After reporting the collision to the police, advise your insurance company, regardless of fault, as soon as possible. Tell them the details of the collision, including any injuries and damages to vehicles or properties. You might have difficulty processing a claim if you are late contacting your insurer, or if you are found withholding details. If your claim is valid, your insurance company must settle it within the time limits stated in your policy.
Police do not determine liability; this is determined in part by insurance companies. If you feel it is necessary, it can be challenged in court. If the police lay charges as a result of the collision, this does not necessarily equate to who is liable for the collision.
If your contact is by telephone, follow up with a letter outlining the details of your claim.
Know the limits of your coverage. If you are not certain of what is and isn’t covered by your policy, ask your insurer. Some insurance companies may also connect you to a trained claim advisor to walk you through what to do, including how to deal with the other driver(s) involved.
If the damage to the vehicle is covered by your insurance, the following steps will assist you.
Before your vehicle can be repaired, you and your insurer need to know what the repairs will cost. Your insurance company may accept the repair shop’s estimate of the damage, or may want to appraise the damage to the vehicle. The company has the right to initially assess the damages to your vehicle and estimate the cost to repair them. Because the quality and extent of the repairs will affect the value of your vehicle, you may wish to be present if the insurer’s appraiser meets with the body shop manager to discuss the repair job.
Arrangements should be made to transport your vehicle, whether drivable or not, to an approved body shop for estimation of repair costs. Only one estimate is required, but you may wish to get more than one opinion to assess the extent of the repairs needed. Keep in mind that the cheapest option is not necessarily the best deal – look for a shop that offers a written guarantee and has a reputation of quality work.
An estimate of costs should specify:
- what repairs are being done,
- whether parts are being repaired or replaced,
- whether new or second-hand parts are being used, and
- whether parts from the original manufacturer or generic parts are being used. If the body shop plans to use generic parts, compare the warranty provided to that offered on parts from the original manufacturer.
In the unlikely event that you and your insurer disagree and can’t reach a resolution on the amount of damage to your vehicle that is covered (or if other disagreements arise over your vehicle’s repair), and if all attempts to solve the impasse have failed, a formal arbitration process is available. If you choose arbitration, it is important that you know that you will be responsible for your share of the cost involved.
The process is pretty simple. To start the appraisal procedure, submit a proof of loss claim form available from your insurer and send a written request to your insurance company for arbitration. An arbitration group will easily resolve the problem. You choose an appraiser, your insurance company chooses one, and the two appraisers appoint an umpire. An appraiser can be anyone either party considers to be qualified to present its side of the issue. Each side pays for its own appraiser and half the cost of the umpire. The decision of any two of these three people is binding.
Remember that your insurer also wants to get the problem resolved as quickly as possible – and even if they disagree with you on the claim amount, they will fully participate in the arbitration process.
If another driver caused the accident, you have a couple of different options to recoup your repair costs.
- You can claim under your own collision coverage, if you carry it. Your company will pay your claim, then deal with the other insurance company. Be sure to ask if your premium will be affected if you claim on your own policy. With this option, you may have to pay your deductible up front, but you can try to recover it from the other insurance company, or the other driver.
When you claim on your own policy, the appraisal process is available to you.
- You may claim directly against the other driver through his/her insurance company. After you have notified your own insurance company, inform their company of the claim. Many of the steps listed previously still apply. You select a body shop and obtain an estimate, but your dealings are with the other company. However, if you choose this option, the provision for formal appraisal does not apply.
You may be required to sign a release form before receiving payment (either to you or to the body shop). By signing the release form you discharge the other person and his/her insurance company from further liability to you – this is a final payment. If you have any injuries or other claims that have not been settled, ensure that the form does not release those claims. You might want to talk to to a lawyer.
If the other driver refuses to file a report with his or her insurance company, the company may deny your claim unless you sue the driver in court and get a judgment.