Contacting Your Car Insurance Company After an Accident

Your car insurance company has a legal right to know about any car accident that might lead to a claim under your coverage.

Updated by , J.D.

After a car accident, even if it's just a 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 may be able to report your claim online, but a phone call always works.
  • You're required to promptly notify your insurance company of any incident that might trigger coverage (that means a claim by you or someone else).
  • Once you've reported the accident and the claim process is started, you're one step closer to getting a car insurance settlement.

How to Report an Accident to Your Car Insurance Company

You're obligated to report any incident that could trigger coverage, under the terms of your car insurance policy. Failure to do that could lead to problems later on. And letting your insurer know about the crash right away is the best way to get the ball rolling toward a car accident settlement.

These days, many car insurance companies have an online claim filing system in place, and by starting the claim process via your insurer's website, you've effectively notified them of your accident. If you go with the traditional phone call option, you'll probably speak with the insurance carrier's claims department.

Information to Provide to Your Car Insurer

You'll want to have the following information ready to hand over to your car insurance company after an accident:

  • location (i.e. intersection), date, and time (approximate is fine) of the accident
  • contact, driver's license and car insurance information (carrier and policy number) for anyone else involved in the accident
  • vehicle information (make/model/year) for any vehicle involved in the accident
  • names and contact information of any witnesses who might have seen any part of the accident
  • information regarding any police report (receipt or incident number) generated in connection with the accident, and/or details pertaining to the responding officer (agency, badge number)
  • description of the nature of your car accident injuries, and
  • description of the extent of damage to your vehicle, including any repair estimates, if you have them.

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 an email or a formal letter documenting your claim, contact the claims office directly.

Keep in mind that you may also be required to report the crash to a law enforcement agency and elsewhere. Get more details on reporting a car accident, and check out this post-car accident checklist for more tips.

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. Learn more about who pays for vehicle damage after a car accident.

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.

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).

Getting a Lawyer's Help

You might not always need a lawyer's help if you're making a car insurance claim after an accident. But especially if things are getting contentious on key issues—like fault for the accident and the seriousness of your injuries—you might want to discuss your situation with a legal professional. You can use the tools on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer in your area, and learn more about when you need a lawyer's help with a car accident case.

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