What to Do in Case of an Accident

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As difficult as it may seem, it is important to remain as calm as possible after experiencing an accident. If someone is hurt, contact the paramedics and the police (call 911 for emergencies). Even if it is not an emergency situation, it is always a good idea to call the police from the scene of an accident. Each police jurisdiction has different criteria for police reports. If the police decide not to come to the scene of the accident, then ask for direction on filing a report at the station. With or without a police report, it is your responsibility to gather as much pertinent information about the accident as possible.

Try to gather the following information: take down the license plate number of all vehicles involved; try to get complete names, addresses, phone numbers, and drivers license numbers of all other drivers, along with the registered owner's name for each vehicle; see if there were any witnesses, as they could be very important later should there be a question as to which driver was at fault; obtain the complete names, addresses, and phone numbers of each witness; and always carry a pen or pencil, and a notepad in the glove compartment, so you will always be prepared in the case of an accident.

What's Next?

When you are involved in an accident, you need to contact your insurance agent/broker or company directly and report the accident. A claim number and claims adjuster will be assigned to you. The driver should give a complete, detailed accident report, including any witness information. As part of the investigation, other drivers and witnesses will be contacted. If you have medical or uninsured motorist claims, then you will be required to provide documentation as to your injuries, medical expenses, and lost wages. Ask questions if there is anything you don't understand or with which you don't agree. The adjuster should be able to address your questions and concerns.

The Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations require that insurers acknowledge receipt of your claim within 15 days. Upon receiving proof of claim, every insurer shall immediately (in no event more than 40 days) conduct an investigation and either accept or deny the claim in whole or in part. When settlement is reached, the insurer has up to 30 days to make payment.

If the investigation takes longer than 40 days, then the insurer must notify you in writing that additional time is needed, and issue a written claim status every 30 days thereafter. A denial must contain a statement listing all basis for such rejection.

When you make a claim for damages to your automobile, the insurance company will decide whether to repair your vehicle or declare it a total loss. Generally, if the cost to repair your vehicle is higher than the fair market value of the vehicle, the company will declare it a total loss (that is, your car has been "totaled"). Read your policy carefully to determine when your company can declare your automobile a total loss.

If the insurance company decides your vehicle is to be repaired, then the insurer must give you a copy of the estimate to repair. If you obtain an estimate which exceeds the insurer's estimate, then the insurer must reasonably adjust any written estimates or furnish you the name of at least one repair shop which will complete the repairs for the amount of the insurance company's written estimate. Betterment or depreciation may be assessed against the settlement amount, but it must accurately reflect the value of such deductions. An example of betterment would be the company painting your entire vehicle due to old oxidized paint, when only the front fender of the vehicle was damaged. A new paint job puts you in a better condition than you were before the accident occurred.

If your vehicle is declared a total loss, then the insurance company must replace it with a comparable vehicle or pay the actual cash value of your vehicle. The actual cash value of a vehicle is the fair market price of the vehicle if it was offered for sale in your local area. The amount of the settlement must include sales tax and license fees. If you are not advised at the time of settlement where a comparable vehicle can be purchased, and you are unable to locate one on your own within 35 days after receiving the claim payment, then you need to notify the insurer. The insurer must then re-open the claims file and make further efforts to adjust your loss.

The insurer also has the responsibility to determine which driver is at fault. Under the law, if you are found to be 51% or more at fault, and there is a total of $500 ($750 as of 1/1/03) in property damage, or if there are any injuries, you will be assessed a surcharge. This means there will be an increase in your premium for the next 36-month period.