Now What? – Auto Insurance Claims

An car accident can be a very traumatic experience, even a small fender bender.  I remember about 10 years ago, I was on my way home after a long day at the office.  About 6 blocks from my house, a car making a left hand turn didn’t allow enough time and hit the front of my car.  Luckily, everyone was OK, physically.

I have to admit that right after the collision, my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember what I needed to do?  I work with auto insurance everyday, and have filed numerous claims for my clients, but at that moment of that accident, I couldn’t remember what to do next!

So, in order to help others, I put this blog post together.  This is really meant to help guide you through the immediate steps to follow after an accident, as well as help you understand what to expect during the claim process.

I Was Just Involved in an Accident…Now What?

First, make sure everyone is OK.  Take a look around and assess everyone in your vehicle, and then take a moment to look at any other vehicles that may be involved.  This is also a good time to turn on the hazard warning lights on your vehicle, so other vehicles that may be passing are aware that something is going on.

Next, grab your phone and call 911.  Whether it is a minor fender bender, or something more severe, calling the police is important and absolutely necessary…for many reasons.  We will go through some of those later in this post.

After you have called 911 and been notified that the police are on their way, take a minute to grab your auto insurance ID card and your drivers license and have them ready.  If you don’t have a physical insurance card, you may be able to access one online with your phone.  Please note that not all states accept an electronic copy as valid proof of insurance.   Nebraska, at least at this time, is one of those states.  If you can at least provide an electronic copy to the police officer, he or she can get the information they need.  The officer may request that you provide a physical copy at the police station as well within a certain period of time, but not always.

Once the officer arrives, he or she will speak with each party individually to get their description of the accident, as well taking down contact information, vehicle info, and insurance information.  This is also usually the time when the officer will determine if your vehicle will need to be towed from the scene and work with you to arrange a tow company to make their way to the accident.

Once the information is gathered for all parties, you will most likely be given a slip of paper with a Police Report number.  You will want to hang on to this or pass it along to your insurance agent, because you will be able to use it to get a copy of the policy report when it becomes available.

Once the officer has given you permission to leave and you have reached your intended destination, take some time to give your insurance agent a call, if you haven’t already.  Let them know you were involved in an accident, where and what time it happened, how you are feeling physically, and the condition of your vehicle.

The availability of the police report will depend on the department that arrived at the scene.  Reports that are completed by city and county officers are usually completed sooner than reports that are completed by, for instance, the State Patrol.  Here in Kearney, city and county police reports are usually available within 2 to 3 business days.  Some State Patrol reports may not be available for up to 2 weeks or more.  Kearney, NE residents, you can click on the following link to search for Kearney and Buffalo County police reports:

During the time when you are waiting for the police report, take some time to get an estimate from a local body shop for any repairs that may need to be made.  If you filed a claim with your insurance agent, take the claim number with you.  Some body shops require a claim number in advance before an estimate is completed.

When the police report is available, you can contact your local police department to get a copy from them in person.  There may be a charge, anywhere from $3 to $5, to get a copy.  You may also be able to obtain a copy online if the department is set up for this.  You may be able to find this by going to the city or county website, and search for “Police Reports”.

Once you have a copy of the police report, notify your insurance agent.  The police report should have contact, vehicle, and insurance info for all parties involved.  Call your agent and let them know that you have the police report.  If you are at fault, your agent can take the info for the other party and pass it along to your insurance company to help process the claim.  If the other party is at fault, your insurance agent can call the other insurance company to see if a claim has been filed. If it has been filed, the other company most likely does not have your information.  You agent can pass this along at this time.  If a claim has not been filed, your agent can file a claim on your behalf to get the process started.

Once a claim has been filed, the insurance company that accepts liability will be in touch with everyone involved.  The company will need to get a recorded statement of how the accident happened from all involved.  This is part of the process with every claim, so don’t feel threatened.

From here, it is a matter of communicating with the insurance adjuster about where you would like to get your vehicle repaired, providing the estimate (if you agent hasn’t already), and setting up alternative transportation if necessary (rental car).  This part of the process can take some time depending on the amount of damage, but the most important thing to remember is to have open communication with the insurance adjuster.

And don’t be afraid to get in touch with your agent if you have questions or don’t like how the process is going.   Even if your insurance company is not the one that is paying for the damages, your agent is your ally!  They know more about how the process works, so make sure if you utilize them if necessary.  In most cases, agents do not get periodic updates about each claim, they may not know if things are taking longer than they should.

I mentioned earlier that it is very important and necessary to call the police immediately after an accident, even if it looks to be minor.  I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT hesitate to call the police!

A police officer on the scene of an accident can assess the situation and help those in need.  If a tow truck needs to be called to remove vehicles, or an ambulance needs to be called to help with injuries, an officer can help with that.

They can also act as a buffer between those involved in an accident.  There are times when anger and frustration can boil over, making a simple conversation to exchange information near impossible.  This is why, in many cases, the officer will take the information separately from all parties involved.

If the other individual asks that the police not be involved, this should be a red flag, for a number of reasons.  They may not have current insurance, may not have permission to be driving the vehicle, etc.  I have seen victims of an accident agree to handle a situation without the police or insurance companies being involved, only to find out that the contact or insurance information they were given is false or out of date.  Don’t take this chance.

There are some instances where the police may not come to the scene of an accident, primarily in a store parking lot.  Especially in larger cities, if you get backed into by another vehicle, the police will most likely not respond.  In this case, exchange insurance and contact info with the other party and notify your agent as soon as you can.

I hope this helps shed some light on what you need to do in the event of a car accident.  I don’t expect you to remember all or even some of this when that time actually arrives.  If all else fails and you are not sure what to do, reach out to your insurance agent and let them walk you through it.  Make sure you have a way to get a hold of them even if it is after office hours, either by social media, text message, email, or phone.  You could also use an app if it is available, either for the agency itself or your insurance company.  

Stay safe everyone!

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