When you have an Auto Insurance Claim

Your insurer makes a promise to protect you against certain types of loss, but it can’t begin to help until it knows about a loss. Prompt notification in the event of a claim may be a formal policy requirement and failing to meet the obligation to report could impact your claim.  Generally, your insurance policy requires that you contact your agent or insurer as quickly as practical, identify yourself, usually by your full name and the policy number, and provide details of the circumstances creating the claim – the event or accident that took place.  Your insurer will need enough information to take action, what happened, when where, how and why. At some point, your insurer will want to have proof of loss and that often involves an inspection of damage in case of auto claims. 

When an auto accident takes place, there are actions that should be taken at the scene and actions that can wait till later.  First, assess the accident scene and if there is a suspicion of a medical emergency, call 911. If there is any suspicion that a party in the accident will need or want to seek medical attention, call the police directly even if you do not call 911. You will need a police report of the accident.  Always exchange license plate numbers, contact information and auto insurance information with the other parties involved while still at the scene.  Make sure to get phone numbers and, with cell phone cameras abounding, take a picture of the damage and the location. It may help recall or confirm events later. If there are witnesses, try to get their contact information as well.  Insurance companies are prone to believe the story they are given by their own policyholder and stories can change as participants in the accident remember the events.  The person who “wasn’t sure” they had stopped at the stop sign at the accident scene may be absolutely certain they did a few days later. 

Following the accident, contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible. These days, with a cell phone you can call from the scene and perhaps get some valuable guidance.  Don’t try to assess fault yourself.  It may be tempting to believe the person who says they will are at fault a will call their carrier to report.  You should file the claim with your own insurance carrier to make certain you get the service and protection you need.   You should also advise the other party’s insurance company that you’re pursuing a claim.  That will insure that all parties are aware of the accident. 

At some point in the process after notifying the carriers, you will be asked for your version of the events that led to the accident. You should prepare for this by writing down the facts as you remember them, assembling the names of witnesses and collecting any photos you may have made.  It is a good idea to check with your insurance carrier to see what statements you need to make to the other insurance carrier before it happens.  This is particularly important in claims involving injury.  Your statement should remain consistent because typically will be recorded.  Having recourse to your own written statement will help alleviate any confusion or contradictory statements.

In many cases, an insurer will send an adjuster to look at the damage to your vehicle and offer an estimate of what it will take to restore or replace it.  An adjuster may not be sent if an insurance company has a direct repair program.  In these programs, the carrier will refer you to a shop where damage claim estimate may be done by the shop itself. 

Issues can arise in this process. If you think the carrier’s settlement offer is low, you may ask carrier for a form of arbitration to resolve the dispute. In many cases, the insurance company will pay you the amount it offered immediately and the rest is offered when and if the dispute is resolved in your favor.

Most claims are straightforward and are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.  When you have questions, or when issues arise in the claims process, your first call should be to your Washington auto insurance agent.  They have the experience and understanding to help guide you through any issues that arise and, as they are your agent, they are there to look out for your interests.

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