Auto Insurance Claims

Determining When It's Best to File a Claim


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Should you file a claim if you’ve been in a minor accident or a parking lot fender-bender? It’s a tough question. It’s common knowledge that filing a claim will almost certainly have an effect on your premiums for a period of time, but it’s almost impossible to know how much and for how long because insurance companies use such complex calculations to determine rates. However, there are a few general rules that you can follow to decide whether or not filing a claim will be to your advantage.

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On the Scene

The first step towards deciding whether or not to file a claim begins here. Here are a few common situations where this question comes up:

  • If it’s a single-car accident (I.e. You backed into a pole or another stationary object) take a quick survey of the damage. Is there any damage to property other than your vehicle? If so, notify the owner or steward of the damaged property to see if they want to take any action. If it’s just your vehicle, take the car to a collision repair shop and ask them for a ballpark estimate of the damage. It’s a good rule of thumb that if the damage is less than $1000 that you’re better off not filing a claim.
  • If it involves two cars and you’re at fault, then you’re going to have to convince the other driver not to file a claim as well. You’re legally obligated to give him/her your insurance information, but be sure to explain to them that you’d rather pay out of pocket for the damages. Suggest that you accompany them to a shop to get an estimate of the damages. Once they have your insurance information explain to them that they have 30 days to file a claim. Encourage them to file a claim later if you haven’t dealt with the situation in a couple of weeks.
  • If it involves two cars and you’re not at fault, it’s probably the other driver who is asking you not to file a claim. This can be a tough situation. You might feel for the other driver and understand their position, but you don’t want to be stuck with the bill if they don’t pay. Make sure you get their insurance information; you probably also want to have the police on the scene to document the accident. The police officer will take a report and a survey of the scene. He probably won’t write a ticket for a small accident that doesn’t involve any significant negligence. By having a police report to record the incident, you have an impartial third party to verify exactly what happened.

Important Time Frames

After an auto accident, although it will depend upon the state, you typically have 10 days to file a claim. It could be as many as 30, but you should not wait that long. In fact, filing your claim within a day or two after the accident is the best way to go about it. Insurance companies, by law, must contact you within 10 days of your filing the claim. If they plan on inspecting the vehicle, most states stipulate that they must notify you within seven business days. Lastly, insurance companies have 30 days to settle a claim, or they must inform you if they need to take more time to investigate.

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Other Important Considerations

In this situation, you might be tempted to ask your insurance agent whether or not you should make a claim. Before you do that, you should find out whether or not he or she is obligated to tell your insurance provider if you asked them questions about filing a claim. In some situations, your agent has to tell your insurance company if you ask about a claim and your rates can go up whether you file one or not.

If the accident involves any sort of personal injury or the risk of a lawsuit, you should always file a claim. Cases that involve medical care are complex and can quickly turn sour. Even if the injury seems minor, you’re going to want your insurance company on your side. They have access to legal counsel and resources that you probably couldn’t afford on your own.

It is important to remember that you are under time constraints after an auto accident. You need to act responsibly and quickly to ensure there is written documentation of your claim and to strengthen your case.

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