Dealing with your car insurance company after a crash can be a time-consuming hassle. Now imagine what it's like to deal with the insurance company of a person you don’t know who crashed into your car.
Here are some tips to ensure you maintain your cool — and your sanity — when making a claim with someone else’s insurer, known as a third-party claim.
Gather necessary information
The driver who crashes into your car is responsible for reporting the accident to his or her car insurance company. However, make sure you contact their insurer as well. Motorists who cause accidents are often reluctant to report them.
It’s vital to get complete information on the other party at the accident scene. Collect the following:
Other driver's name and address
Other driver's insurance company name and policy information
Statements and contact information from witnesses
Take pictures of the accident scene -- most smartphone cameras are suitable.
This way, you'll have evidence gathered at the scene to bolster your position on the cause of the accident.
Notify the right people
You should then inform the other person's insurer that you have been involved in a crash with one of its policyholders. Relay only the facts of the accident, even if you believe the other driver to be at fault.
The police will determine who is at fault for ticketing purposes. Independently, the insurer will make its own determination of fault, which may or may not match law enforcement’s assessment of fault. The insurer will take into account items such as the police report, driver and witness statements and physical evidence.
Although you may feel that you have not caused the accident, you should contact your insurance company anyway. This establishes your good-faith accident-reporting effort and can aid you if the other party's insurer denies responsibility for the accident and you need to make a collision claim.
Theoretically, you should only have to notify the other party's insurer of your damages and injuries, take your car to a body shop, visit a doctor and expect the insurer to pay your bills.
But theories don't always reflect reality. Car insurance companies may demand that you obtain their authorization before proceeding with vehicle repairs and injury treatments. If the insurance adjuster doesn't authorize a repair before you take it to the auto shop, it can create a problem. At minimum, make certain that the insurance company has accepted liability before going ahead with repairs. Get that authorization in writing. Ask the insurer to email it to you.
Remember that an insurance company can't force you to take your vehicle to a specific repair facility. Most states allow auto insurers to recommend auto body shops but they aren't allowed to demand you use a certain repair facility. The choice is yours.
Pick your battles wisely
The at-fault driver's insurer may tell you to seek payment from your own insurer because it has no evidence of its policyholder's fault. Although most states have made it illegal for an insurer to deny claims without reasonably investigating the facts, or to deny claims when its liability is reasonably clear, you may not want to fight the other person's insurance company.
If you make a claim with your insurer, it might choose to fight the other insurance company for compensation if it finds other driver is at fault.
If you decide to fight the at-fault driver's insurer on your own you'll need a lawyer — especially if you've been seriously injured. An attorney can help you navigate the sometimes-murky laws that govern insurance. But keep in mind that if you hire an attorney, he will take a cut of any settlement he helps you get.
You may have evidence of the other driver's fault — maybe he even admitted it at the scene — yet you find your claim denied by his auto insurance company. Why? Because he probably told a version of how the accident happened that doesn't square with yours. His insurer may stand behind that story in order to avoid paying your claim.
Sometimes the insurance company will take its policyholder's position, even if it contradicts the police report.
It not unusual for companies to take their policyholder's side in cases where no police accident report was made and fault isn’t obvious. In many states, if an officer at an accident scene determines the damage is minimal (usually less than $500), he or she will not file an accident report. Body shop estimates for that same accident, however, might run into the thousands of dollars. Take your car to a repair shop so you can determine the extent of the damage.
If it's a small claim, you can take the other driver to small claims court. Otherwise, you may need a lawyer. Insurance companies know that unless you've hired an attorney, the longer the matter drags on, the more likely you are to compromise or simply go away.
If all else fails, look to your insurer
Even if you're not at fault, you can make a claim with your insurance company for payment of damages and injuries -- if you have the right coverage.
If you have collision insurance, file a claim with your own carrier. It will pay for the cost of repairs or total loss of your vehicle. If you take this approach, you will have to pay your collision deductible toward repairs. However, you may get that money back if your insurer is able to settle with the other driver's insurance company.
If it turns out the other driver is uninsured and you have uninsured motorist coverage property damage (UMPD), you can make a claim for your vehicle’s damage. There is no deductible for UMPD claims.
Your car insurance rates aren't necessarily going to increase at renewal time if you make a claim under your own insurance policy for an accident that wasn't your fault.
Most state laws prohibit insurers from surcharging policyholders or raising their premium rates for accidents in which they weren't at fault. However, those laws do not preclude your insurer from dumping your policy at renewal time if you've made a few recent claims of any type.