The 3 Most Important Car Insurance Claim Questions to Remember

Getting into an auto accident is scary, but you need to get all the information together that you need to file a claim. We'll walk you through the process.

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Oct 22, 2021

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Things to Remember...

  • If you’re involved in an accident, you need to report it to your insurance company
  • Attending to injuries and getting your car off the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic are top priorities
  • Each state has its own laws regarding when an accident report must be filed

The process of filing an auto insurance claim may seem daunting, but it can be more easily comprehended if you remember three questions that will help you successfully file one.

These questions are “have I followed the necessary steps after the accident, with which company should I file the claim, and how do I get my car repaired?”

Each insurance company has its own procedures for filing a claim. These include your options for going about it, the availability of its claim department, and what exact information the company requires.

Your claim may go through easier if you keep the three questions in mind as you’re about to begin the filing process.

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Ask Yourself if You Followed the Necessary Steps after the Accident

Before you even get to the claim stage of the game, there are several steps to take immediately following an accident, according to the Oregon Department of insurance.

Attending to injuries and getting your car off the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic are top priorities, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, but you should still have claim filing in the back of your mind.

The reason thoughts of filing a claim appear to be daunting is due to the often copious amounts of information insurance companies may require to even begin processing a claim.

Exchanging information with the other driver is generally a must.

The required information typically consists of the following:

  • Person’s name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Insurance company
  • Insurance company’s phone number

Offer the same information about yourself and your insurance company to the other driver.

If people in the surrounding area witnessed the accident, request their information. You don’t need the same details you needed from the other driver, but their name and phone number can come in handy.

Having a way to reach them may be useful if authorities or the insurance companies have questions about their version of the accident.

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The Accident Report

Filing an accident report is another helpful step. Each state has its own laws regarding when an accident report must be filed. In Oregon, for example, you must report an accident that results in death or injury.

You must also file a report if the crash caused more than $1,500 worth of damages to your vehicle, any other vehicles, or any property.

If a vehicle is towed from the scene, a report must be filed.

The deadline for filing a report is 72 hours following the accident.

Even if the accident only caused minor damages and you are not required to file a report as per state law, you may do well to file one anyway.

This ensures your accident is on the record should your insurance company or the other person’s insurance company need additional proof or information.

You can usually file an accident report in several ways. Instructions and report forms are typically available at your state’s motor vehicle office or website or from the sheriff or police department.

Some states may allow you to file the claims online.

Telling your insurance company is another must if you intend to file a claim.

Contacting the company as soon as possible allows an insurance adjuster to be assigned to your case.

The adjuster will help determine who was at fault for the accident and record other information the insurance company needs.

Another overall step that can be a world of help is making sure you fully understand your insurance policy. This way you will know what is covered, what is not covered and any deductible you may have to meet before insurance coverage goes into effect.

If do not fully understand any part of your policy or have additional questions, calling your insurance company or your agent can help.

Decide Where to File the Claim

Another question you need to answer in the event of an accident is where you intend to file the claim.

Depending on the circumstances, you can file the claim either with your own insurance company or the other person’s insurance company.

You may file a claim with your own company regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

However, you may file a claim with the other person’s insurance company if you were not at fault.

Filing with your own insurance company is known as a first-party claim while filing with the other person’s company is referred to as a third-party claim.

When you are not at fault, you may reap certain advantages from filing with the other person’s insurance company instead of your own.

For starters, you will not be subject to the deductibles set up in your policy, or any deductibles at all.


Filing a Third-Party Claim

Filing with the other person’s insurance company also keeps your own claim record clean. This can reduce the risk of an insurance rate increase and help ensure your claim history contains as few claims as possible.

Claim history is one of the factors that may affect your overall driving record and insurance rates going forward, even if you change to another insurance company.

Possible drawbacks of filing a third-party claim include moves the other insurance company can make. The company may offer a settlement you do not feel is adequate.

If this is the case, do not agree to the settlement.

Most insurance companies will ask you to sign an agreement known as a release for damages. If you are not happy with the company’s offer, do not sign it.

Sometimes you may be able to settle one part of the agreement and not another, the Illinois Department of Insurance points out.

You may know the extent and amount of damage done to your car, for instance, but may still be receiving medical care for bodily injury.

In this case, you may be able to agree to the property damage portion of the claim but not the bodily injury portion.

The insurance company can pay you for the property damage portion even if you still have not agreed upon reimbursement for your injuries.

Another scenario is the other driver not having enough insurance coverage to cover the damages. He or she may not have any car insurance at all.

In this case, your own car insurance’s uninsured or underinsured coverage would typically kick in. The company may also say its client was not at fault and not offer a settlement at all.

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The At-Fault Decision

It’s not up to you to decide who was at fault for the accident. That responsibility goes to the aforementioned insurance adjustor.

Even if you are found not to be at fault for an accident, there is no guarantee a third-party claim will pay out 100 percent of the amount.

A percentage of the payout may particularly be a factor in states like Illinois that have a comparative negligence law.

This law states that both parties may be at fault for an accident, the Illinois DOI says.

The fault is usually broken down into percentages and the other insurance company is only required to cover your damages if you are less than 50 percent at fault.

In the case of comparative negligence, the other car insurance company may also reduce the amount it’s willing to pay you to match the percentage of fault carried by its client.

For instance, if you were found to be 30 percent at fault for the accident, the other company may agree to only pay out 70 percent of the claim. The 70 percent would cover its client’s percentage of fault for the crash.

Regardless of the determination, insurance companies are generally required to contact you within a certain amount of time following a claim. The time limit in Illinois is 21 days.

Ask What You Must Do to Get Your Car Repaired

How to go about getting your car repaired is another necessary question while filing a claim.

Car insurance companies do not automatically go for the actual cash value, or ACV, or your vehicle when determining how much to pay for repairs, according to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Companies instead look at the value of your car at the time you suffered the loss. They also usually require you to send them one or more written estimates for repair costs.

This allows the company to compare the costs to its own estimate and determine the cheapest repairs available.

Some companies allow you to select any repair shops you choose while others may urge you to use a specific shop.

Insurance companies will only pay the set limit they determine for repairs; you are responsible for the balance.

You are also responsible for meeting any deductible before the company covers repairs.

Because each car insurance company has its own set of guidelines for car repair, it is vital to review the company policy and follow its specific steps. The company may otherwise refuse to cover the repairs unless you follow protocol.

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