When and How to File a Claim After a Car Accident

It’s highly unlikely that anyone wakes up in the morning thinking that they’ll be in a car accident, but for millions of Americans, that’s what happens each year. Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows 6,296,000 police-reported traffic collisions in the United States in one year (2016), which means there are approximately 17,250 accidents per day nationwide.

Vehicle accidents and the subsequent aftermath can be extremely stressful and create unforeseen financial burdens. You might find yourself in this unfortunate circumstance, knowing what to do, including who you need to contact and how to file a claim after a car accident, can help you stay calm.

What Is a Car Insurance Claim?

A car insurance claim is a report you submit to your car insurance provider after a vehicle collision to obtain compensation to cover damages resulting from the accident. Over $170 billion in auto insurance claims payments are made by insurance companies in the United States each year. Although the process can be different depending on the insurance provider you’re dealing with, the type of car insurance you have, and the state you live in, the general process is similar.

Important Things to Know About Car Insurance Claims

  • The period to file a claim depends on the extent and cause of the damages.
  • You should file the claim with the adverse party’s carrier, depending on who caused the accident.
  • To initiate a claim, you can go online or call the insurance company directly (usually by an exclusive toll-free number) and provide them with the information they ask you for, like their insured’s name and insurance policy information.

What You Should Be Doing at the Accident Scene

After a car accident, many people are unsure of what to do next. No matter if it’s just a minor fender bender or a serious crash requiring immediate medical attention, you should know a basic protocol to follow.

Make Sure Everyone Is Safe

After a collision, bring your vehicle to a complete stop as quickly and as safely as possible. Quickly scan the scene for possible dangers, like oncoming traffic, then assess yourself and your passengers for bodily injury. Next, see if other people involved in the accident have any injuries. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.

Call the Police

Depending on the outcome of the collision, you should call the police. Based on the details of your accident, the dispatcher may or may not send an officer to the scene. If you’re unsure, go ahead and contact the police so they can decide if a police report is necessary.

In some regions, you only call the police for major accidents where there is significant property damage, injury, or death. The police will respond to all accidents in certain areas, including minor fender benders. There are even areas where accident victims can use a police non-emergency number to report minor accidents.

If anyone needs immediate medical attention, the police will also give you a chance to have an ambulance dispatched to the scene. If an officer is sent to the accident scene, wait for them to arrive and only speak to the responding officer. You should get the officer’s name and badge number once you’re done giving your statement.

Record the Damage

Assuming you’re not too injured to do so, use a smart device to take pictures of the accident scene from several angles. Be sure to get pictures of the area surrounding the crash site to capture such things as road signs, traffic signals, crosswalks, bike lanes, and buildings. When possible, you should move the vehicles involved in the accident to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic.

Suppose you have an emergency roadside kit that has warning triangles. In that case, you should deploy them at least 147 feet behind your stationary vehicle to give plenty of notice to approaching drivers. Be careful when placing and retrieving your warning triangles, especially at night.

Collect Information

It’s extremely important to gather all the information that you can concerning the accident from other drivers involved as well witnesses, which includes:

    • The license plate identification of any vehicles involved in the accident, along with their year, make, and model.
    • The other driver’s contact information (s) involved: their name, address, and telephone number.
    • The driver’s license number of all driver(s) involved.


  • The insurance information of the other driver(s) involved, including policy number, insurance company name, and any information they may have to file an accident claim, like a hotline or website.
  • The contact information of any witnesses should include their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. If an officer is sent to the scene, do not depend on them to do this for you.
  • Take your notes on how the accident occurred, the location, what direction each car was driving, as well as the road conditions and weather.
  • Be sure to locate and save any dashcam footage of the accident you might have so you can provide it to the insurance company and the police.
  • If a police officer is sent to the accident scene, be sure to take down their badge number, their name, and ask for a copy of the police report before you leave the scene.

Make sure the spellings and information that you gather are accurate, as any misspellings could create delays in the processing of your claim. While collecting insurance information, be sure to avoid discussing details of the accident with the other driver(s). Focus on collecting accurate information.

If a police officer is sent to the accident scene, speak to them and your insurance company in detail. Do not try to determine who was at fault. Let the police and insurance company do that.

File a Tow Claim Immediately

If your vehicle sustained major damage and is not driveable, then you will most likely need it towed, in which case you may have two options available to you.

Option 1: Depending on the circumstances, it might be possible to have your car insurance company arrange a tow. Your insurer can help you access towing services to and from repair facilities or a junkyard, depending on the level of damage.

Option 2: If you have an add-on coverage called “roadside assistance,” then you may be able to file a towing claim at the accident scene. Your roadside assistance tow may come with limits, such as limitations on the distance from the accident scene your car can be towed. Sometimes they can tow to the nearest repair shop beyond that distance restriction depending on your car insurance policy and insurer’s rules around towing.

File a State Accident Report (If Necessary)

Depending on the rules of the state you live in and the severity of the collision, you may be required to file an accident report with your state’s DMV if the police were not involved. Check with your state’s DMV requirements to determine if you need to file a report yourself.

When to File a Car Insurance Claim

You should immediately file a car insurance claim against the adverse party when your vehicle needs to be repaired or replaced after sustaining any level of damage in a collision or if you sustained any injury. If the damage to your vehicle costs less than your deductible and no one else was involved, then you don’t need to file a claim since your insurer will not make a claim payment for such a low amount.

You have to be aware of the different types of claims to file with your own insurance company, which will depend on the cause of the accident, the level of damage sustained, and whether or not there was bodily harm.

Filing a Comprehensive Insurance Claim – You will file a claim against your comprehensive insurance policy when something other than a vehicle collision causes the damage.

Filing a Liability Insurance Claim – You would file a claim of this nature with the other driver’s (aka the adverse party) liability policy when a vehicle collision is the other driver’s fault.

Filing a Collision Insurance Claim – You would file a claim against your collision policy if you caused the accident, even if the other driver has no insurance. If it’s unclear who the at-fault party is, then file a claim with both insurers. You’ll get coverage under either policy once the fault has been determined, or both.

Filing Either a Uninsured or a Underinsured Motorist Insurance Claim – You need to submit a claim against your uninsured/underinsured motorist policy after an accident with an uninsured/underinsured driver (when they’re at fault) or if you are the victim of a hit and run.

Filing a Personal Injury Protection and MedPay Insurance Claim – Depending on the type of coverage you have, you would file personal injury claims against your insurance company under MedPay insurance or personal injury protection (PIP). If you are going to file a personal injury claim against the other driver’s insurance company, then you should contact an attorney at Arash Law led by Arash Khorsandi, Esq. by calling (888) 488-1391 before this step.

How Fault Impacts Car Insurance Claims

Determining who’s at fault in a vehicle collision is of great importance since the at-fault driver’s insurance company will be responsible for paying all of the damages. Once a claim is filed, the claims adjuster will investigate the collision and determine who is at fault (unless immediately obvious, like in a drunk driving collision). Keep in mind that fault can be shared between drivers in a collision, in which case the damages would be assessed based on that state’s negligence laws.

5 Steps to Successfully File a Car Insurance Claim

After you’ve sought medical treatment for any injuries you sustained in the accident, you’ll want to get the process started for filing an insurance claim against the adverse party.

Step 1: Contact Your Insurance Company
You should contact your insurance agent directly or the accident reporting hotline for your insurer to report the collision as soon as possible. Have the following information available:

  • Which vehicle(s) covered by your policy was involved in the accident.
  • Who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
  • The location of the accident, the date of the accident, and the approximate time it occurred.
  • A basic summary of the accident, a list of bodily injuries you or any passengers may have suffered, and the level of damage to the insured vehicle. They may also ask about the level of damage to the other vehicles involved in the accident, along with any information you may have about bodily damage. For example, they may want to know if the other driver needed to be taken to a hospital by ambulance or not.
  • The name(s), contact information, and insurance information of the other driver(s) involved in the accident.
  • The name(s) and contact information of others involved in the accident and witnesses

Be sure to have something to write with and take notes during the call. You should copy down the claim number you’re provided, plus the name and direct phone number of the person you spoke with.

Step 2: File a Police Report
When you call the insurance company to report the accident, they will request a police report number. If you didn’t get a police report from the responding officer at the scene, you could still go to a police station to get a copy. Some police departments have online methods of retrieval. If you did not call the police because the accident was a minor fender bender, you can still go down to the local police department and file a report in person – the sooner, the better.

Step 3: Work with the Claims Adjuster
Once you report the accident to the insurance company, a claims adjuster will be assigned to your claim. This person will most likely contact you for additional information beyond what you provided during the initial report to the insurer. You don’t want to embellish anything. Just stick to the facts as they happened. Avoid speculation and provide any photographs or video you took at the scene and the contact information of any witnesses for additional follow-up efforts.

Keep in mind that the conversations you have with any claims adjuster will be recorded and used when determining who is at fault. If you are going to file a personal injury claim against the other driver’s insurance company, then you should contact an attorney at a reliable firm by calling (888) 488-1391 before this step.

In addition to gathering details about the accident, the claims adjuster might inspect the damage to your vehicle or ask that you take your vehicle to a certified repair shop that will perform the inspection for them and assess the total damage.

Step 4: Get the Final Report From the Claims Adjuster
Once the adjuster has concluded their investigation of the facts, including your insurance coverage and damage to the vehicle, they will estimate your vehicle’s total repair costs. If the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the Kelly Blue Book value or if the mechanic cannot repair your vehicle, then it will be deemed a “total loss.” The claims adjuster will only be assessing property damage in this report as bodily injury claims can take longer to finalize.

Step 5: Accept the Property Damage Payout
Once all of the figures are totaled against the amount covered by the insurance policy, the claims adjuster will authorize the final payment. You will be provided a form to sign that releases them from any further claims resulting from the accident—accepting the offer as full payment in full for the claim. If you are going to file a personal injury claim against the other driver’s insurance company, then you should contact an attorney at our reputable California law firm by calling (888) 488-1391 before signing anything.

How Long Do I Have to File the Car Accident Claim?

The time you have to file a claim varies depending on the state you live in, the insurance company you use, and what type of claim needs to be filed. Some states limit how long you have to complete a claim settlement or initiate a lawsuit. For that reason alone, if you or someone you know is the victim of a car accident, you may want to contact Arash Khorsandi and his team of expert personal injury attorneys at Arash Law by calling (888) 488-1391 to discuss your options.

How Long Can it Take to Settle a Car Insurance Claim?

The claims process can vary greatly depending on your circumstances, the insurance company’s investigation, and the length of any negotiations in a legal settlement. Very straightforward claims can take just a few days, while others could take weeks or months to complete.

How is a Bad Faith Claim Filed Against a Car Insurance Company?

It may be possible to file a complaint with your state’s department of insurance or insurance commissioner if you feel the insurance company handling your claim is violating state law. Although state regulators are limited in their actions, their involvement could lead to refunds, additional claim payouts, and other beneficial actions. Before initiating any action like this, you may contact an attorney at our injury firm by calling (888) 488-1391 to discuss your options.

Will My Car Insurance Premiums Go Up As a result of a Car Accident?

Most insurance companies don’t raise your premium if you are not at fault in a vehicle collision. On average, at-fault auto insurance claims raise premiums by between 12% and 45%, depending on the circumstances of the accident and the insurance company’s policies.

If you or a loved one is the victim of a car accident, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney at Arash Law founded by Arash Khorsandi, Esq. by calling (888) 488-1391 to discuss your options. Our personal injury lawyers will help to ensure that you receive just compensation for your injuries and damages.

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DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this blog is not formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this page be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always obtain a free and confidential case evaluation from a reputable attorney near you if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.

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