It's scary getting in a car wreck, no matter how minor. Emotions run high and trying to figure out what you need to do next can be stressful. Knowing what to do ahead of time will ensure that the process of filing a claim with your insurance company goes as smoothly as possible.
If you're ever involved in a wreck, follow these ten steps.
1. Remain at the Scene
Always stay at the scene of the collision. Hit and runs are illegal, so although fleeing the scene might seem like the simplest solution in the moment it will bring you a lot more trouble in the long run.
2. Check on Everyone
Check on all of the drivers and passengers involved. If anyone has suffered injuries or there are other emergency situations, call 911 for assistance. Once you have taken a moment to check on everyone, prepare for filing your claim by sticking to the following steps.
3. Be Polite – But Cautious
This step is less about what you should do and more about what you should avoid doing. It's second nature for most of us to rush up and apologize to the other driver, especially if you believe the accident was your fault. Resist this urge. Never apologize, admit fault, or even make an off-hand comment about how you weren’t paying attention.
It is up to the police to determine who is at fault. Saying too much while you're caught up in the panic and emotion of the moment can result in you being held liable, even if the police determine that it wasn't your fault.
It's best not to speak about the accident with anyone but the police or your insurance company, and never sign anything that isn’t from the police or your insurance agent. If at all possible, do not leave the scene before the police and other cars do.
4. Exchange Information with Other Drivers
In the weeks following the wreck, your insurance company will need to communicate with the insurance company of other drivers involved in the collision. Make sure you collect that information while still at the scene. Exchange names, addresses, phone numbers, policy numbers, and the phone number of your insurance companies. If you're not sure where to find the pertinent information, check your proof of insurance card, which you likely keep stored in your glove box.
Take the time to note the makes, models, and license plate numbers of the other vehicles. Jot down notes on the number of passengers in each vehicle and write an overview of the damage to each vehicle so that you can give your insurance company an accurate report.
5. Get a Police Report
If there are no injuries and you don't need to call 911, contact the police through their non-emergency number and inform them of the accident.
Never accept cash in exchange for not involving the police or insurance companies. If you do, you risk increased liability if the other driver twists the facts when reporting what happened. A police report will provide an objective statement of what happened, who broke any laws, and who is at fault. Ask the officer for an accident report number before you leave the scene.
6. Document the Damage
While you're waiting for the police to arrive, take clear photos of all four sides of the vehicles involved. If you have any photos of your vehicle from before the wreck, find those as well. Providing the insurance adjuster a before-and-after comparison of the damage can help them determine appropriate compensation.
If there are any witnesses to the accident, ask them for their contact information. Make a note of when and where the accident took place in case you need to request security footage later.
7. Contact Your Insurance Agent
There are some instances in which it is okay not to file a claim with your insurance company. If yours is the only car involved and you do not need assistance with medical bills or the cost of repairs – or the cost is extremely close to your auto insurance deductible – it may not be beneficial to file a claim (learn about The Pros and Cons of Increasing Your Auto Deductible). In some cases, your rates can go up just for filing a claim, even if the damage is minimal or you receive little or no compensation. However, many insurance policies state that you have to report any accident that may possibly result in a claim later. Check your policy to be sure.
If you choose to file a claim, you can either call your agent or file online. Insurance companies may differ in what they need, but having the photos, police report, and your notes accessible can make the process easier. Your agent will guide you through the process and inform you of anything else you may need.
It is important to note that you should never feel pressured to take an early settlement from your insurance company. If you’re not confident that all expenses have been accounted for or you want extra time to make sure you’ve been assessed for all injuries, it is okay to turn down an early settlement.
8. Get a Property Damage Valuation
Your insurance company may want to evaluate the cost of the damage to your vehicle. This is normal, but it is always a good idea to get a few additional quotes from different car repair professionals. Consider all of your options and make sure that both parts and labor are included in your estimates.
9. Speak with Your Assigned Claim Adjuster
Your insurance company will assign a claim adjuster to your case. They are responsible for reviewing all of the information, confirming who is at fault, and giving a quote for the cost of any damage.
Damages to your car may be covered no matter who is at fault, depending on your coverage. Your insurance company may also work with the other driver’s insurance company on your behalf to get your deductible covered if they are at fault. If you are at fault, your insurance company will handle the other driver’s claims that you are obligated to pay.
You may need a rental car while you wait for yours to be repaired. Ask if your coverage will provide one.
10. Consider Hiring a Lawyer
Hopefully, you and your insurance company will be able to reach an agreement about what is covered and how much you will be compensated for injuries or damages. If, however, you are having trouble with your insurance company, you can hire a lawyer or mediator to help.
There are other reasons you may need to hire a lawyer at this stage, including serious injuries or fatalities when you were at fault, accidents taking place in a construction zone, an inaccurate police report or one that places more blame on you than is warranted, or the other party deciding to hire a lawyer. A lawyer will also help guide you through particularly difficult situations and advise if you have questions that your insurance agent cannot answer.
Wrecks are highly emotional for everyone involved, but following these steps will help you stay organized and reduce stress as you navigate the sometimes murky waters of filing a claim with your insurance company.