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Settling An Auto Insurance Claim

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? What should you expect from your insurance company? 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 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 Value (ACV).

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 numbers)
  • 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 (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.

OII’s Auto Accident Checklist brochure guides you through this process at the crash scene. Download the brochure here and keep in the glove box of your vehicle.

After the crash

It is your responsibility to contact your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible after the crash. Provide them with all the 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.

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 via phone.

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 with plastic).
  • 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 for repairs.
  • 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 the Ohio Department of Insurance Web site at www.ohioinsurance.gov/consumserv/scripts/pubdisp.asp?pubtype=AUTO&pageseqnum=14.

Between 1997–2000 auto accident-related medical costs were up 50% and the median jury verdict in auto accident cases rose 23%.
(Insurance Information Institute)