Car Accident Claims

When Apple programmer Kit Cutler’s 2012 Ford Focus was slammed from behind by a silver Lexus, the hit was so hard that it shoved his car into the Honda Accord in front of him. Although no one was hurt in the accident, the driver of the silver Lexus drove off without providing insurance information to anyone. Cutler and the Accord’s driver exchanged insurance information, filed reports with the police and went home. The accident was only slightly more confusing to Cutler than the insurance claims process that came after.

That car insurance claims process baffles nearly everyone. “Most people only file a claim every eight to 10 years,” says Jeanne Salvatore, vice president for public affairs and consumer spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-supported, non-lobbying group dedicated to improving public understanding of insurance.

Cutler filed his claim by phone. “In that initial interview, the agent told me very quickly that I wasn’t at fault,” he says. Then she asked him questions about the accident and typed his answers into an online form. Cutler checked and verified the information.

“They go through it all very quickly, so you have to pay attention,” he says. “I hadn’t been in an accident before, and I didn’t know what was going on.”

This article explains what insurance companies are doing behind the scenes in the wake of an automotive mishap or collision. It also discusses what happens if you’re hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

Immediately After the Accident
If you’re involved in an accident, “The first thing to do is let your insurance company know you were in an accident and provide all the specifics of it,” Salvatore says. “From the second of the accident, keep good records.” Use your smartphone (or keep a notebook in your glovebox) and write down the time, date, plate number, make and model of their car, their registration information, license number, name, insurance company and contact information.

If the police are on the scene, Salvatore says, take their names and badge numbers. Get the names of any witnesses and note whether emergency medical personnel were called. “Photos are helpful. Take pictures of the car and the license plate,” she says. “If the claim is straightforward, you may not need any of it, but if a problem occurs, you need all the information possible.” Again, with the prevalence of smartphones these days, this is all quite easy to do.

From filing the claim to resolving it, every insurance company’s methods are different. However, the essentials of the process are fairly standard. You’ll only see part of the process, though. All negotiations between insurance companies about payments and reimbursements will be carried on behind the scenes.

Filing Your Claim
As with Cutler’s case, it’s standard for your insurance carrier to call soon after you report an accident. During that call, “We’ll match the person to their policy, determine what happened in the accident, find out about any injuries, the extent of damage to both vehicles and get some demographic information,” says Mike Flato, a process business leader for Progressive Insurance. “We’ll make sure everyone is OK; if not, what happened and then who’ll handle the medical claims.”

After a claim is filed, your insurance company assigns you a claims adjustor, who is your contact from then on. Adjustors coordinate teams that look at medical reports, investigate the accident, speak with witnesses, view the scene, examine the vehicle damage, manage all the repairs and any medical treatments, check all coverages (how much your policy pays for medical injuries and property damages) and ultimately determine fault.