Simple ways to keep from being taken for a ride on your auto accident settlement

Getting Paid on an Auto Insurance Claim: Part One

by Gary Foreman

It's a terrible feeling. You've just had an auto accident. Fortunately, no one's hurt, but now you have to face all the hassle of police and insurance reports, repair shop estimates and getting your car fixed. But if you don't do a good job of completing these steps, it can cost you big money! Here are a few simple ways to keep from being taken on your auto insurance settlement.

At the accident site you want to accomplish a number of things. First, you want to make sure that no one is injured and if there is a possibility of injury that proper medical attention is provided. Next, you'll want to collect information. Especially about the driver of the other car. Name, address, phone number (home and work), license number, date of birth. Take notes on the other car. Make, model, year, license number, condition. Find out if the driver was the owner of the car. If not, find out who does own the car and how they can be contacted. What you do and say at the accident scene can have a major impact on how your auto insurance claim goes. A little effort here can pay big dividends later.

Make notes of anything that might be relevant later. Who was wearing seatbelts? Any road hazards? Was there a blinding sun? Road slick from rain? Heavy traffic or other distractions? Write down a description of how the accident occurred. Talk to witnesses. Get their name, phone number and their description of the accident. Remember, you won't be able to take notes if you don't have paper and pen (or better pencil) in your car. Right now is the best time to go out to your car and make sure that they'll be available if you do have an accident. If you happen to have a camera available when a fender bender occurs take pictures.

Don't count on the police to collect all the necessary information. Their job is to keep the peace not to help you collect on an insurance claim. When talking with others don't argue. You're trying to collect information, not win a debate. Even if the other driver says he was at fault it won't necessarily help you get a fair settlement from the insurer.

Your first duty after leaving the accident scene is to report the accident to your insurance company. Your policy may require you to report the accident within a certain number of days if you want a claim to be honored.

Most claims are fairly routine and the biggest question is how much will repairing or replacing your car cost. It's possible that you will be asked to tell your story under oath. This is a warning sign. The insurer thinks you're lying or may have done something illegal. You'd be wise to call your attorney.

Don't, however, withhold information from your insurance company. You do have a duty to cooperate. If you're asked to tell or write your story do so. Tell them what you know about the other driver, witnesses or other details.

Once you've reported the accident, you'll need to start a claims contact diary. Chances are that this won't be settled with just one or two phone calls. You'll want a record that lists who you talked to, when you spoke and what the main points of the conversation were. Nothing fancy, but later you'll want to have that information available.

Get the file number for your claim from the insurance company. You'll need that number. You'll be wasting your time if all your phone calls and letters don't reference your claim number.

Cheat Sheet: How to Get the Best Auto Insurance Deal

You may find that the adjuster doesn't respond as fast as you'd like. After all, he's overworked and it's not his car with the crumpled fender in the driveway. Begin by writing a letter. A letter will make your claim a higher priority than someone who just calls. If that doesn't get things rolling, call in and get his supervisor's name. You might not even have to call the supervisor. It's likely your adjuster will learn of your call and try to get to you before you get to his supervisor.

You'll need to understand the cause of the damage. The process is the same, but the amount paid can be different. Your deductible may be different for collision (a moving accident) than comprehensive (i.e. a tree falls on your car). Usually you're better off it the damage is covered under the comprehensive part of your policy.

Next, you'll need to negotiate who does the repairs and how much you'll be paid. But, we're out of space. So join us next time in part two of "Getting Paid on an Auto Insurance Claim".

Reviewed December 2017

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Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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