So you were at the grocery store, buying essentials and wearing a mask. You did everything you could to social distance yourself from other shoppers -- but as you were leaving the parking lot, you couldn’t stay six feet away from the car that rammed into your rear bumper.

You may be wondering – what now? How do I file an accident claim during a COVID-19 pandemic?

The good news is that filing a claim isn’t any different now than before coronavirus.

Fewer Accident Claims

The pandemic has been terrible for everybody. However, the coronavirus-associated lockdowns are resulting in fewer car accidents.

Los Angeles, for instance, has reported cutting its traffic accidents in half. Meanwhile, in Seattle, during the third week of March, motor vehicle accidents declined by 67% statewide -- and fatal accidents across the state dropped by 100%. Around the same time, New York City saw its traffic accidents drop by 33%. In Ohio, throughout March, traffic accidents dropped by 44%.

With much less traffic, it’s a bit safer on the road these days. That said, be careful when you’re driving. There is some evidence that the motorists who are on the less crowded roads are speeding more.

The Car Insurance Industry Remains Open for Business

So, if you get into an accident while out buying medicine or provisions, you’re able to file a claim  -- though you might not get a resolution as fast as usual.

“Insurance is certainly considered an essential business, and people do need and expect to get their cars repaired quickly. However, like everything else, there are bound to be delays compared to business as usual,” says Drew Scott, senior vice president at Stratford, CT-based Scott Insurance, an insurance company and family business that has been around since 1949. Scott is working from home, as are many insurance executives and agents. He says that they have nine employees and three independent producers in the office, most of whom are working from home.

“Our office is closed to foot traffic. However, our office manager is stopping in daily to go through the mail and accept or issue checks as needed,” Scott says.

It’s likely that insurance agencies around the world are working in this way.

Not that everybody in insurance is completely sheltering in place. For instance, sometimes a claims adjuster needs to see a car’s damage.

Nick Seminara, executive vice president and Chief Claim Officer at Travelers Insurance, says that “while our claim professionals are leveraging digital capabilities to remotely inspect most auto and property losses, if the claim is complex or the severity of the loss is high, we may still need to conduct a physical inspection. If this is necessary, our claim professionals will adhere to CDC guidelines -- as our first priority is keeping our customers and employees safe.”

But as much as possible, insurance companies are trying to work digitally – and definitely six feet away from anybody who isn’t a family member sheltering in place with them.

The Process of Filling a Car Claim during the Corona Virus Pandemic

What you should do after an accident is, naturally, the same now as at any time. As for filing your claim, you may have filed accident claims over the phone or through a website before the pandemic. You’ll definitely continue doing that during the pandemic.

Still, it may not go completely smoothly if you use the phone. Many insurance companies, not to mention banks and department stores, report long waiting times on hold.

But if there is a slowdown on getting your claim filed, Scott says, “Delays are more likely to come from supply chain issues and lack of replacement parts than from actual problems with the insurance carriers.”

From what Loretta Worters, the vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, has seen so far, mechanics haven’t had trouble fixing cars.

“In terms of auto body repairs, they are continuing to do the labor; that process seems to be working fine. Interestingly, because of all of these shelter in place guidelines across the country, and the dramatic reduction in people getting into accidents, it has lowered the stress level at body shops,” she says. 

But if there would be delays in getting your car fixed, and if your insurer is paying for a rental car, would it extend the coverage if you can’t get your vehicle repaired in a timely manner?

We have no idea, of course, but the answer is a firm – probably.

“Extending the rental reimbursement coverage is always up to the discretion of the claims adjuster. However, they will typically extend the coverage for issues beyond anyone's reasonable control,” Scott says.

Scott adds that while the motives may be good public relations, “the insurance companies seem to be as flexible and helpful as possible in response to the coronavirus crisis.”

Marci Lall, an insurance specialist in Concord, Ontario, agrees.

“Most insurance companies are willing to pay above the loss of use coverage limits where there is evidence that delays were due to COVID-19,” he says, adding that it’s going to be done on an individual case-by case basis.

“I urge individuals to check with their insurance company to see how they are handling it,” Lall says.

For his part, Seminara says that Travelers has not had problems getting claims paid off.

“We don’t expect the coronavirus outbreak to cause any unusual delays with our claim service,” he says. “In fact, our digital tools can help expedite certain steps in the claim process and support social distancing efforts as well. For example, our ePay options allow quick payment via Venmo, Paypal or direct deposit into a customer’s bank account, so there’s no need to wait for a check in the mail or go to a bank to make a deposit.”

Upon renewal of your policy, you  may see a rate hike after your accident, on average about 31%, according to a CarInsurance.com rate analysis of how much accidents increase insurance costs. Still, many car insurance companies are offering paybacks and relief measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social Distancing was a Big Thing in the Insurance Industry -- Before the Pandemic

If you think about it, insurance companies have been promoting the idea that you can file a claim online, and often without talking to anybody, for some time now.

“Over the last several years insurance companies have been instituting claims apps for phones. These apps allow the customer to send photos and video of damage directly to adjusters and appraisers,” Scott says, adding: “Now is the time to utilize these apps!”

Worters agrees – and says that you can expect the apps to improve even more. “Companies are enhancing the virtual claims process, encouraging people to use mobile apps where they can phone in pictures of auto damage,” she says.

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