Whether you're involved in a minor fender-bender or a serious collision, understanding what to expect when filing an auto insurance claim is crucial for a smoother, more efficient resolution. Let's walk through the essential steps and provide insights into the common procedures, requirements, and potential outcomes to help you confidently navigate the process.
Understanding the Basics of Insurance Claims
When it comes to the basics of insurance, it’s important to understand what an insurance claim is and the types of auto insurance coverage.
What Is an Insurance Claim?
An insurance claim is a formal request to your insurance company for financial compensation following a covered loss, such as a car accident.
Types of Auto Insurance Coverage
Here are some types of auto insurance coverage that might be on your insurance policy.
- Liability protection: If you’re found at fault after an accident, liability protection helps pay for the other party’s bodily injuries and property damage.
- Comprehensive coverage: This coverage helps protect you financially if your vehicle gets damaged due to something other than a collision
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, this coverage helps pay for your bodily injuries and property damage.
- Collision protection: This coverage helps pay to repair your vehicle following a collision.
- Medical payments coverage — This coverage helps pay for your medical expenses after an accident and typically doesn’t have a deductible.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) — PIP helps cover medical costs and other expenses for you and your passengers, no matter who’s at fault for the accident. This coverage usually has a deductible.
Preparing to File a Claim
Before you pick up the phone and call your insurer, you should take a few preliminary steps to help facilitate the process.
How to Start a Claim
- Gather information and documentation: When you file your claim, your insurance may ask for specific information and documentation, such as:
- Names, contact, insurance, and vehicle information for anyone involved in the accident
Location, date, time, and of the accident
- Weather conditions
- Photos of the damaged vehicles
- A copy of the police and/or accident report, if applicable
- Review your policy’s coverages: It's a good idea to review them so you can establish proper expectations for your claim. For example, you may have rental car coverage, which helps pay for a rental car while your vehicle gets repaired.
- Check deductible: You should also check your deductible, the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance coverage kicks in. When do you pay the deductible for car insurance? If your accident falls under coverage with a deductible — e.g., collision protection or comprehensive coverage — you pay for it when you file a claim.
Initiating the Claims Process
Once you’ve gathered all the information and reviewed your insurance policy, it’s time to contact your insurer to begin the claims process. Depending on what your insurer provides, you can do this via phone, online, or a mobile app. Ensure you have the information and documents you need to make filing your claim a smooth process.
Claims Investigation and Adjusters
Your insurer will assign an insurance adjuster, or multiple adjusters, to investigate your claim. Typically, an adjuster examines your car for damages, investigates the losses, and addresses any bodily injury claims. They may also assess police reports and interview witnesses to the accident.
While an adjuster usually provides you with a car repair estimate, some insurance companies may require you to go to a repair shop and get an estimate. If so, the repair shop will assess the damages and send a report to your insurance company. Then, your insurer will determine how much they will pay for the repairs based on the adjuster and repair shop information.
Timeframe and Resolution
The time it takes to process your claim depends on its complexity. An insurer can process a simple claim relatively quickly, usually within a few weeks. However, a claim that involves multiple parties, disputes, or extensive damages can take several months to process.
When the insurer finally resolves your claim, they will either approve or deny it or provide you with a partial settlement.
- Approval: If the insurance company determines your claim is valid and covered by your policy, they will approve it. Once approved, they will work on settling the claim.
- Denial: If the insurance company finds that your claim is not covered or you’re not entitled to compensation, they will provide a written explanation for the denial. You can dispute this decision, but this may prolong the process.
- Partial Settlement: Sometimes, the insurance company may partially approve your claim. This can happen when they agree to cover certain aspects of the claim but not others. For example, they may approve vehicle repairs but deny a medical expense claim.
Communication with Your Insurance Company
Open and transparent communication with your insurer is crucial for a smooth, efficient claims process. It helps expedite the process, minimizes misunderstandings, and ensures you receive the coverage you're entitled to under your policy. Keep detailed records of interactions, including names, dates, and content of conversations. When possible, use written communication and request documentation — e.g., coverage determinations, claim settlements, etc. — to help create a paper trail.
Receiving Your Claim Payment
If your insurer approves your claim, they will issue your payment — minus the deductible — to you or the repair shop of your choice. If your vehicle is totaled and you have collision protection or comprehensive coverage, your insurer will pay you or your lender the current value of your car minus the deductible.
Though you're protected with auto insurance, you may still have concerns about what will happen to your insurance rates when you file a claim. Does insurance go up after a claim? How much? Will your policy be canceled? What if the accident wasn't your fault? What if it was?
There are no simple answers to these questions, as the process of establishing auto insurance premiums is complex, and each accident is analyzed using many variables, including fault, history of accidents, moving violations, and auto insurance claims, as well as age, car type, and much more.
- Not your fault: If the accident is not your fault, it's the first in which you've been involved, and your driving history is free of moving violations and/or insurance claims, you may have no premium increase at all.
- Your fault with property damage: If the accident is your fault, but it resulted in property damage only, you will probably not lose your good driver discount. It may, however, trigger an increase in your premium.
- Your fault with bodily injury: If you are at fault and someone is injured, you will most likely lose your good driver discount and could see a 20 to 25 percent premium increase.
- Non-renewal and cancellation: Your insurance company may also decide not to renew your policy if your driving record gets markedly worse or you have several auto accident claims. Different insurers have different rules about what constitutes an unacceptable driving record. Still, a few accidents, such as those caused by drunk driving, will probably trigger a non-renewal from virtually every insurance company.
Practices vary from company to company, but generally, an insurer will increase your premium by specific percentages for each chargeable claim made against your policy above a specific dollar amount. A chargeable claim is one the insurer considers primarily your fault. The percentages and ceilings vary from company to company. These increases generally stay on your premium for three years following the claim.
Insurance is designed to provide financial protection when you need it most, and a successful claim can help you recover from unexpected events with greater peace of mind. The key is to be proactive, document everything, and maintain open communication with your insurer throughout the process. If you need to file a claim, call the Mercury Insurance claims phone number, and we’ll help you get started.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Auto Claims Process
How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim?
You should typically report an accident to your insurance company as soon as possible, preferably immediately or within a day or two of the incident. Read your insurance policy documents carefully to determine the specific requirements and time limits for filing claims. If you're unsure about the timing for filing a claim, you should contact your insurance agent for guidance.
What Happens If I'm at Fault in a Car Accident?
If you live in an at-fault state and it’s determined that you caused the accident, you’re responsible for covering the other party’s injuries and property damage. Liability protection helps pay for these expenses.
How Do Car Insurance Companies Pay Out Claims?
If your claim is approved, the insurance company may send you a check directly or pay the service provider on your behalf, like a repair shop or hospital.
Who Pays For My Rental Car After an Accident?
Insurers pay for your rental car after an accident as long as rental car coverage is under your auto policy. Otherwise, you’re responsible for getting a rental car.