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How To File An Auto Insurance Claim

Filing an auto insurance claim can be a somewhat troublesome and stressful process if one does not know the proper claim filing procedures. Accidents are inevitable – even the safest driver can find themselves having to call their auto insurance provider when the unfortunate happens. If you find yourself needing to file a claim there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you file your claim correctly.

Keep Your Auto Insurance Record Clean

Before you take the steps to file a claim you should evaluate whether or not it is in your best interest to in fact proceed with filing the claim. Even if you just call your insurance company with a question about possibly filing a claim it is often recorded on your insurance record. It is important to keep your insurance record clean and one way to do that is deciding whether or not you should file the claim. It doesn’t matter if the accident is your fault or not, you should ask yourself first if you can pay for the damage. If you can pay for the damage yourself without financial hardship then it may be better to not file a claim.

Call 911 In A Life Threatening Situation

After you have evaluated the situation and feel that you still need to file a claim then the first step at the scene of an accident is to call 911 if someone has a life-threatening injury. If there’s no emergency, don’t tie up 911, but get any needed medical attention and call the police directly. Remember, you need that police report to be able to file a claim with your insurance company.

Once you have contacted the police then you need to exchange license plate numbers, contact information, and auto insurance information with the other parties involved. Most states require drivers to have an insurance identification card in the vehicle and it will provide most of the information you need. Make sure, however, to get phone numbers so you can contact the other party.

Obtain Information From Witnesses To The Accident

The third step is to look for witnesses who will be willing to tell exactly what they saw. Make sure you get their contact information as well. If you are unable to gather information at the scene, the police report can be a back-up source of information on the other parties involved and witnesses. If the damage is under $500 the police may not want to file a report, but it is important that you have a police report to file your claim. You must insist on a report. If the police officer won’t file a traffic accident report, insist on an incident report. You will want an independent record of what happened in case the other driver’s story changes.

One thing to be aware of, however, is that if the accident happens in a parking lot, an officer may plead no jurisdiction. Once again, ask for an incident report. Failing that, in a mall or other facility that has a security force, you may ask security to file a report. In a lot without any security, you may want to ask a shop owner. Getting someone to verify your story will establish that you are not at fault. If you are not at fault then your auto insurance company cannot raise your rates.

Contact Your Auto Insurance Company’s Claim Department

Step 4 is to contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible. It is best if you have a cell phone or emergency phone so that you can call the insurance company from the scene of the accident. Many auto insurers have 24-hour claim-filing service by phone. Your insurance ID card should provide the number. Whoever takes your claim will walk you through the process. Even if the other driver is at fault you can still file a claim with your own insurance company because each carrier is obliged to protect the interests of its own insured, making your claim a secondary concern for the other party’s carrier. Chances are you’ll get the service you need more readily from your own carrier.

Comply With Your State’s No Fault Auto Insurance Laws

In addition, if you reside in a state with no-fault insurance, you have no choice initially but to file with your own carrier. No-fault insurance has thresholds below which your own carrier pays all expenses, except the deductible. Above those thresholds, you may seek restitution from the other party. These no fault auto insurance thresholds vary by state. If you don’t have collision coverage on your vehicle and the other party was at fault, you will have no choice but to file a claim against the other party’s insurance company. On the other hand, if the other party does not have insurance, you will have to negotiate with the other party directly or go to court.

If the other driver is at fault then the fifth step you should take is to then advise the other party’s insurance company that you’re pursuing a claim through your carrier and will seek reimbursement for costs your carrier will not pay, including your collision insurance deductible, time off work, auto rental differential and the amount of your diminished resale value. After you have called the other party’s insurance provider you’ll receive a phone call from the other company asking for your version of events that led to the accident.

Record the Events Leading Up To The Accident

Depending on the company you may receive a call earlier rather than later or vice versa. It’s a good idea to write down exactly what you will tell the other carrier beforehand so that should a lawsuit arise your statement will remain consistent. Even if you think you remember what you said it is important to write it down, as the insurance company will be taping your statement and could possibly use it against you later on.

Work With The Auto Insurance Claims Adjuster

Step 7 results when the adjuster comes out to take a look at the damage to your vehicle and comes up with an estimate of what it will take to fix the car (or if its totaled, the amount the insurance company should pay out for a new vehicle) Then, the insurance company will cut a check in the amount of the repair, minus any collision deductible amount. If the insurance company has a direct repair program, the adjuster might not even have to come out. Under such a program, your insurance carrier will refer you to a shop with which they have an agreement.

So, depending on the insurance company, the damage claim estimate may be done by the shop itself, the shop won’t have to wait to start repairs and the check can be transmitted right to the shop. If the adjuster says the car is totaled the adjuster will estimate your compensation on the actual cash value (or depreciated value) of the vehicle before the accident, essentially enabling you to buy a similar used car. However, if you’ve bought coverage for replacement cost value, the estimate will cover the cost of buying a similar new vehicle.

Consider Auto Insurance Claims Arbitration

Should a dispute arise and you think your carrier’s damage settlement offer is too low, you may ask your carrier for a form of arbitration to resolve the dispute. This process may take up to six weeks but usually you will not have to wait for payment. In most cases, the insurance company will pay you the amount it offered immediately, and you’ll get the rest when and if the dispute is resolved in your favor. On the other hand, if you disagree with an offer from the other party’s carrier, you may or may not be offered such dispute resolution. If not and the amount in dispute is significant, it may be worthwhile to take legal action.

File The Auto Insurance Claim ASAP

If you decide to file a claim you should file the claim ASAP and document the accident with a police report and if possible, eyewitness reports. Be sure to also obtain all necessary information from the other party and write down what you say to the insurance company. Taking these simple steps to file an auto insurance claim can save you time, money and a headache.

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