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Car insurance claims: What you need to know


After an accident that is not your fault, filing a claim should ensure that you’re paid back fairly for all damages in the accident. This includes damages to your car or the actual cash value of the car, whichever is lower. If you were injured in an accident, you should be reimbursed for all medical bills and lost wages if you miss work; you may also be due pain and suffering, which is three times your medical bills.

To make sure you get what you deserve and not a penny less, get ready to file a claim by gathering all the information about your incident:

  • police report
  • pictures of all cars involved
  • names and contact information of any witnesses
  • evidence of injuries, such as medical records, medical bills and a note from your doctor about further treatments you may need
  • statement from your employer about lost wages due to injury

Filing a claim

Call your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident. An insurance adjuster will review the incident and determine who was at fault. If the other driver’s company disagrees about who’s fault the accident was, you should push your company to fight for your case.

Decide whether you want to file a claim with your company or with the other driver’s company. This can be a tricky choice for many people. Filing with your own company may give you the comfort of having someone on your side, and you can avoid dealing with the other driver’s company. On the other hand, you may trust yourself to fight for what you deserve more than you trust your company, and you may want to handle it yourself.

Who pays the deductible?

File a collision claim with the other driver’s insurance company, and you won’t pay any deductible. If you instead file with your own company, you will initially pay the deductible, but your company will work to recover the deductible along with all other damages from the other driver’s company.

In states with comparative negligence laws in place, the fault isn’t always placed solely on one driver or the other; a percentage of fault can be determined instead. In cases like this, the carriers will pay percentages of the damages, but most likely you won’t get your deductible back.

Cost of repairs

Do some research to find out how much it should cost to have damaged vehicles repaired, and decide where you may want your car to be repaired. If the adjuster suggests a specific shop, tell him you want to check reviews of the shop beforehand. If your car is stolen and recovered, your company should pay for the damage done while the car was missing, and all other expenses, such as towing or storage.

Cost of injuries

If you were injured in an accident, total up all the money that the injury cost you; this includes medical bills you’ve paid and likely will pay in the future. Pain and suffering should be three times the medical bills. Take the time you need to get an accurate cost from your doctor regarding the extent and treatment of your injuries. Injuries from car accidents can be sneaky; what seems like a minor injury may become worse with time.

Talking to adjusters

There’s a good chance an insurance adjuster will try to intimidate you. For example, he may talk about how many accidents he’s handled before, in which case you should establish that you want to discuss your accident only. It’s important that you have an idea of what your settlement should be beforehand, and that you have the information needed in front of you.

Deal with facts as much as possible. Don’t get into an argument over semantics. Always give yourself enough time to speak on the phone with adjusters. Don’t be in a rush to get off the phone.


If you cannot come to settlement, you and your insurance company may go to an appraisal, where you select an independent umpire to settle the dispute. This process is usually detailed in your car insurance policy’s appraisal clause

How do claims affect your rates?

It depends on individual state laws and the insurance provider’s guidelines. Immediately after an incident that’s covered under your insurance, call your insurance agent to ask. If you question whether your company’s handling of the issue is legal, you can call your state's insurance regulator and ask about the laws.

Your rates are almost guaranteed to rise after a collision claim after an accident. Even if the accident was not your fault, insurance companies see you as a higher risk to insure.

If your claim came under your comprehensive insurance, which covers incidents like theft, vandalism and hail damage, your rates are less likely to rise. Some companies will ding you if the settlement is over a threshold, which can range from $400 to $1,500. And some companies offer “accident forgiveness” or similar programs, which allow you to get away with one comprehensive claim without your rates being affected. But repeated claims, especially in short periods of time, will be sure to raise your rates.

Different companies raise your rates differently following claims, so if you’re suddenly paying a much higher rate after an accident, you should shop around for a lower rate.