What is a Claim? How Your Car Insurance Works After an Accident

Why You Can Trust Compare.com trust shield

At Compare.com, it’s our mission to find simple ways to help our customers save money on the things they need. While we partner with some of the companies and brands we talk about in our articles, all of our content is written and reviewed by our independent editorial team and never influenced by our partnerships. Learn about how we make money, review our editorial standards, and reference our data methodology to learn more about why you can trust Compare.com.

What is a claim: 2 cars that crashed into each other

You’ve probably heard of a car insurance claim before, especially after someone is in a car accident or has damage to their vehicle. But unless you’ve filed a claim in the past, the idea of a claim may seem foreign. The good news is that understanding what a claim is, how it pertains to car insurance, and how to file one aren’t as complex as you may think. So what is a claim? Here’s what you need to know.

Interested in Free Car Insurance Quotes?

What is a Claim in Car Insurance?

A car insurance claim is a request that you file with your car insurance company to receive reimbursement for the cost of medical bills or damage to your vehicle after an incident. It’s essentially the reason why you have car insurance in the first place — to protect your finances and out-of-pocket expenses for anything that may happen to you as the result of an accident or act of God.

What Claims Can I File Based on the Car Insurance I Have?

Stressed man after a car accident

Different types of insurance reimburse you for various incidents. However, you need to have the right coverage to file a claim for a specific type of incident. Here’s a basic breakdown of insurance coverages and what types of claims you can file.

Liability Coverage Claims

Liability coverage is a two-pronged type of coverage that’s broken up into property damage liability and bodily injury liability.

Required in every state except for New Hampshire — although you can opt out in Virginia — this covers the other motorist(s) in accidents where you’re at fault. Each of the other 49 states have different minimum liability insurance coverage requirements that you need to have to legally get behind the wheel.

In a case where you’re deemed at fault, you wouldn’t file a claim if you only have liability coverage. However, if the other motorist is at fault in an accident, you should file a claim with the other person’s auto insurance company to receive compensation for damages to your vehicle and medical costs.

Collision Coverage Claims

Collision coverage is a type of insurance that allows you to file a claim whenever damage occurs to your vehicle due to an accident — whether it’s a single-car accident or an accident involving another vehicle.

If you ran into a telephone pole, were at fault in an accident, or were not at fault but the damage is significant, you can file a claim. However, you’d need to pay a deductible first before your insurance coverage and reimbursement kick in.

Comprehensive Coverage Claims

If you have comprehensive coverage, you can file a claim for any non-collision-related accident. Some common occurrences when you would file a comprehensive claim would include:

  • Acts of God, such as hail damage, flooding, or a natural disaster that damages your vehicle
  • A collision with a wild animal, such as a deer or cow
  • Theft, whether or not your car is ever recovered
  • Vandalism
  • Falling objects, such as a tree branch

Generally speaking, comprehensive insurance covers you for any accident that collision insurance doesn’t. But like collision coverage, you need to pay the deductible when you’re filing a claim.

Full Coverage Claims

Full coverage just refers to a policyholder that has liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage. Often required by lenders if you have a car loan, full coverage allows you to file a claim based on any situation listed above.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Claims

Twenty states and the District of Columbia require uninsured motorist coverage and 14 states require underinsured motorist coverage. These types of coverage protect you in two situations:

  • Uninsured motorist coverage pays for damage to your vehicle and medical bills when you’re not at fault in an accident and the other driver has no insurance.
  • Underinsured motorist coverage pays for damage to your vehicle and medical bills when the other driver’s insurance coverage doesn’t cover all the expenses you incur.

If you’re in an accident where the other driver has no insurance, you can file a claim that reimburses you up to your coverage limits.

Underinsured motorist coverage works similarly. You can file a claim for reimbursement for the difference between the other motorist’s liability coverage and the total amount of your damages.

For example, let’s say that the other driver has bodily injury liability of $25,000 and property damage liability of $25,000. If you incur medical bills of $30,000 and your totaled car is valued at $40,000, you’d have $5k of hospital bills left to cover and $15k of repairs left to do after their insurance covers the first chunk. 

You could file a claim for that $5,000 worth of medical bills and $15,000 worth of property damage through your underinsured motorist coverage.

Personal Injury Protection Claims

Personal injury protection, or PIP, is a type of coverage that covers your medical bills and those of your passengers in an accident, regardless of who’s at fault. It’s required in 12 no-fault states, but available in seven other states.

When you’re in an accident that causes injuries to yourself or other passengers, you file a PIP claim with your own insurance company. This will pay for medical bills not covered by your health insurance, lost wages due to injury, and certain other damages as listed on your policy.

Medpay Claims

Medpay is similar to personal injury protection in that it reimburses you for medical expenses after an accident. However, its coverage limits are often lower than PIP coverage, and it’s only a requirement in New Hampshire and Maine.

Unlike PIP, Medpay doesn’t pay for lost wages or other expenses. It’s confined only to medical expenses not covered by your health insurance or other types of insurance coverage. However, Medpay has no copay or deductible.

You would file a Medpay claim with your car insurance provider if you’re at fault in an accident. Most hospitals and health care facilities bill the auto insurance company directly, so you’re reimbursed regardless of whether you have to pay a deductible for your health insurance coverage.

How to File a Car Insurance Claim

Person talking on the phone while looking at a car accident

Thanks to the advent of technology, filing a car insurance claim is easier than ever. Most car insurance companies now allow you to file a claim online or even through a convenient smartphone app. Alternatively, you can always phone your insurance company at the number listed on your insurance card.

However, you should do a bit of legwork before you call your insurance company:

  • Take pictures of any damage to your vehicle and damage to the other person’s vehicle. Be thorough and err on the side of caution so you have too many pictures rather than too few.
  • Call the police and file a report. Although this isn’t required — especially in cases where the damage to the vehicle is less than $500 — you can have proof that the collision occurred and can increase your chances of reimbursement if the other party tries to claim that you were at fault.
  • You should also hold onto any receipts related to the accident, such as towing, roadside assistance, or repairs.
  • Get the other driver’s insurance information and ID. Take pictures of these — don’t take their word for it.

Although most states give you a decently long timeframe to file a claim — sometimes up to years — the sooner you file a claim the better. Filing a claim right away looks less suspicious to insurers and usually makes it less likely that they’ll deny your claim. Moreover, you can get the payout for your expenses more quickly and lessen the chance of any financial burden.

Make Your Insurance Claim Easier With the Right Insurance Company

Every car insurance company has its strengths and weaknesses. However, wading through reviews and insurance quotes to balance service with an affordable auto insurance rate can feel cumbersome and draining — especially after you’ve already felt overwhelmed by filing a claim.

That’s just what Compare.com aims to fix. With instant quotes, reviews of popular and reputable insurance companies, and a helpful blog that explains everything from insurance how-tos to the best cars for new drivers, Compare.com has everything you need all in one place.

Compare Car Insurance Quotes

About Compare.com

Compare.com’s #1 goal is to save you money. We publish resources that are based on hard-hitting data and years of industry experience to help you make more informed decisions with your wallet.

  • All of Compare.com’s content is written and reviewed for accuracy by a team of experienced writers and editors who are experts on the topics they cover.
  • None of Compare.com’s content is ever influenced by the companies and brands we partner with.
  • Compare.com’s editorial team operates independently of any of the company’s partnership or business development interests. We publish unbiased information strictly for the benefit of our readers.
  • All of the content you see on Compare.com is based on comprehensive analysis and all data is gathered and vetted from trustworthy sources.

Learn more about us, our team, and what makes us tick.