Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products, including home, life, auto, and commercial, and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, mainly in the insuranc...

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UPDATED: Oct 19, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • It’s important to keep detailed records to help claims representatives with their claims investigations for quick decisions
  • When a claimant calls, the representative will ask all of the pertinent questions to see if the vehicle has been damaged and if anyone was hurt in the incident
  • After a claim has been reported, the claimant will be given a claim number and the file will be forwarded to a claims adjuster
  • It’s the adjusters job to investigate the accident, review medical reports, assess damage, and interview victims and witnesses which will lead to fault determination
  • As the claim is investigated, the company will attempt to make their client whole until there’s been an allocation of fault

You may know how the car insurance buying process works, but do you know how the claims process works? Statistics show that the average driver will crash their car at least 3 times in their lifetime if they’re licensed at 16. Since the odds are high and many car crashes can’t be avoided no matter how defensive you drive, understanding how claims work is a must. Start comparing car insurance rates now by using our FREE tool above!

If you’ve never been in a position where you’ve needed to file a claim, you’re lucky. Still, it’s never too early to learn what you might expect if and when you do have get into a crash or experience another type of loss. Read this guide to the claims process and get familiar with all of the steps.

How long do you have to file an auto accident?

Your main focus after you’ve been in a crash should be to get to safety. Your reactions after an accident can affect the claims process in the future. This is why you should know what to do and what not to do.

The first step will always be to check to see if anyone is injured, and after doing this, safely get out of the car or move it out of traffic.

When you exit the vehicle stay a safe distance away from traffic. Then, you should call the police and stay calm until an officer arrives. If you’re injured, you’ll need to seek immediate medical treatment. While you’re waiting at the scene, it’s wise to begin collecting all of the information that you’ll need to provide to your insurer.

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Information to Collect at the Scene to Aid with Claims Investigations

What you collect at the scene of an accident will have a major bearing on how difficult the investigation process will be and how long the claim will take to settle. Since your goal is almost always to settle a claim quickly, having a checklist of the information you’ll need to provide when filing a claims report can help. You can keep a checklist in your dashboard or on your phone so that you don’t forget the small but important details. Some of the information that should be on your accident checklist includes:

  • Name of drivers involved
  • Address of drivers involved
  • Address of accident
  • Phone number of drivers and passengers
  • Year, make, model and license plate number of each vehicle involved
  • Insurance carrier and policy number for each third-party vehicle
  • Name and number of witnesses in other vehicles or pedestrians
  • Photos of the scene
  • Photos of damage to your car and other cars
  • Name and badge number of reporting officer
  • Police report number

Filing the Initial Claims Report

After you’ve escaped danger or you’ve been seen by a physician, it’s your duty to call your insurer and report the incident. Most insurance companies have it written into the insurance contract that you’re required to notify them of an accident within 7 to 10 days.

If you’re injured, you may be given a period of time that’s deemed to be reasonable, but the sooner you file your initial claims report the better for the company.

During the initial call, you’ll be asked to give your account of the accident. You’ll also be asked for all of the key bits of information that you’ve collected at the scene. After the representative in the claims department has taken down all of the information, you’ll be given a claim number. In most cases, you’ll receive a call from the adjuster who’s assigned your file within 24 hours.

Speaking with the Insurance Adjuster

When the file has been forwarded to the claims adjuster, the investigations process will start. The first step will be to contact you to take a recorded statement of the events that occurred leading up to the accident. If you’ve been seen by a doctor or taken photos, you’ll be asked to forward this to the adjuster to support a fault determination.

After asking for your recollection of the events, the adjuster will be in contact with the third-party’s claims adjuster. They may interview the other driver or speak with the adjuster to get a statement. Your adjuster represents you so that you never are placed in an awkward situation where you might say something where you admit fault. This is why adjusters recommend directing all third-party inquiries to them.

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What will the adjuster investigate to determine and allocate fault?

Adjusters take several different steps to determine whether or not their client was at fault for the car crash. Not only does the adjuster determine fault, they will also determine what percentage of fault lies in their client’s hands. This is referred to as an allocation of fault and it’s performed by the liability examiner assigned to the claim. Some of the steps that examiners and adjusters take as they’re making a decision include:

  • Interviewing parties involved and witnesses
  • Examining the damage on the vehicles and photos from the scene
  • Reviewing medical reports when there are injuries
  • Reviewing police reports
  • Reviewing claims histories, vehicle histories and sometimes criminal records

Arranging for Repairs and Medical Treatments

If you carry full coverage, your claims adjuster will advise you to take the vehicle to a repair shop to start the process. It’s the insurer’s responsibility to make the insured whole before determinations are made. After a decision is made, one company will demand payment from the at-fault party’s policy. This is referred to as subrogation.

If you’ve had an accident and you’re not happy with the way your insurer has determined fault, it’s time to shop around.

You should focus your attention on companies with positive claims satisfaction ratings. First, get several insurance quotes through an online rate comparison tool. Next, research the insurers offering the best rates. Once you have a small list, you’ll be ready to switch. Start comparing car insurance rates now by entering your zip code in our FREE tool below!