How to file an auto insurance claim, what the claims adjuster does and how you’re compensated in an auto insurance claim.
It’s the proverbial good news and bad news situation. The bad news is you caught a bad piece of black ice on the freeway and took out a speed limit sign.
Everyone in the car is OK, but your driver’s side door is toast. After a tow back to town, you remember the good news: you have full coverage auto insurance.
But now what do you do?
Starting an Auto Insurance Claim
Given that if it weren’t for claims there wouldn’t be any point to insurance, the claims process itself is nevertheless often overshadowed by constant talk of premiums, discounts and the latest marketing campaigns. Agents are salespeople. When it comes to claims you’ll find many of them know shockingly little about the subject.
Nevertheless, often times your agent is who you contact to start the claim process. Larger insurance companies have a dedicated call center devoted entirely to claims. If yours is one of them, you need to call that number. If unsure, call your agent – he or she will be able to point you in the right direction.
When filing your claim, provide as much specific information as you can. Among other things, you’ll be asked when and where the accident occurred, if any other vehicles were involved, if there were any injuries, if any law enforcement agency responded, and if any citations were issued.
You’ll probably notice on the back your insurance card an admonishment NOT to admit blame to law enforcement in an accident situation. There’s a reason for this. For one, you may not be at fault even if you think you are. For another such statements tend to find their way into police reports, making them much more difficult to contest later.
The Claims Adjuster
Your claim will be handled by an insurance specialist called an adjuster. An insurance claims adjuster is either an insurance company employee or a third-party contractor trained to assess the damage caused in an accident. That way the insurance company can reimburse you in such a manner that you neither gain nor lose financially because of the accident. This concept is called indemnification. It’s a central philosophy behind all insurance, not just auto insurance.
An auto insurance claims adjuster is usually local and has good working relationships with auto body repair shops in your area. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see auto claims adjusters who have prior auto body repair experience in their own right. This is particularly important if you’re unsure where to get your car fixed. The adjuster will know. Take his advice; it’s definitely not in his interest to steer you towards some shady outfit.
A claims adjuster is never an agent. In fact, once a claim is filed your agent may very well be out of the loop on its status. While the claim remains open, keep in touch with your adjuster instead.
Collecting on Your Claim
Once the adjuster looks over your vehicle, he or she determines how much it’ll cost to fix it. Then the auto body repair shop goes to work. In a full coverage situation you may pay the deductible directly to the repair shop while the insurance company pays them directly for the rest. If your car is “totaled,” you may get a cash settlement instead.
Unless you’re in a no fault state, if your car was damaged in an accident in which another party was found at fault, the process is much the same apart from the fact you’ll be working with the other guy’s insurance claims adjuster.
Also before the claim is closed be sure to inquire about any secondary coverages you may have, such as for towing or rental reimbursement. If the adjuster doesn’t have the answer to these questions, your agent certainly will.
It’s possible to hire an outside, independent adjuster to get a second opinion, however this is not commonly seen in an auto insurance claim situation. It’s an added expense to you, and of little benefit unless there’s a serious dispute in a major accident.
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