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