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Important Considerations for Auto Insurance Claims

Auto insurance consumers buy their policies at least partially for the protection they grant in the wake of car accidents. Still, as drivers we all have our part to play in the claims process when we get into an accident. Auto insurance claims do not move to speedy conclusions by themselves; in fact, without our involvement, they may never get going at all. As a policy holder you need to know your responsibilities in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Take a look at these important considerations for auto insurance claims and understand what it takes to get a claim started and eventually resolved. There are important steps to take at the accident scene and in the days that follow, and things to make note of in the event of a dispute. Make sure you are aware of your responsibilities and your rights as an insured motorist when an accident claim arises.

At the Accident Scene

You've been involved in an auto accident. You're still in your car, trying to collect your thoughts, making sure you're okay and not too seriously injured. What do you do now?

Anytime a driver gets involved in an auto accident, the first thing to do is to get off the road if at all possible. If your car is drivable and you're not too injured to drive, get it off onto the shoulder. Make sure you don't end up getting involved in other accidents caused by the wreckage from this one. If your vehicle cannot be safely moved, get out if it's possible to do so safely and get out of danger.

Quickly find out if anyone is seriously injured. Call 911 in any life threatening situation. If there are no serious injuries, call the police. Wait at the accident scene to get a police report. Make sure you do not overlook this important detail. A police report can help your case later.

Exchange contact information with any other involved parties, including phone, insurance information, and license plate number. Try to locate eyewitnesses who are willing to talk about what they saw. Take down their information as well. Do this while you are waiting for the police to arrive. It is critical to get as many perspectives as possible to avoid a "we said, they said" type of situation. Often these things happen so quickly that we don't even really know what happened.

Contact Insurance Company ASAP

Call your insurer as soon as possible and open a claim. Do not wait for fault finding to do this. Even if the other driver was at fault, file a claim with your insurer and let them work on your behalf. It is in their interest as well as yours to minimize or eliminate your financial obligation in an accident.

When the police arrive, answer their questions honestly, but do not admit fault. Just tell them what happened and let them make the liability determination. Fault finding is important, in tort and in comparative negligence states, but this is not your job. Leave it to those who get paid to take care of these details. Work to minimize your financial obligation.

An adjuster may come out to the scene or examine the car where it has been towed and come up with an estimate for repairing it; or alternately, may decide to total the vehicle if the expected repair cost exceeds the car's value. The insurance adjuster may actually decide to simply send the damaged vehicle to a shop they have a direct repair agreement with. If this is the case, the shop will actually come up with the financial numbers on the adjuster's behalf.

Disputes May Require Arbitration

Contact the other driver's insurance if you feel that they were to blame for the accident and let them know you are filing a claim with them and coming after uncompensated costs like your collision deductible, lost wages, etc. In no fault states each driver's own insurance policy pays for damages up to a certain threshold. If you live in a no fault state this may modify your conversation with the other driver's insurance company.

Disputes can and do come up in the claims process. Normally you will get a check from the insurance company for their assessment of your loss less any deductible you need to pay. If you are in disagreement with their numbers, you can request arbitration. This is an impartial binding hearing that will settle the dispute, usually within a few months at the most. In the meantime, you should get at least the agreed upon amount while you wait for the additional money in dispute.

By thinking ahead about the claims process, you can be better prepared for what is to come and know how to respond.

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