By: Yara Zakharia, Esq.
Each year, policyholders submit more than $150 billion worth of claims to auto insurance carriers, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And yet, for the average American, the filing of a car insurance claim remains a perplexing, intimidating, and downright aggravating process.
Since accidents do happen, it is to every insured driver's advantage to follow some basic steps guaranteed to save him or her time, money and stress.
The following guidelines for filing a car insurance claim will help make it a smoother ride:
1. Necessity of filing a claim: The insured should evaluate whether or not to file a car insurance claim. If the driver is able to cover the expense without financial hardship, there is no need to file a claim with the car insurance company.
2. Identification of witnesses: The accident victim should request the names and phone numbers of witnesses, in case their testimony is needed.
3. Immediate notification of the accident: A driver must, pursuant to auto insurance laws, immediately inform his car insurance company that he was involved in an accident. He should contact the carrier's 24-hour claims line and provide the claims agent with the names and addresses of the drivers and witnesses, time and place of the crash, and other pertinent details. Local police must also be contacted so that an accident report can be prepared.
4. File the claim as soon as possible: The driver should file the car insurance claim while the facts are still fresh and as soon as it is reasonably possible. All relevant information, such as police reports and medical treatment reports, should be submitted to the car insurance company. It is recommended that policyholders send the documentation via certified mail. Furthermore, the insured should cooperate with his car insurance company by supplying any material requested in its investigation and settlement of the claim.
5. Make copies of the accident documents and store them in a safe place
6. Damage assessment and repair: Once the carrier approves the policyholder's car insurance claim, an insurance adjuster will be dispatched to calculate the damage or direct the insured to a pre-approved garage to get it repaired. Some carriers allow their clients to choose their own repair shop and provide them with estimates.
7. Filing a "first party" claim or a "third party" claim: The insured has two options: 1) to file a claim with his own car insurance company (a "first party" claim) or 2) to file a claim with the insurer for the other vehicle's owner (a "third party" claim). In the first instance, the policyholder's own car insurance company will cover the costs of repairing or replacing the vehicle. If the accident victim selects the second option, the other driver's car insurance company will cover damage to the former's vehicle to the extent that he or she was at fault.
8. Not releasing the carriers too early: A policyholder should not relieve his car insurance company of its duty until the claim is settled to his satisfaction.
9. Going to court: Any driver who has no recourse with his carrier should consider filing suit in small claims court.
In conclusion, chances are that many of us will experience at least one fender bender in a lifetime. Therefore, it is important to get a grip on the claim-filing process. An accident might be unavoidable, but a difficult recovery from an insurance standpoint can be avoided if one is equipped with the basics involved in filing a car insurance claim.