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How to get the most from your auto insurance claim

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Being involved in a car accident is scary and stressful. So is dealing with the aftermath.

It’s in the insurance company’s best interest to minimize your claim, but you’ll be able to secure a fair settlement with these four tips.

Don’t admit fault

You typically must file a police report after a car accident. There are situations when you aren’t required to, but to be on the safe side, file a report.

Describe to the police as accurately as possible what you believe happened, but don’t admit fault or say anything to the police, the other driver or any witnesses that might incriminate you.

Gather evidence that might help you later. Photograph the accident scene, capturing the location, license plates and damage. Collect contact information from any witnesses, passengers and other drivers.

At this stage, only discuss the accident with the police to minimize your chances of being misheard or misunderstood.

Statements that seem harmless like “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” can be construed as admitting fault, according to Nolo.com, a consumer-friendly legal website.

If a claim is filed, don’t give the insurance company, whether it’s yours or the other party’s, a recorded statement.

Any incriminating statements you make to anyone can be used against you by the insurance company or the courts.

We aren’t advocating lying, just protecting yourself.

Make sure it’s worth filing a claim

Filing a police report doesn’t mean you have to file an insurance claim.

Data from InsuranceQuotes.com showed that filing one at-fault claim increased annual premiums by an average of 38%, and filing a second claim within twelve months increased premiums by 86%.

The amount of increase you’ll see depends on your age, driving record, state and claims history.

It also depends on the type of claim, with bodily injury being the most expensive, accident damage falling in the middle and comprehensive damage (things like theft and storm damage) costing the least.

InsuranceQuotes.com found that comprehensive claims have little to no effect on premiums, as do claims where the other driver was at fault.

Even if your insurer offers accident forgiveness, promising not to raise your rate after a single accident claim, it might make sense to keep that forgiveness in the bank if you can afford to repair the accident damage out of pocket.

Don’t forget that you have to pay your deductible before the insurance kicks in, so it doesn’t make sense to file a claim for damage similar in amount to your deductible.

You could be penalized with higher premiums for three to five years while getting little benefit in return.

Injuries make everything more complicated

Get a medical exam as soon as possible after the accident if there’s any chance you might be injured.

Medical records will help substantiate your claim for bodily injury.

You should also get an attorney if you’re injured. These claims are more complicated.

The insurance company responsible for paying the claim will offer you a settlement to cover the costs associated with a legitimate injury.

Never accept their first offer.

Ask for twice the amount you think you should receive and be prepared to negotiate until you arrive at an amount you feel is fair.

Claims can’t exceed the insurance policy’s limits, however.

Be careful about signing a settlement release too soon after the accident; some injuries might seem minor or not show up right away, then later prove costly to treat.

Signing a settlement release often means waiving the right to later sue or make additional accident claims.

State consumer protection laws can help you resolve an unreasonably low settlement offer.

In a worst case scenario, you may have to go to court.

Never accept the adjuster’s first offer

The adjuster’s offer to repair your vehicle’s damage is negotiable, and adjusters are under pressure to settle claims quickly and for as little as possible.

That means the adjuster’s first offer is likely less than the insurer will pay if you push back and substantiate your request for a higher amount.
You should also choose your own repair shop, if your policy or state law allows it.

Insurance companies usually have preferred repair shops where they refer policyholders to get vehicles fixed at discounted rates.

If you use this shop, you’ll be acting in the insurance company’s best interest, but not necessarily your own.

The insurance company might have more control over your repairs and cut corners to save themselves money.

Like with any expensive job, you should get competing bids and choose the company you have the most confidence in.

An independent repair shop may provide a more accurate estimate of the damage, which you can use to get a check for the amount you’re entitled to and get your car repaired right.

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