If your vehicle is significantly damaged in an auto accident, chances are that either your insurance company or another driver's insurance company will be responsible for paying at least some of the repair cost. You need to proceed cautiously, so you aren't unfairly blamed for the accident and so you collect enough money make the needed repairs.
A Police Report is Critical
When the police arrive at the scene of an accident, they will question you and complete a police report. The insurance company will use the police report to make their decision regarding your claim. In addition to the police report, you should gather information yourself. This includes exchanging contact details and insurance information with the other driver, taking a photo of the scene of the accident, writing down the other driver's license plate number and driver's license number, and recording the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
Insurance Coverage Depends on Fault
If the accident was your fault, your collision insurance will pay for damages to your vehicle and your liability insurance will pay for damages to the other driver's vehicle, up to the limits of your policy. You will still have to pay the deductible, however. If the accident was the other driver's fault, the other driver's liability insurance will pay for damages to your vehicle. You won't have to pay the deductible. If you have no-fault insurance, however, your insurance company will pay for your repairs regardless of fault. Some states require drivers to carry no-fault insurance. All U.S. states require car owners to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance.
When Drivers Share Fault
Some states apply comparative fault principles, under which your recovery will be reduced in proportion to your degree of fault. California is one of these states. Alabama and some other states apply contributory negligence principles, which prevent an at-fault driver from recovering anything even if the accident was mostly the fault of the other driver. Indiana and some other states apply a hybrid system that bars you from receiving any damages if the accident was mostly your fault.
Determining the Value of Your Claim
After you fill out the claim paperwork, the insurance company will either accept or reject your claim. If the accident was your fault, the insurance company will accept your claim only if you carry either no-fault insurance or collision insurance. If it accepts your claim, it will send a claims adjuster to inspect your vehicle. Alternatively, they may send you to an approved repair shop. Normally, you will be entitled to enough money to restore your vehicle to the condition it was before the accident. If the damage is severe enough, however, the adjuster may declare your vehicle "totaled." In this case, you will receive a check for the market value of the vehicle right before the accident, or for the cost of buying a new vehicle (depending on the terms of your policy).
Disputing the Insurance Estimate
If you file a claim with your own insurance company, your policy will probably include procedures for dispute resolution. Your insurance company may require you to submit your dispute to an arbitrator - a privately hired judge. The insurance company may immediately give you the amount it offered and give you the rest if you win the dispute. If you filed a claim with the other driver's insurance company, however, you may have to file a lawsuit to get the amount in dispute.
An Insurance Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding auto insurance claims and repairs is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an insurance lawyer.