How to Report Your Car Accident to the Insurance Company

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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After a crash, one of your top priorities is to report the car accident to the insurance company. This will prompt the insurance company to open a claim and begin investigating to determine who is at fault for the accident, and who should pay for the damages. After you report a car accident, you will be asked questions about the details of the crash and it is important to know what to say, and what not to say, as your claim is being investigated.

What to Collect at the Scene of the Car Accident

After a car accident, you need to know what information you should gather at the scene of the accident. It is important to obtain all the necessary personal and insurance information from the other driver(s) involved. This includes:

  • The driver’s name
  • The owner of the car (if not the same)
  • The passenger’s name and address
  • The year, make and model of the vehicle(s) involved
  • The names and address of any witnesses to the accident
  • Any other information found on the Free Advice car accident checklist.

If the other driver is at fault, contact their insurance company immediately to report the car accident. The other driver should have promptly notified their insurance company. However, this doesn’t always happen and you should not assume that it did.

How to Report a Car Accident

Before you call the insurance company about the accident, prepare yourself and know what to say. Be careful when working with the car insurance adjuster! When you speak with your insurance company, keep the following important tips in mind:

  • Reporting the Injury:  If you need to report an injury in your car accident claim, avoid self-diagnosis or definitive statements about the extent of your injuries. Be honest about the fact that an injury exists, but deline to provide details until you have seen a doctor. If you offer a diagnosis that diminishes your injuries, your claim will be devalued.  Inform the insurance company an injury occured, and tell the adjuster you will know more after seeing a doctor.
  • Stick to the facts of the accident. Resist the urge to make small talk. Something as simple as “it was a clear day, I was talking to my sister on the cell phone and I didn’t even see him coming out of that wide intersection” can be misconstrued as having contributed to the accident due to the fact you were not paying attention. Even admitting something like “I just looked back for a split second” may cause a degree of negligence to be attached to your involvement in the accident.
  • Answer only the questions that are asked! Do not give up information that isn’t requested! If you are asked a question you do not know the answer to, tell the insurance adjuster or claim intake person that you do not have that information at this time.
  • If asked to make a recorded statement, politely decline. Recorded statements can be used later as your verbatim account of the accident. You are not obligated to provide any information in a recorded statement in order to file your accident report.
  • Resist immediate settlements or signing for any check(s). Statistics have found that insurance companies save millions on claims they settle within 1-3 days of the accident. Each car accident settlement offer requires you to sign a release that frees the insurance company of future obligations. There are insurance companies that actually dispatch adjusters to the scene of the accident in company SUV’s with their huge company logos splashed on the vehicles for the sole purpose of reaching you at the accident scene to assess the damage on the spot, write you a settlement check and have you sign a settlement release.
  • Resist the urge to sign anything or take a check on the spot for any injury or future medical bills. When reporting a car accident, always tell the adjuster that you would like to make sure that you are okay and therefore will get back with them about your injury at a later date.
  • Remain calm and professional. The insurance company may be trying to get you to settle for a low amount, but you do not need to get emotional. Your relationship with the insurance company is strictly business, so keep it that way. Stay polite, but firm, and the process will be more smooth.

Key Terms When Filing an Insurance Claim

Insurance adjusters sometimes sound like they are speaking a foreign language, and communicating with them can be difficult for a person that has never filed an accident report before. When reporting a car accident, you may hear the insurance adjuster use some of the following insurance terms while taking or filing your insurance claim.

  • Subrogation– In simple terms this means to substitute one’s right to another. Most auto policies have a subrogation clause that states your insurance company has the right to collect money for bills it should not have paid. If you are injured and have doctor bills covered by health insurance and your car insurance, the car insurance company can subrogate against you to recover any bills it paid you for that were also paid for by health insurance.
  • Med Pay– Med Pay is the coverage that is used to pay for medical bills regardless of fault for you and your passengers in your vehicle. This is not liability coverage and therefore would not be used for settlement of any injury claim for drivers or passengers in another car due to your negligence. This is often a forgotten about coverage. If you are waiting for payment of your injury claim and need to pay doctor bills, this coverage could help you. It is usually written with limits between $1,000-$5,000.
  • Negligence– This is defined as failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in like circumstances in protecting others from a foreseeable and unreasonable harm. If you are found negligent, you did not exercise that degree of care expected of a person in the same or similar situation.
  • Comparative Negligence– This term used to indicate the degree of fault each individual involved in an accident contributes to the cause of the accident. If your state is a comparative negligence state, the insurance company will investigate the accident and determine how much each individual or vehicle involved contributed to the accident. If you reported the car accident to your own insurance company and are seeking reimbursement from them under your collision coverage, comparative negligence does not apply. However, if you are pursuing a claim against the other driver, his or her insurance company will determine whether and to what extent that driver is at fault for the accident and pay accordingly.

If you have any questions about a term used by the insurance company, you should ask for clarification. Do not be left confused because you don’t understand the terms! After you have reported the incident, you may need to formally file a car accident claim. Throughout the claim process, keep the tips above in mind whenever you speak with the insurance company! If you have questions at any point, do not hesitate to speak with an experienced car accident attorney.

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