If you're involved in a car accident, it's important you maintain appropriate communication with your insurance company. The following are some helpful tips for what to do -- and what not to do -- throughout the insurance claims process.
Prepare yourself in advance by printing this helpful pamphlet on the first steps after an auto accident and storing it in your glove compartment. It has itemized steps you can check off, as well as an area where you can clearly fill out information vital to your insurance claim.
Car Insurance Claims: What to Do
- Take pictures, if possible, of damage to your vehicle, the accident scene, and your injuries.
- Get names and contact/insurance information of all parties involved.
- Look for security footage near the crash site and, if available, ask the property owner to maintain the footage.
- Speak with an attorney prior to providing any sworn or recorded statements with the insurance company.
- Call your insurance agent. As soon as you get home from the car accident, or even before you go to the doctor, call your agent.
- Review and understand your coverage before talking to your insurer or your agent. Read the "Coverage" and "Exclusion" sections of your policy in particular.
- Take and keep detailed notes of all conversations with insurance company representatives, and get the names, phone numbers, and job titles of people you speak with, including their supervisor's name.
- Consider whether you might have insurance coverage under some other insurance policy as well. Many people have more than one policy that might cover a claim. In particular, look at homeowner policies, "umbrella" policies, and materials that came with your credit cards.
- Be honest and forthcoming with your insurer. Even if it is embarrassing, it is better if your insurer knows all the facts. Failing to be candid with your insurer might invalidate your policy or cause a denial of coverage.
- Understand the difference between replacement coverage and depreciated or actual cash value. If your policy provides replacement coverage, don't settle a personal property loss for "actual cash value." You may be required to replace the lost items before getting your full reimbursement if you have replacement cost coverage.
- Keep all receipts of meals, lodging, and purchases made in connection with time spent pursuing your claim or recovering from your injuries from the time of the covered event until your settlement with your insurance company.
Car Insurance Claims: What NOT to Do
- Don't give any recorded or written statements to your insurer until you are sure you understand your coverage. Remember, you aren't required to allow the insurance company to record your telephone conversation. If you have doubts, do consult an attorney.
- Don't automatically accept the estimate or appraisal of your losses given to you by the insurer. Insurance companies will often try to get you to accept their estimator's or contractor's repair or replacement estimates, which might be a bit low.
- Don't sign any releases or waivers of any kind until you obtain legal advice. A bad financial situation after a major loss may make it seem necessary for you to accept a premature, inadequate settlement from your insurer. But you may remember destroyed items after you have signed a release as to payment for your personal property inventory or other claims. For these reasons, it is advisable to consult an attorney before signing a release or waiver. Be sure to read the fine print on any payment from the insurance company.
- Don't accept any check that says "final payment" unless you are ready to do so.
- Don't ignore the time limits set by your policy. Most policies require a signed proof of loss within a certain time limit. Be sure you comply with this requirement unless you obtain a written waiver from your insurance company. Bad faith statute of limitations varies from state to state, ranging from two to five years. The general statute of limitations for personal injury claims varies between states, ranging from two to six years. This is why it is important to promptly contact an attorney. Failure to do so could result in the loss of your right to sue.
- Don't forget that you have a contract with your insurer. Your insurer has a legal obligation to provide the coverage it promised to you. Be insistent about enforcing that obligation.
Do You Have a Valid Car Insurance Claim? Have a Lawyer Review Your Claim
Car accidents are the leading cause of personal injury claims in America. While most minor accidents (or "fender benders") can be resolved through your insurer, accidents resulting in serious injuries or even death are best handled by an experienced injury lawyer.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, get in touch with an experienced car accident attorney near you today.