Settling An Auto Insurance Claim
You’ve just been involved in a crash with your vehicle. Do
you know what to do? Who should you notify? Should you file a claim
with your insurance company and if so, what should you expect from
them? These are just a few of the questions motorists face once
they’ve been involved in a crash. This information should
assist and prepare you for certain expectations when you consider
submitting an automobile insurance claim.
Before the crash
Take the time to review your auto insurance policy and coverages.
It is important that you understand what is and, more importantly,
what isn’t covered by insurance. All automobile insurance
policies have exclusions, and it’s best to know what those
exclusions are prior to a loss. Many times you can obtain coverage
for an exclusion by purchasing an endorsement, which ”buys
back“ policy coverage.
• Tip: In lieu of increasing car prices,
consider purchasing a “loan/lease GAP” endorsement for
your vehicle—especially if you’ve opted for a loan/lease
with a long term (48+ months). In the event of a “total loss,”
this coverage provides protection when the vehicle’s loan
or lease payment exceeds the vehicle’s worth or Actual Cash
As an example, say you owe $17,000 on your car’s loan or
lease. A crash totals the car and the insurer pays the vehicle’s
ACV which is $15,500. This GAP endorsement would pay the difference
between the car’s value and what you owe (in this case, $1,500).
Without this coverage, you would be responsible for payment.
At the crash scene
Begin by checking with vehicle occupants and pedestrians in the
vicinity for injuries. If medical assistance is needed, contact
local law enforcement officials immediately, indicating the location
of the crash and extent of injuries. If someone is injured, don’t
attempt to move them—keep them as comfortable as possible.
Cooperate with the law enforcement officials at the scene, providing
them with whatever information is requested.
While waiting for law enforcement officials, do your best to obtain
and document the following information:
- Accident information (date, time, location)
- Other vehicle(s) information (make, model, color, license plate
number, general description of damage)
- Other driver(s) information (name, address,
phone number, drivers license number, Social Security number,
date of birth, insurance agent and company contact information—including
phone number and insurance policy number, if possible)
- Vehicle owner information, if different than
the driver (same information as above)
- Witness information (names, addresses, phone
- Law enforcement and medical assistance information
(was crash reported to police, sheriff or highway patrol; obtain
name and badge number of attending officer; was a citation issued)
- Description of the accident (example: heading
north on High St., approaching intersection of 5th Ave. Other
car was heading east on 5th Ave., etc.). It’s best to sketch
a diagram, labeling cars A, B, C, etc., using arrows to indicate
paths of the vehicles involved in the crash.
After the crash
• To file or not to file a claim—that is the
question...It is your responsibility to contact your insurance
agent or company representative as soon as possible after the crash.
Discuss the chain of events with your insurance professional before
deciding if a claim should be filed. Some policyholders select high
deductibles ($500, $1,000 or more) as a cost-savings measure. If
the amount of damage is close to your policy deductible or if you’ve
filed multiple claims in recent years, you may want to consider
not filing a claim. Your insurance professional can provide guidance
on what’s best for you.
If you are filing a claim, provide the insurance professional with
all necessary information gathered at the crash scene. In turn,
the company should inform you of their claims procedures so you
understand the process.
Keep your agent or company notified of any developments associated
with the claim. For instance, if you receive legal documents from
the other parties involved in the crash, provide these to your insurance
company immediately. Keep in mind that your auto insurance policy
provides coverage for the insurance company to defend if you are
sued as a result of the crash.
If you suspect the other driver was operating the vehicle without
automobile insurance coverage, file a Motor Vehicle Crash Report
with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Report forms are available
from local law enforcement officials, the BMV and your insurance
agent or company. Form 3303 is also available from the BMV’s
Web site at http://bmv.ohio.gov/3303.pdf.
What to expect when settling the claim
The insurance company will ask you to complete some forms and ask
for details about the crash. This is why it’s a good idea
to gather as much information as possible at the crash scene.
They will arrange for you to meet with a claims adjuster. This
individual may ask to come to your home or business to meet with
you, will request to see the vehicle and will probably ask you more
details about the crash. The adjuster will more than likely ask
if your comments can be tape recorded. Sometimes this step is conducted
Some claims-settling tips
- Track all of your expenses associated with the crash.
They may be reimbursable under your auto insurance policy. Some
examples of these expenses include mileage for a visit to the
doctor’s office as a result of the crash, the cost of a
police report, or meal expenses if called into court for the crash.
- Don’t have the vehicle repaired before the insurance company
claims adjuster has evaluated the vehicle’s damage. But,
protect the vehicle from further damage (i.e., cover broken windows
- Keep copies of all your paperwork for future reference.
- If the vehicle isn’t drivable, don’t abandon it
at the crash scene. Make arrangements to have the vehicle towed
to your home or a garage or repair facility of your choice.
- You have the right to choose your repair shop.
Your insurance company may request you to obtain written estimates
from vehicle repair facilities indicating the cost to repair the
vehicle. Some insurance companies won’t ask for estimates,
but will request you bring the damaged vehicle to their claims
facility for an analysis of the damage. Also, some insurers provide
a list of recommended shops to save policyholders time and hassle.
But remember, it is always your choice where to take your car
- You have the right to negotiate the settlement with
the claims adjuster. If you’re having a difficult
time with the adjuster, contact the company directly and ask to
speak with the consumer services department or the claims division
manager. If you still find the settlement unacceptable, you can
use the arbitration or appraisal procedures outlined in your insurance
policy. Most arbitration and appraisal procedures work by you
hiring an independent arbitrator or appraiser at your expense.
Once the arbitrator or appraiser agrees with you or the company,
the claim is settled at that amount.
- If you feel that you’ve exhausted all efforts
with the insurance company, you can contact the Ohio Department
of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-686-1526. The
Department, which regulates all insurance agents and companies
within the state, will provide you with information and advice
on how to proceed.
- If you still can’t seem to reach an agreement,
you always have the option of seeking legal advice. Remember,
you are responsible for these legal fees.
It is important to note that by obtaining legal counsel you sacrifice
your ability to represent yourself directly with the insurance
company. This means all future correspondence regarding the claim
will be handled through your attorney.
When a car is a “total loss”
Consumers and insurers are faced with difficult decisions when
extensive vehicle damage occurs resulting from a covered loss. When
the cost to repair a vehicle exceeds its ACV the vehicle will probably
be considered a “total loss.”
For more information on “total loss” vehicle situations,
visit page 17 of the Ohio Department of Insurance Shoppers Guide
to Automobile Insurance at www.ohioinsurance.gov/consumeserv/ocs/ocspub.htm.
||Up to 30% of the 3 million accidents a year
may be attributable to distracted driving.
(The National Highway Transportation Safety