When an accident occurs

Whenever a crash involves another person or vehicle, call the police to officially document the incident. If you can, take your own notes at the scene, detailing what happened leading up to the accident, the date and time, relevant traffic signs and road markings, and weather and road conditions. Your documentation is especially important when the other driver is at fault.

At a minimum, get the other vehicle’s license-plate information. You should also get the other driver’s name, address, driver’s license number, insurer’s name and policy number, and vehicle-registration details. Note how many passengers were in the other vehicle to head off bogus injury claims. Get the names and contact information of any witnesses. Use your cell-phone camera to take photos of the scene and the damage from all angles.

When filing the claim

Always call your own insurer right away if a crash involves another person or vehicle. Never agree to skip reporting a crash out of sympathy for an at-fault motorist who promises to pay you out-of-pocket. If you’re at fault, you might not want to file a report with your insurer if damage is limited to your own vehicle and you expect costs to be within your deductible or slightly more. You’re not required to file a claim, and doing so can cause a premium hike.

When making a report, be sure to get a claim number and the name and phone number of the adjuster. Find out when you can expect him or her to contact you. Ask for a payout estimate and whether you should call or write to the other driver’s insurer. Also ask how you can limit your out-of-pocket expenses and avoid, for example, paying a deductible for which the at-fault driver’s insurer will reimburse you. If you’ll need to rent a car, ask for details about reimbursement before you do so.

Ten to twenty five percent of filers encounter a claims-related problem, depending on the carrier. If you have a disagreement, ask the adjuster to explain how your payment was determined. If the dispute involves an injury, the insurer probably based its offer on cost estimates calculated by injury-evaluation software.

If you can’t resolve the problem with the adjuster, take your complaint to the claims manager in your adjuster’s local or regional office, or go right to the home office. “To get action, you really have to go up the food chain,” says Mark Romano, director of insurance-claims projects at the Consumer Federation of America. “One component of those managers’ bonuses is tied to customer service,” he says. “The last thing a local claims office wants is a call from the home office.”

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