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Auto Insurance Claims: Avoid Pitfalls and Nightmares

Auto Insurance Claims
Image Source: Pawel Kadysz

Had a car accident? It’s time to file an auto insurance claim.

Car accidents happen, that’s why we have auto insurance. Did you know that each time one of us has a car accident, a claims adjuster gets their wings? Not really.

Statistically speaking, car accidents happen to approximately 2% of California drivers every month. This means, if you live long enough, you’re bound to be involved in a car accident at some point, so auto insurance claims are in all of our future.

I’ve not yet had to file any auto insurance claims, at least not for myself. I have teenagers, so I get the privilege of filing their claims. Ouch!

Questions about about auto insurance claims are frequent occurences, in fact, our clients will frequently call us to file their claims.

So, I guess, it’s about time we posted a comprehensive article about auto insurance claims.

After the Accident

If you’re involved in a car accident, depending on the severity of the collision, you’re likely going to suffer some form of disorientation. You’ll be inclined to react before you think. Suppress this urge. You need to have your wits. Being aware of your situation will help keep you safe and from saying the wrong thing to bystanders, the other party, or law enforcement.

The first thing you want to do after an accident is check your setting. What is happening at the accident scene? You want to assess if anyone was injured. If there are injuries, you’ll want to immediately dial 911 and get emergency service dispatched to the accident site.

Most accidents only involve property damage, either to other vehicles or structures, but injury accidents do happen. We have published an infographic about the most common ways accidents occur, understanding how accidents happen can help you avoid accidents and potential injuries.

Exchanging Insurance and Contact Information

Once you’ve established that there are no injuries, the next step is to communicate with all the other parties, and collect relevant contact and policy information.

The best starting place will be your insurance information, so start by providing your policy number and the name of your insurance company, including the claims phone number. Typically all this information is located on your insurance identification cards, which should be kept in your car.

After you have exchanged insurance and contact information with the relevant parties, you’ll want to take careful note of the other party’s vehicle, make, model and license plate number. If it’s possible, use your phone to take pictures of the other vehicle, as well as the site. If there are passengers in the other vehicle, make a note of the number of passengers, and if possible get names and identification information for each passenger.

Be sure to get information for any eyewitnesses. Third-party testimony will help if there is a dispute over fault.

Do you have to file a police report?

Each jurisdiction will have different laws and criteria for determining when law enforcement needs to be contacted. A basic rule of thumb … if the accident is more severe or there are injuries, you should call law enforcement to the scene. If there isn’t a need to have law enforcement at the scene, then you may still need to file an accident report. If you’re not sure about the rules where you live, contact your insurance agent and they can help you get prepared just in case.

Now it’s time to contact your insurance company

You have gathered all the accident information, you will now need to contact your insurance company. You want to do this as soon as is possible. Your insurance company will normally provide you with several options for filing your claim, the most common is to call the loss into the company’s claims department. You can also file a claim report online with most carriers. If your insurance company has a Mobile app, it’s likely it has a claims reporting feature. This is handy if you want to report the claim while at the accident scene.

You can call your agent if you’d like, and most of us are more than happy to assist filing your claim, but it’s always best to work directly with the insurance company. Only the insurance company claims handlers can adjudicate the insurance claim.

(Note: it is written into most insurance policies that you must contact your insurance company promptly after a claim. This allows them to mitigate damages and resolve the claim fairly. This is a duty you have in the contract)

What you need to know about the claims process

Each insurance company have subtly different ways to handle claims, but the general process will be similar from company-to-company. What is important to understand is that the insurance company wants to resolve your claim as efficiently as you do. For the insurance company a claim only gets more expensive the longer they remain unsettled.

Insurance adjusters always need to have all the facts, and an objective understanding of the damages before they can proceed with payment. You need to set expectations, try to manage your frustrations, the process will never run as smoothly as you’d prefer.

Most insurance carriers offer 24/7 claims support, and have local drive-in claims centers or approved repair facilities, this will make the damage assessment and repairs of your vehicle much more efficient. With drive-in facilities, and on-site coverage validation, it is not uncommon for a claim with moderate damage to be funded and repairs stated within 24-hours.

Make sure you understand your repair options before making any decision about where and how to get your car repaired. Here in California there is an Auto Body Consumer Bill of Rights, you can review this and it may help you understand what is allowable when getting your vehicle repaired.

As you begin your insurance claims process, the following will be the general steps you’ll follow.

Step 1: Schedule an inspection
The damage to your vehicle needs to be assessed to determine the actual cost, or if the vehicle is a total loss. The inspection is frequently conducted at a body shop, your insurance company may have one they recommend.

Step 2: Speak with an insurance adjuster
When you reported your claim, the person you spoke with was likely claims in-take analyst. They would have worked with your to setup your inspection, and took down the claims information, but the actual person who will work with you to resolve your claims will be the claims adjuster.

Your claims adjuster will work with you to get all the facts, from all parties, to determine fault, assess damage to all property, and issue payments. When working with your adjuster they will likely need to take, and even record, your statement. You statement, along with all other physical evidence, will form the claims file and assist the adjuster properly resolving the insurance claim.

Step 3: Getting back on the road
As soon as coverage has been determined, your adjuster can help you get your repairs stated. If you have rental car coverage, you may want to discuss setting up a rental so you have temporary transportation during the period of repairs.

If you are going to have your insurance carrier fix your car under your collision coverage, then damages (minus your policy deductible) will be covered regardless of fault. If you’re not at-fault, but still want to fix your car using your collision coverage, your insurance company will work to collect payment from the adverse insurance company, and refund you your deductible.

If you are at-fault for a covered loss, the property damage to the other party’s vehicle or property will be handled by your insurance company.

Step 4: Get you status updates
Many insurance companies offer online claims updates. Take full advantage of this, it will help you to understand the claims process, the timing of repairs, and help you manage your rental car costs. If your insurance company doesn’t provide you with online status update, then make sure you call your adjuster on a regular basis to keep appraised of the status of your repairs.


If you’re already an IronPoint Insurance Services customer, you can learn more about where to file your claim and the contact information for our insurance carriers online.

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