How to Submit an Auto Insurance Claim

No one enjoys having a car accident, and many more like submitting an auto insurance claim even less. While filing an auto insurance claim can seem overwhelming, it actually is a pretty straightforward process provided you are prepared from the beginning. Following these steps to submit an auto insurance claim can help alleviate some of the pain of the process and get you the benefits you need.

Types of auto insurance claims

When preparing to submit an auto insurance claim, it’s important to know what type of auto insurance claim you have. These range from collisions with other vehicles to collisions with property to damage from vandalism or even the theft of your vehicle. Once you know the type of claim, taking the right steps to file your claim will put you on the road to receiving assistance from your auto insurance company.
Not all auto insurance claims are the same. Your claim will depend on how your vehicle was damaged and if anyone got hurt.

Property damage claim

These claims refer to the damage to your vehicle. For example, someone hits your car, you hit someone else’s vehicle, you back into a building, a deer hits your car or your car is damaged by hail.
If you’re in an accident with another driver who is found at fault, the other driver’s car insurance company pays to repair the damage to your car under the other driver’s property damage liability coverage.
If you are found at fault or the damage is the result of a “no-fault” incident, your car insurance company will pay your claim provided you have collision or comprehensive coverage for such incidents.

Bodily injury claim

This claim applies to injuries you or your passengers sustain in a car accident. It covers your medical bills and related bills resulting from your injuries sustained in the accident.
If the other driver is at fault, his car insurance company will pay your claim. If you live in a no-fault state, your car insurance company will pay your claim as required by law.
If you live in an at-fault state and you are found responsible for the accident, your auto insurance company will pay your claim provided you have medical payments or personal injury protection coverage, also known as PIP, in your car insurance policy. Medical payments or PIP coverage also pay for lost wages, funeral or burial expenses, and other essential out-of-pocket expenses such as transportation costs to and from medical treatments.

Total loss claim

A total loss claim refers to an auto insurance claim wherein the insurance company declares your car “totaled” and pays you the actual or replacement value cost of the vehicle.
With some accidents, your car may be deemed “totaled.” Essentially, the insurance company has decided it will be more expensive for car repairs than it would to pay for the actual or replacement cash value of your car. Actual cash value refers to the amount the car is currently valued at, while replacement cash value refers to how much it would cost to replace your vehicle. You choose which value you want when you purchase your auto insurance policy.
If the other driver is at fault, your auto insurance claim should be paid by the other driver’s auto insurance company under the property damage liability coverage.
However, if you are at fault in the accident or it’s deemed a “no-fault” accident, your car insurance company can pay your claim provided you have collision or comprehensive coverage on your policy.
It’s important to note that how the auto insurance company determines if your car is a total loss varies by state. To find out how your state determines a total loss, check with your state insurance commissioner or speak with your auto insurance agent.

Roadside assistance

Following a car accident, you may find yourself stranded because your car is too damaged to drive home. If your auto insurance policy includes roadside assistance coverage, you can contact your auto insurance company for a tow following an accident.
If you haven’t had a car accident yet you find yourself stranded on the side of the road due to a flat tire or dead battery, under your roadside assistance coverage a tow company or mechanic can fix the flat or replace the battery.
It also can help if you lock your keys in the car or run out of gas.

Steps to filing an auto insurance claim

Submitting an auto insurance claim includes getting a police report, talking with your insurance company, meeting with an insurance claims adjuster and agreeing on the claim resolution. It may take some time, but filing your claim is a clear-cut process.

Call the police and file a report

Any time you have a car accident, damage to your car, or other need to file an auto insurance claim, you should call the police and file an accident report. This should take place at the scene of the accident.
This provides valuable documentation of the accident the insurance companies can use to determine who is at fault, which can dictate which insurance company pays the claim. Even if no one is found at fault or the damage is minimal, most insurance companies want a copy of the incident report for their records, so it’s important to have one available.

Determine who to file a claim with for damages or medical expenses

To make sure your auto insurance claim is processed accurately and quickly, you must first determine who to file your claim with for benefits. Deciding this depends on where you live and who is at fault.
  • In at-fault states: If you live in an at-fault state, you will file a claim with the insurance company of the driver who is responsible for the accident. If that is you, you will file with your insurance company. If it is the other driver, you will file with their insurance company.
  • __In no-fault states: __If you live in a no-fault state, you will file a claim with your insurance company.
  • No insurance or underinsured driver: You will file a claim with your insurance company.
  • Single-car accident or damage from a non-collision event: If you have a car accident that involves just you — you reverse into your garage door — or sustains damage when you're not it – a tree branch falls on it, for example – you will file a claim with your insurance company.

Contact your insurance company

Even if you are not at fault, call your auto insurance agent as soon as possible to inform them of your accident. If the other driver’s insurance company is responsible for covering your loss, your agent still can assist you with the claims process by answering questions and giving insight into the claims process.
If your auto insurance policy will cover the loss, find out how long you have to file a claim. Although there is a time limit for filing a claim, you don’t have to file immediately. This gives you time to evaluate the damage to your car to see if filing a claim is even necessary.
If the cost to repair the damage is less than the amount of your car insurance deductible, you are better off just paying for the repairs yourself.
Waiting a few days before submitting an auto insurance claim also gives you time to see if you will need to claim reimbursement for medical expenses. It may not be readily apparent if you need to seek out medical care, but if you continue to have discomfort, headaches, or other symptoms, you should seek out a medical evaluation. This could lead to a medical diagnosis and treatment that should be covered in your auto insurance claim. If so, make sure you retain all paperwork and billing statements so you can accurately document your total amount of medical expenses for reimbursement.

File your claim

Many auto insurance companies now offer the option of filing claims using their mobile app, online, or by telephone. You can choose the option that best fits your needs. When you are ready to submit a claim, be prepared to provide the following:
  • Your name and policy number
  • The make, model, and year of the vehicle
  • Location and time of the accident
  • Description of accident
  • Photos of the accident site and damage to your vehicle
  • Name, phone number, and car insurance information for the other driver along with any other helpful additional information
  • Name and contact information for any witnesses or others involved in the accident
  • Police report
When filing through the app or online, print out any copies of the claim documents you receive. If talking with someone by phone, write down the claim number you receive as well as their name and contact number.

Talk or meet with the insurance adjuster

Before your auto insurance company will offer any payment for repairs, they will send an insurance adjuster to examine the damage to your vehicle.
Do not have any repairs completed until after the insurance adjuster examines the car!
The insurance adjuster likely will have questions about the accident. Provide as much detail as you can regarding the facts of the accident and damage.

Get estimates for repairs

You have the right to get estimates for repairing the vehicle’s damage from your own preferred body shop, mechanic, or car dealership. Having independent estimates from two or three repair shops gives you a good comparison to determine if the insurance adjuster’s final determination on what the insurance company will cover and how much money you will receive is accurate.

Receive your insurance payment

If you are satisfied with the resolution your auto insurance company offers you, you can accept the offer, sign the required paperwork to that effect, and receive your payment.
Your claim is now complete.

If you are not happy with the resolution, you can appeal

If the auto insurance company offers a resolution you don’t agree with, start by calling your agent. Explain why you think the benefits are not adequate, and ask them to advocate on your behalf to do better. They want to keep your business, so they should be motivated to provide assistance. If they don’t come back with an offer you like, ask to speak with a supervisor to elevate your appeal.
If your vehicle is deemed a total loss and you do not agree with the valuation the auto insurance company is willing to pay for that loss, you can get an independent appraisal for the car’s value. You can use this appraisal in support of your request to receive a higher payoff amount.
If you and your auto insurance company continue to disagree on an appropriate resolution, contact your state insurance commissioner or attorney general. Their job is to make sure you are being treated fairly by the auto insurance company, and their intervention may spur the auto insurance company to quickly resolve the issue in your favor.
If all else fails, you can hire a lawyer to protect your rights and help you resolve the dispute with your auto insurance company.

Bottom line

To submit an auto insurance claim, first determine which insurance company you should file with, your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company. Even if you don’t file with your insurance company, notify your insurance agent of the car accident.
When you are ready to file your claim, make sure you have all the details on the accident available as well as the name and contact information for the driver, the other driver’s insurance company, and any witnesses to the accident. After the insurance adjuster evaluates the damage, you will receive an offer for repairs. Once you accept the offer, your claim is complete. Although it may take some time, submitting a car insurance claim is a straightforward process that will result in getting the benefits you need.

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