How to File a Car Insurance Claim

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Auto accidents and the resulting insurance claim process can be frustrating, but being prepared to file a car insurance claim will make the process significantly smoother. Being an informed claimant throughout the claim process will make you more likely to get the settlement that you deserve without being taken advantage of by the insurance company, while being an uninformed claimant makes you more likely to settle a claim for less than it is worth. Know the car insurance claim process, and help yourself get the insurance money you deserve!

Filing a Car Insurance Claim

It is possible to settle your accident claim without a legal background, and the most important first step in your preparations is to calculate the value of your claim. There are two primary types of damages to claim:

  • Property Damage: You can determine the damage to your vehicle with repair estimates from mechanics, receipts for enchancements to the car, or by looking up the value on the internet. When you file a claim for the value of your damaged property, document the amount you are claiming with invoices or assessments supporting your case.
  • Bodily Injury: In contrast, the claim value for a bodily injury auto insurance claim may be a little harder to establish. While you can use bills for doctor visits, prescription medication, and other medical services to get actual damages, money for pain and suffering is difficult to calculate. If you are injured in an accident, save bills for any costs associated with your medical treatment, keep track of any money you lose because you are unable to work, and record any changes in your life that occur as a result of the injury. Document everything! Before you file the claim, follow this guideline for settling an injury claim. Make sure you are an informed claimant.

Be wary if your insurance company tries to settle your claim as quickly as possible! Statistics have shown that early settlements save a company millions in auto insurance claims! Don’t sign anything just because an auto insurance claim check worth thousands is being shoved in front of you. Take time to prepare and analyze the value of your claim so you will know if and when an inadequate settlement offer is being handed to you. 

Calculate the Special Accident Claim Damages

Once you have laid the foundation for the value of your accident claim, your next step is to add up the cost of all your special damages. Special damages fall into two categories:

  • Medical Special Damages – This is the claim value for all medical related damages, such as:
    • Ambulance bills
    • Hospital bills
    • Doctors, specialists, dentists, chiropractor bills
    • Over the counter Rx or prescriptions
    • Ace Bandages, creams, heating pads or other medical supplies
    • Durable Medical Equipment (DME) such as prosthesis, walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.
    • X-rays, MRI, C-Scans and radiology bills
    • Physical Therapy bills (P/T)
  • Non-Medical Special Damages – This is the claim value that includes losses that are not medically related, such as:
    • Lost wages from missed time from work
    • Lost vacation time
    • Travel expenses-mileage back and forth to the doctor, medical transport to P/T, etc.
    • Child care during recuperation
    • Help with Housework during disability

Most auto insurance claims are settled for a claim value of between 2 to 5 times the total of all special damages, plus any property damage. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your accident claim, your claim’s value could be in the low, medium, high, or premium settlement range:

  1. LowLittle or no injury, one or two trips to the doctor, minimum time missed from work, low impact car accident with little or no damage. Multiply your special damages by 2 to obtain your accident claim’s value.
  2. Medium– Your injury was a little more severe. Treatment under the physician was several weeks. You have medical bills and lost time from work. You may have had a prescription for pain and you required x-rays. The damage or impact to your car was medium to large. Multiply your special damages by 3 to obtain your accident claim’s value.
  3. HighNegligence or gross negligence on the part of the other driver, your injuries were severe and medical bills totaling over $20,000, lost time from work of over a month or more. You may require ongoing therapy as well as care. Small to medium amount of scarring. Broken bones. Property damage was severe, including maybe a totaled vehicle or severely damaged vehicle. Multiply your special damages by 4 to obtain your accident claim’s value.
  4. Premium– Negligence or gross negligence on the part of the other driver, death occurred or permanent disability remains, permanent scarring (especially on visible parts of the body), loss of limb or sight. Broken bones (especially in the area of the neck, spine, pelvis or head) requiring prosthesis, ongoing P/T or permanent limping or invasive procedure, such as steal rods or plates. Property damage was severe, resulting in a totaled or badly damaged vehicle. Multiply your special damages by 5 to obtain your accident claim’s value.

Although not in stone, the range above provides a good guide for determining the size of your claim. The more serious the injury, the higher the range, and the more you should multiply your special damages when setting the value of the claim.

See our section on Payment for Car Accident Injuries & Damages for more.

How to Prove Your Car Insurance Claim Settlement

Supporting documents will make your auto insurance claim stronger and will help justify the compensation  you are seeking. How you act after the car accident can make a significant difference in your settlement. Be sure to:

  1. Take Pictures of –

    • The accident scene at the time of the accident. This will show the position of the cars, the weather, the time of day and the light;
    • The accident scene after the accident. This will clearly show the intersection of strip of road the accident occurred on without the obstructed view of the damaged cars. It will also show the condition of the road after the accident (skid marks, pavement damage due to the accident, etc.);
    • Injury photos. If you are injured and have stitches, broken bones, surgery, hospitalization…take pictures! A photo will communicate more details than words alone;
    • Vehicle Damage. Take pictures of all sides of your vehicle. If it was towed away, go to the tow lot or body shop. This will document the amount of damage, the severity, when and at what angle you were hit;
    • Any skid marks or impact marks on the highway. Measure the skid marks if possible. There are equations on the internet that you can locate to calculate the rate of speed a driver was going before impact. It there were any stains, holes on the highway or road or damage done to adjacent property, take pictures;
  2. Interview witnesses – Get the names of all witnesses and their addresses and phone numbers. If possible, ask for written statements documenting the events as they saw the accident occur;
  3. Find Newspaper Articles – If your accident was noted in your local paper, get a copy and include it with your claim documentation. Obviously it was bad enough to make the paper!
  4. Gather the Police Report – Obtain a copy of the police report. It will be invaluable in documenting the value of your claim, especially if the other driver was cited and ticketed for a moving violation or worse, a DUI;
  5. Note any special circumstances – Speeding, DUI, driving while not licensed, weather, dawn or dusk, time of day, etc.

Once you have determined the value of your claim and gathered all documentation establishing the facts surrounding your accident, you will find that many insurance adjusters will move to expedite a settlement. While you should not be in a rush to settle, if you find that undue time is transpiring between counter offers (such as weeks), call your insurance adjuster right away and ask to talk with a supervisor who has the authority to settle the auto insurance claim. Some companies unreasonably delay the process in the hopes that you will take a lower offer, and you should not allow this to happen. Knowing your claim’s value and being an informed claimant is your best strategy for successfully negotiating your car accident settlement.

For more help about what to do after a car accident, click here for a complete checklist from FreeAdvice.

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