Being in a car accident is always aggravating—and potentially scary—for anybody. But it’s made worse by the foreshadowing of what lies ahead—a lot of paperwork and possible battles with the insurance company. Even if the accident wasn’t your fault and even if there are no serious injuries, it’s still a hassle. Making sure you know to handle the insurance claim process for car accidents will reduce some of your stress and make it more likely that you’ll get an acceptable financial settlement.
The insurance company is not in business to make you money or to make your life easier. You will be expected to prove all facets of your claim, from the fault to the damage, and that means you need documentation. It also means the documentation has to start immediately after the accident.
Photos and eyewitness testimony are your allies. With cellphones being equipped with cameras, this is much easier today than it used to be. Get photos of the accident showing everywhere your car was damaged. Your damages may well include property that was inside the vehicle—maybe you carry your tablet with you for work and now it has to be replaced. Get a picture.
Most accidents result in people stopping to see if everyone’s okay. Find out if they saw the accident and if you weren’t at fault, that they can back you up. You’ll need their contact information to follow up later.
It’s also important to get the police involved. This doesn’t mean you’re looking for a confrontation with the other driver, who may well be contrite and ready to hand over their insurance information. It means you’re developing credible sources for the insurance investigators. The police report will be a key part of what they evaluate when developing a settlement offer.
Furthermore, don’t feel like you’re completely at the mercy of the insurance company. They’ll have their adjuster make an assessment of the overall damages, but it’s a good idea for you to hire your own adjuster. If the case goes to court, this will give you expert back-up on what you believe is a fair settlement figure.
Regarding the potential for court proceedings, it’s important to know upfront what your level of tolerance is for a legal fight. What is your psychological makeup for a prolonged legal dispute? Some people thrive on the battle; others may be overwhelmed with stress. Knowing yourself will be important in establishing the lowest amount you’re willing to settle for.
But keep this in mind: the insurance company really doesn’t want to go to court, even if they play hardball in negotiations. It’s more expensive than a settlement and bad for their brand. There’s no reason to be intimidated as you go through the insurance claims process for a car accident.