Contacting Your Car Insurance Company After an Accident

Getting your insurance carrier involved is crucial to resolving your claim. Here's what to do.

After any car accident, even a minor fender bender, one of the first things you’ll need to do once the proverbial dust settles is to contact your car insurance carrier and let them know about the incident. You’re obligated to do this (promptly) under the terms of your car insurance policy, and it’s the best way to get the ball rolling toward filing your car accident settlement and/or defending against a claim by the other driver(s) involved in the accident. Read on to learn more about who to notify, and what to expect.

Who Should You Notify?

When you call your car insurance company to let them know you’ve been in an accident, you’ll probably start by talking to your own agent, but you may end up speaking with the carrier’s claims department. If you end up talking only to your agent -- providing him or her with the specifics of the accident, the damage to your vehicle, and any injuries stemming from the accident -- then before you get off the phone, make sure to get confirmation that the information you gave to your agent will be filed with the claims office. In the next few days, if you don’t get a formal letter documenting your claim, contact the claims office directly.

What Happens Next?

After you report your car accident to your insurer and a claim is opened, the company will get started on processing and investigating your claim. This triggers a few rights and responsibilities on the part of both you and your car insurance carrier.

The Insurance Company Can Inspect Your Vehicle. You have the right to file a claim under your own car insurance policy because of damage to your car (as opposed to seeking payment from the other driver’s insurance carrier), as long as you have collision coverage. But your carrier has the right to inspect your vehicle, and to get its own estimates for the cost of repairing the damage. The specifics on inspection and estimate rights are detailed in your policy, so check the fine print if you have questions.

You Must Cooperate with the Insurance Company’s Investigation. Filing a claim with your insurance company is one thing, but once you set the process in motion, you’re obligated to cooperate with your carrier’s investigation into the underlying accident. That includes providing the claims investigator with complete and accurate details on how the accident happened, who may have been at fault, the extent of the damage to your vehicle, your injuries, the course of your medical treatment, and any other information that might be relevant to your claim.

Your obligation to cooperate in the investigation extends to whatever “reasonable” requests your car insurance company makes of you. The definition of what’s reasonable isn’t set in stone, but it’s probably safe to assume that you don’t need to give a recorded statement if you don’t want to, and you don’t need to put up with repeated requests for information you’ve already provided (or information you’re not privy to).

The Insurance Company Can Examine Your Records. Once you file a claim after a car accident, your insurance carrier will most likely have the right to look at any medical records that are relevant to your claim -- including anything that documents medical care provided by emergency services, your own physician, physical therapists, and chiropractors.

So that they can get access to these medical records (and possibly also obtain information about your work history if it’s relevant to your claim), an adjuster for your car insurance company will probably send you a form called something along the lines of “Authorization for Release of Records.” They'll ask you to sign and return it to them. In some cases, the adjuster may just ask you to send over a few specific records, and they won’t need to get access to a complete file. That's especially true if your claim involves only minor injuries and just one or two doctor visits.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on car accident injury claims, and everything you’ll need to navigate your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And you may want to consider talking with a car accident attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.

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