Car Insurance Claims: Dos and Don'ts

Before you can receive a payout on a car insurance policy, you first must file a car accident claim. Insurance claims notify insurers that a policy holder, injury victim or other party involved in an accident wants compensation. After receiving a claim, insurance companies use damages formulas to determine its value and decide how much they will actually pay.

The manner in which motorists, passengers and victims file car accident claims matter. Here are some tips on getting through the claims process as successfully as possible.

Insurance Claim Tips

Call an Agent Immediately

It's important to get claims started as soon as possible. Doing so may make it easier to manage the process and avoid having to pay too many out-of-pocket costs while awaiting a decision.

Be Honest

Being dishonest with your insurer could invalidate your policy. Be sure to accurately describe the accident for the best chance at a successful claim.

Take Multiple Pictures

Evidence such as photographs can be used to support claims. Survivors should photograph the scene of the accident as well as their injuries and property damage.

Know the Difference Between Replacement Cost and Actual Cash Value Coverage

Actual cash value coverage funds the cost of replacing a totaled car or other property minus any depreciation in value. Replacement cost coverage pays the amount needed to replace destroyed property up to policy limits, but it doesn't deduct depreciation. The distinction is important because those with replacement coverage may have to wait to be reimbursed until they have already replaced the damaged assets.

Understand Coverage Before Talking to an Agent

Although it's important to file claims immediately, drivers should review their policy terms before discussing the details in depth. Different policies cover and exclude various types of damage and situational costs. Claimants who look over their documents in advance may be able to save themselves time and effort.

Document All Interactions in Detail

Consumers should take notes on any phone conversations or email exchanges they have with insurance company staff. This includes recording details like people's names, contact information, job positions and specific promises. Such records are handy for personal reference and in resolving disputes.

Consider All Coverage Sources

It's worth investigating whether another existing insurance policy might provide coverage after a car accident. Personal umbrella policies, for instance, can offer liability coverage for lawsuit judgments that go over auto policy limits.

Keep All Receipts

Accident costs go beyond medical fees and vehicle repair bills. It's important to retain receipts for expenses such as hotel stays, purchases made while pursuing a claim or additional costs incurred during medical recovery. As a general rule, claimants should track all finances until the claim has been settled.

Things to Avoid with Insurance Companies

Give Documented Statements Without Understanding Coverage

Insurers may request written statements or ask to record conversations. It's vital not to agree to these requests without having a full understanding of the policy terms. Documented statements may become evidence in subsequent car accident lawsuits. They can also be used against claimants.

Accept Insurer Appraisals

Insurers commonly provide their own agents to assess damage and determine claim value. Claimants are under no obligation to accept these decisions if they seem insufficient.

Sign Releases or Waivers Without Legal Consultation

Before signing releases, all claimants should talk to car accident lawyers about the legal consequences. The initial settlements and payout offers stipulated in such agreements could fall short of what claimants might obtain through further negotiation.

Neglect Policy or Legal Time Limits

Different policies and state laws implement time limits for various actions. Some policies may demand that claimants provide signed documents proving their losses or submit to medical examinations within a specific time frame following the accident. In Illinois, Ohio and other states, failing to adhere to such limits can give an insurer valid ground for claim denial.

Some states, like Florida, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia, allow "no fault" claims where insurers can be made to pay for personal injury regardless of who was at fault. These actions are also associated with various time limits that claimants need to comply with in order to retain their eligibility.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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