Even if you are the most defensive driver on the road, there’s no guarantee you’ll never be involved in a car accident. Therefore, it makes sense to understand the car insurance claim process and learn how to make it as effective as possible. 

That’s right: an effective auto accident claim process depends on you and the information you can provide. Timely information is always better than delays that can keep your auto insurance claim open longer than needed. In fact, there are ten things you may not know about the car insurance claim process. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Your car insurance company often includes a clause requiring you to notify them about all accidents. Not doing so can create delays or denials for coverage you pay for.
  • Filing an insurance claim is not an admission of guilt. Your insurance company is there to investigate your claim, determine who is will be held financially responsible, and help you cure any damage or injuries.
  • Getting a refund of your collision deductible may be possible if you paid it to have your vehicle repaired and the other driver was at fault.
  • After investigating your accident, your insurance company may choose to deny your claim for many reasons, including an expired policy or using your vehicle for business purposes.

1. The Insurance Company Requires You to Tell Them About All Accidents

Did you sign your car insurance contract without reading all the details? It isn’t always easy to understand by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it will spell out some ground rules when it comes to the car insurance claim side of things. One of the points listed in most auto contracts (often called “family auto policies” for a personal insurance policy) is a clause that you must report any and all accidents. 

The insurance company can’t intervene on your behalf if they don’t know what’s happening. Auto insurance is already complicated enough, and the last thing you want to do is add in unnecessary delays. 

2. Filing a Claim Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re at Fault

Why do so many people fail to file an insurance claim on time, if at all? They worry that by doing so, they’re admitting fault. The truth is your insurance company will investigate the claim to the best of its ability based on the evidence presented. 

Failure to file a timely claim hurts you in the long run, as it makes it harder to get repairs done. In addition, if you hit another driver, it means being at the mercy of their insurance company. You pay your car insurance monthly for protection, so make sure you use it to the fullest. 

3. You May Need More Than One Car Insurance Claim

Were you involved in a car accident while pulling a trailer? Believe it or not, you may need to file two claims with your insurance company. You’ll need one for your car, van, SUV, or truck and another for the trailer. This isn’t always the case and does vary from insurance carrier to carrier. Still, they are usually treated as two separate items. 

Why is this important? If you have damage to your vehicle and trailer, there is a separate deductible for both repairs. This can create a “doubling” that shocks some policyholders, so it’s important to check ahead with your insurance company if you plan to pull a trailer regularly. The same goes for other items like boats or RVs. 

4. Location Affects the Car Insurance Claim Process More Than You Think

One of the first steps in the auto insurance claim game is to report the accident. This means going over the facts of loss, sometimes referred to as FOL, with the claims adjuster. You can file online, but either path leads to the same outcome: giving accurate information. 

The state where the accident occurred can impact the claim in several ways, including liability and personal injury. Since laws vary across state lines, make it clear where the accident occurred. 

5. Hit and Run Accidents May Be Covered

vehicle involved in a hit and run accident

Every state is different, but hit-and-run accidents affect drivers in every state. Here’s some good news you might not know regarding the car insurance claim process: your hit-and-run accident could be covered. 

Multiple factors are involved, including whether evidence was left at the scene to help track down the driver. For example, if you were hit by an unknown driver who fled the scene of a crowded area, there could be outside camera footage that captured the license plate. The insurance company will have to investigate before concluding there is no other coverage. 

This is where your uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage coverage (UM/UIMPD) comes into play. UM/UIMPD is designed in some cases to extend coverage to not just uninsured motorists that hit your vehicle but unknown motorists as well. 

If you’re in a state where UM/UIMPD coverage doesn’t apply, your collision coverage would have to respond to the damages to your vehicle in the event of a hit and run and would be responsible for your deductible. This could be problematic if you don’t carry collision coverage on your vehicle.

Check with your insurance company if you’re hit by an unknown driver, and let them determine what coverage would apply.

6. Witnesses are the Wildcard of the Car Insurance Claim Process

Witnesses aren’t just for court proceedings: sometimes, they also show up at car accidents. A car accident scene can be hectic, with many things taking place and people around. But witnesses can provide valuable information for the car insurance claim process. They’re a wildcard because they can provide new information that can change the outcome of a claim. 

For example, let’s say that you are at a stoplight getting ready to turn left. If you turn on a protected left arrow and someone hits your vehicle, you may end up in a “word vs. word” situation where the other driver swears you turned on a steady green light. 

However, suppose you have a witness behind you willing to attest that you did indeed have a protected green arrow. In that case, it can influence the outcome of the claim. Other evidence, like dashcams or outside camera footage, can also. 

7. You Could Get Your Deductible Back

Let’s say you get into a car accident, which isn’t your fault. Still, the other insurance company tells you they need time to investigate. That doesn’t get you back on the road, so you use the collision coverage on your insurance policy to fix your vehicle. You don’t have to be at fault to use your own coverage. 

But what about that deductible? Here’s the good news: under certain circumstances, you can get your collision deductible returned to you. It’s straightforward. If you use your collision coverage and the other insurance company accepts responsibility for the accident, your insurance company will seek all damages on your behalf, including your deductible. This process is broadly called subrogation. While this is good news, don’t expect it to happen overnight if you end up in this case. It can take a long time. 

8. Unauthorized Car Use Can Cost You

two friends driving in the car together

What happens when you get notified about a car accident but aren’t the one driving? Unfortunately, you could still be responsible for the accident from an insurance perspective. That’s because most claims of unauthorized use are still considered “permissive use” in the eyes of the insurance company. 

Here’s why. Insurance companies look where the keys were located to investigate whether a driver had permission. The hard truth is that many people leave their keys where a friend or family member can access them. 

But there’s good news: it’s often better to have the “unauthorized” driver covered in the event of the accident than have the claim denied. The property damage portion of your car insurance coverage can be applied to the other party’s damages and rental fees while their car is being repaired.

9. Expired Insurance Cards Don’t Mean Zero Coverage

What if you get into an accident and the other driver has an expired insurance card? That doesn’t mean there isn’t any coverage for this accident. Sometimes people just forget to print out a new card, even though many states still require updated paper insurance ID cards to be carried at all times. 

At the scene of an accident, still take down the information from the expired ID card. It’s also important to get other details to file a police report. Law enforcement often directs all parties to exchange information for minor accidents at the scene of the car accident.

When you file your car insurance claim, be sure to let the claims adjuster or adjusting team know the ID card from the other driver is expired. They will use their own internal databases to look for alternative active coverage for the driver. 

10. Your Insurance Company Can’t Wait to Help You Get Back to Normal

No, really. While it sounds like your car insurance company has nothing but questions to throw at you, there’s a good reason for the seemingly endless questioning – they want to help you get back to normal. To fully understand the risks, they must fully comprehend what happened in the accident. 

If another party involved in the accident wants to file a lawsuit against you, the insurance company can step in to assist. Every insurance carrier will have a slightly different contract. Still, most have a clause that indicates they will provide a defense if you are sued in connection with an accident. 

That’s why it’s so important to file a claim right away. Not only are the details fresh in your mind, but the insurance company has a record of what happened in case future legal action comes into play. 

FAQs About the Car Insurance Claim Process

Should I admit that I’m injured in the car insurance claim? 

You should inform your insurance company if you or any passengers in your vehicle have suffered injuries. If you are found at fault, it is also possible for passengers to seek damages against you for their injuries. Always let your insurance company know about any and all injuries to the best of your knowledge.

Is it okay to admit fault at the scene of a car accident? 

No, you should not admit fault at the scene of a car accident. You may not have all the details, and it’s a very stressful time after an accident. Wait until you file your insurance claim; the insurance adjuster will examine all the facts then. 

Does it matter that the other person left without exchanging information? 

While it’s always nice to get as much information as possible while at the scene of a car accident, it isn’t always possible. Take down what you can, including the time and date of the accident, photos from the scene (if possible), and any witnesses who saw it occur. 

The insurance company can step in to investigate from that point; you’ve done everything you could, given the circumstances.

Can an insurance company deny my auto insurance claim? 

Yes, there are circumstances where your insurance company can outright deny your auto insurance claim. The most common reason for a denied insurance claim is that there is no active policy at the time of the accident. Still, other reasons include commercial use, not having an updated address on file, or the driver of your vehicle being an excluded driver on your policy. 

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