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What Is the Car Insurance Claim Process?

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Insurance claim form. The form is on an old wooden table with a mobile phone, coffee, glasses and a keyboard. There is copy space to the right. Accident and insurance concept

The car insurance claim process mainly encompasses making a request for damages against an insurance company, providing evidence, and negotiating a settlement offer. Car accidents can be emotionally traumatizing and often result in physical injury and property damage. You may need help navigating the car insurance claim process. Making a few wise decisions, and taking certain actions at the correct time, can help you to ensure that the claim process goes as smoothly as possible in the given circumstances. There are several tips that you can follow proactively to improve your chances of a favorable negotiated settlement.

Insurance claim form. The form is on an old wooden table with a mobile phone, coffee, glasses and a keyboard. There is copy space to the right. Accident and insurance concept

What Is a Car Insurance Claim?

An insurance claim is a request for benefits or compensation for damages that result from a motor vehicle accident. The claim is typically made with the insurance company representing the driver who is at fault.  Both drivers will need to report the accident to their insurance companies, however, in accordance to the requirements of their individual policies.

Many car insurance claims are made each day around the nation, and the process has become relatively standardized. That doesn’t mean the insurance company won’t push back if they believe they shouldn’t recognize their liability, but the process will be similar to most other accidents of the same type.

How to File a Car Insurance Claim

There are 3 separate sets of steps that you’ll want to follow in the wake of an accident. Some are steps that you’ll want to take prior to making your claim. These steps broken down into categories are:

  • Steps to take prior to filing
  • Steps to take from filing through settlement negotiation
  • Steps to take if settlement negotiations fail

Steps to Take Prior to Filing

Prior to filing an accident claim, there are several steps to take simply because they are in your best interest, both from a claim perspective and for your health and well-being.

The first step following an accident is to seek medical attention. You may not feel any pain immediately following the accident. However, don’t let that fool you, as there are many injuries that won’t present pain symptoms immediately, and delaying medical attention could cause these injuries to become worse before you even know there is a problem. People sometimes notice that in the excitement, adrenaline, or shock of a recent accident, their injuries didn’t initially hurt, but instead hurt to a great degree a short time later.

In addition to taking care of your health, having a doctor check you out after an accident can help protect your chances of a successful claim against the insurance company for any injuries you sustained. If you wait too long to be seen by a doctor, the argument can, and likely will, be made by the insurance company that your injuries either aren’t as bad as you’ve stated, or perhaps even happened later and weren’t a result of the accident at all.

When you’ve made sure that medical attention is on the way if necessary, you’ll need to report the accident to the local police from whatever jurisdiction the accident occurred in. You may be able to take care of both notifications with a single phone call, or you may need to make a second call to ensure both services are coming.

Reporting the accident is mandatory in certain circumstances, and a wise decision all the time. You can benefit from a police report to give to your insurance company, and perhaps your attorney. The police report may provide sufficient details that are helpful in determining fault, and, as such, can have a major impact on the process moving forward.

A clear indication of a fault will likely take the wind out of the insurance company’s sails when it comes to delaying or denying liability for the accident. If it doesn’t have the intended effect, however, an experienced car accident attorney will be able to use the report as evidence when presenting your argument in front of a jury.

Another step to take before filing your claim is to take detailed photos of the scene of the accident. These photos should include the vehicles involved, the streets and surrounding area, and any traffic or security cameras in the area that may have captured the accident as it occurred. These will be of great use to supplement the police report and may need to be used by your personal injury attorney in negotiating a settlement.  

Should the insurance company refuse to negotiate a reasonable settlement, your attorney may use the accident photos as both evidence in a trial, and as data for an accident reconstruction specialist, if such an expert witness is required by your individual needs and situation.

Finally, as soon as possible after the accident, and preferably immediately after unless your injuries prevent it, you should gather names and contact details for any witnesses to the accident. Their statements will need to be gathered as soon as possible so that the details of the accident are fresh in their memories, and less likely to be considered untrustworthy information to the insurance company or a potential jury.

You may choose to hire a personal injury attorney to represent you at this point in time, and regardless of the decision you make in the end, you should at least consider talking to an experienced attorney at this point in time. Having an experienced attorney on your team at this point in time can be an invaluable resource to you.

Steps to Take From Filing Through Settlement Negotiation

If you’ve decided to hire an attorney to help you with your insurance claim process, congratulations, you’ve made a wise decision. Your lawyer will walk you through the steps of how to file a claim, and will make sure that you’ve taken the correct steps at the appropriate times to facilitate the process in a manner that benefits you.

After your claim is filed, one of the first pieces of advice that your attorney may provide is to tell you not to make any statements to the other driver’s insurance company. You’ll want to let them know that you’ve retained representation, and direct them to your attorney through the agreed-upon contact method your attorney has provided. This helps protect you from any bad faith tactics the other driver’s insurance company may use to deny your claim.

The insurance company will be conducting an investigation of its own, and its investigators will be looking for any piece of information they can use to justify reducing the settlement amount, or denying the claim altogether. If you speak directly to them, you may, inadvertently, provide them with a tool that can be used against you by making a statement that can be interpreted in a way other than the one you intended.  

Your attorney is going to also tell you to stay away from social media, whether it be to talk about your accident or to document a family gathering or other social events.  This can be particularly important if there is an injury component to your claim. 

A determined investigator could, for example, take a photo of you at your family barbecue and use it to argue that your injuries must not be that severe if you feel well enough to attend a party. The photo very likely won’t show the slow and painful walk you endured to get to your chair. Instead, it will show the smile you felt obligated to wear on your face for the family photo, and that can be interpreted as a happy and pain-free person.

By this point in time, if you’ve hired an attorney, he or she will have made contact with any witnesses to the accident to get their official statements while their memories are fresh. A statement made on the record will be admissible if your case ever goes to a jury trial, unlikely as that may be. An experienced attorney will cover all the bases to ensure a desirable outcome if possible.

Likewise, your attorney will request that you secure any photographic or video evidence that may have captured the accident at this time as well. It’s important to do this as soon as possible, because most traffic, security, and surveillance systems routinely overwrite their footage. Once the footage has been overwritten, it will be impossible to recover.

You’ll likely need to make official statements to the insurance company, or their attorneys, and your attorney will ensure that you understand the process thoroughly before the day comes. Your attorney will tell you to be truthful in your responses. He or she will guide you on which questions to answer and how, specifically, to do so. He or she will also tell you which questions you shouldn’t answer and why. 

At this point, you, and your lawyer, may decide to employ the use of expert witnesses. These witnesses can either be for accident reconstruction purposes, if the determination of fault is being argued or medical experts if the extent or impact of your injuries is in question. Each accident claim has unique circumstances, so even though the claims process is relatively standardized, you may or may not need to take this step. It will depend on whether the insurance company is willing to reach a reasonable negotiated settlement. The point of this process is to make you more or less whole, financially, after the accident.

Your attorney will enter into settlement negotiations with the insurance company and will keep you informed of the progress and what he or she believes your next step should be throughout the process. The reason you’ve hired an attorney is for his or her experience in this process, so listen to his or her advice about what you can reasonably expect.

Most insurance claims reach a negotiated settlement that is reasonable and acceptable to you. If that’s the case for you, congratulations, it’s over. If that isn’t the case, you still have options available to you, and this is the point in time that having an attorney already on board will pay the most dividends.

Steps to Take If Settlement Negotiations Fail

If settlement negotiations fail, you’ll be able to take the case to jury trial. At this point both your attorney, and the insurance company’s attorneys, will have done a thorough investigation of the accident and may have retained expert witnesses to offer evidence to support their arguments.

If you gathered witness contact info at the scene after the accident happened, your attorney will use his or her recollections of the accident to paint a picture that helps show why you should be awarded the damages that have been requested.

Likewise, if you hired an attorney early in the process, he or she likely obtained footage from any nearby traffic or security cameras before it was routinely overwritten, which can also be used as evidence in court to support your argument.

Both sides will present their arguments, often using expert witnesses, as they can be compelling to a jury and are able to make complicated situations understandable to a layman. The jury will then deliberate on your case. If they find in your favor, they will also determine what damages to award you. The amount of damages awarded to you will vary based on the facts of the case, types of injuries sustained, their impact on your future quality of life, and what damage your vehicle sustained.

Will a Claim Raise Your Rates?

An insurance company may raise your rates as a result of a claim. This is especially true if you have multiple claims in a relatively short period of time. Determination of fault, however, can have an impact on whether your rates are raised. If the other driver is determined to be at fault, you’re less likely to see an insurance rate increase. If someone hits your vehicle parked at home, the claim for such an accident would have an even smaller chance of negatively impacting your insurance rates.

About the Author

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar