The day after I finished my article on automobile insurance, I got a first-hand look at why you have it. I was running an errand for work in heavy traffic. The car ahead of me stopped, and so did I. Unfortunately, the car in back of me did not.
Okay, it happened. Your car and another have made contact and there is damage. What now? First, make sure you and everyone in your car is okay. Then, call 911 to report the accident. Ask the operator if the police will respond, as in some jurisdictions they do not respond to accidents on private property or to property damage only accidents. Ask if you should move the cars. Follow his/her directions. Then, make a decision about whether you are better off in your car our out of it. In most neighborhoods, at most times of day, you do not want to be in the cars above, with fuel on the ground. On the other hand, you don't want to be holding on to three kids on the side of the Interstate. If the police have been called, wait for them to arrive.
Take a deep breath. Once the police arrive, they will gather the necessary information from both parties. Do not engage with the other parties any more than necessary. If it is a minor accident and the police tell you to exchange information without them (the norm in some areas for fender benders that are blocking traffic and have no injuries) do so quickly, politely and without admitting fault. Take photos of both vehicles where they came to rest and, if possible, on all sides once they are on the side of the road. If the police do not respond, make notes for yourself about what happened, and when it happened. If you decide to make a claim against the other driver's insurance, you will need his/her name, make, model and license number of the car and the insurance information. If someone decides to make a claim against you, or if you make a claim with your insurance company, you'll be asked to provide the same information to your insurance company. If you are going to make a claim, whether against your insurance or the other driver's insurance, call them as soon as possible.
Property DamageNo matter which insurance policy you are making a claim on, the next step for the damage to the car (assuming it has been removed from the scene) is the damage estimate. These are done either by an insurance adjuster or by a body shop, and the process is pretty straight-forward. Few auto accident property damage claims are handled by attorneys unless liability is contested. In my case, the other driver's insurance company has agreements with certain body shops and they deal directly with those shops. While I was free to use any shop I wanted, picking one of those meant that I was able to drop my car off and know that the body shop and the insurance company would deal with each other, and that the insurance company would warranty the work. I got my rental, paid for by his insurance, and until my car is ready, I'm set.
Bodily InjuryIt is not at all uncommon for someone to be "fine" at the scene of an accident, and yet to be very sore the next day. Other people hurt at the scene, often from seat belt or airbag contact. They may have bumps and bruises or broken bones and internal injuries, depending on the severity of the accident. There are two things to remember at this point: 1) unless you have hired an attorney, do not sign a document releasing the insurance company until you are back to normal, health-wise and 2) if it is getting close to a year since the accident, and you are not back to normal, see an attorney, even if you have good health insurance.
The Claim ProcessWhether it is you or the other party that calls the accident into your insurance company, once they know about the accident, a claim file is open and a number assigned. At this point your insurance company is looking at two things: 1) Liability: In other words, whose fault is the accident, and to what degree? Is it all your fault? All the other party's? Is liability shared? 2) Damages: In other words, how much is this going to cost? An adjuster will talk to you and, if possible, to the other party to determine how the accident happened, what is wrong with the cars and what injuries were sustained. The majority of car accidents are property damage only and are resolved between the insurance companies with little fuss. But why might that not happen?
Liability. The parties may tell very different stories about how the accident occurred and the insurance companies may not agree on the degree of fault to attribute to each driver.
Damages. In short, the question is how much money did this accident cost the person not at fault? Some elements:
- Medical Bills. Unless there were pre-existing conditions these are easy to add up.
- Lost Wages. This can be more tricky, especially with claimants who work irregularly, or are paid commission, but the idea is to compensate for time missed from work due to the accident
- Pain and Suffering, inconvenience etc. Different jurisdictions use different amounts, but for settlement purposes, most places have a lawyers' rule of them that says x dollars per month that you were injured or treating and y dollars because you have that kind of injury.
My next article will deal with what happens when claims are not resolved, and move into lawsuits.
Photo credit: By Dino Kužnik from Ljubljana, Slovenia (Flickr Uploaded by Sporti) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt*