There are essentially the same steps one must take when filing a claim no matter who’s at fault. However, there may be different angles to consider with each scenario. By considering the best way to approach either situation (at fault and not at fault) ahead of time, you can avoid an unpleasant claim outcome.
1. When you believe you’re NOT at fault.
If you were hit from behind or someone ran a stoplight or sign and hit you that is pretty cut and dry as to who’s at fault. However, it’s not always that simple. It’s even more complicated if you are in a PIP/No-Fault state like Michigan which assigns fault percentages—also the states where insurance fraud is highest and where you can easily fall victim to a planned accident. In states like that, you should never admit to fault, no matter how it appears to be. You could be missing a very big ‘clue’ that law enforcement or an adjuster may see that changes everything. It is every bit as important to follow the right procedures even in no-fault states so that something doesn’t come back in the next few years to bite you.
Even if the other person promises to pay out of pocket cash for your car, do not engage them in conversation or make any “deals”. Too many nice people have been left without any resource whatsoever to fix their car because the at-fault driver promised to pay all damages if they agreed to not call the police. Typically it is because their insurance has lapsed, they don’t have a license, or they have had far too many dings on their record.
• Call the police and give them your statement. Ask how to get a copy.
• Take pictures with your cell phone or camera. There are some great new apps available that you can keep on ‘standby’ to have ready in case of an accident. Some are available through insurers, as others are apps you can simply download. Most let you take and store photos with your smartphone, record information, and some from insurers even let you make the initial claim filing.
• Carefully record everything that you can see at the scene of the accident. You will not see details if you try to think of everything hours or even days later.
• Seek medical attention even if you feel fine–immediately. According to the Consumer Protection Association of America, one third of all car accidents result in injury—some of which may not show up immediately but that can often be detected early as long as you’re checked out. Get treatment the first time, and then schedule a 30 day follow-up immediately also just to be safe, showing you were just staying on top of your health.
“Claiming that a chiropractor visit in October from a June crash just isn’t going to go over with the claims adjuster,” says Rachel Mullins, Property and Casualty Insurance Agent in Lynchburg, Virginia. “Even if you initially don’t feel much in the way of pain or discomfort get checked out thoroughly on the day of the accident and schedule a couple follow-ups.”
• Call both yours and the other person’s insurance company to provide your statement. Besides, you want to give your own insurance company your side of the issue because it wouldn’t be the first time an at-fault driver tried to claim innocence. You want to be sure that you give your statement to both insurance companies. Some states, such as Minnesota, require you to file a form for any accidents with bodily injury claims over $500.
2. When you’re involved in a single vehicle accident.
It’s very rare that a single car accident (yours) will not be considered a not-at-fault claim. You didn’t do it intentionally, but it happened nonetheless (hence the word “accident”). Unless you hit a deer or an animal that jumped in front of the car, you were the one in control when the accident occurred so it will be considered a collision claim. Some policyholders get confused by this—generally ‘at-fault’ accidents pay out under liability coverage, but that’s just if you cause damage to another vehicle and/or if you cause an accident injuring someone else. When it’s just your vehicle (like if you overcorrect and drive into a tree) your collision coverage will pay out. Remember that if you carry ‘liability only’ then your policy WILL NOT pay out at all.
• First check to see if you are injured. If any visible or painful injuries exist, call 911 immediately. Whether the accident is your fault or not, you should still get a checkup no later than the next day. Remember that if you have medical payments coverage on your auto insurance, you can use it regardless of fault up to its limit.
Mullins says not seeking medical treatment is a very common error in judgment.
“The biggest mistake that people make after a minor accident is to not seek medical treatment,” she says. “If they believe they’re at fault, even fewer people seek treatment. But medical payments coverage is a coverage the policyholders pay to have available regardless of who is at fault. It’s not for the other party, it’s for yourself.”
By waiting too long and avoiding medical treatment, if a problem does arise, the expense for seeking treatment at that time will likely come out-of-pocket.
• If you feel okay, then ask yourself if the car is drivable.
• If the car is drivable, consider your options.
If you place a call for a tow and a claim, there is no way to expunge the collision claim from your record. You’ll be stuck with it for five years. Consider carefully what to do. If you have suffered very little damage, particularly to an older-model car that has little to no loan left on it, you may want to consider just going home and finding the best price on an auto body repair shop and do it out of pocket.
Consider the deductible amount. If your deductible is $1000 and the damage is less than, say, $1800, there just isn’t much point in paying that kind of money and having to pay increased premiums for three to five years as a result of the claim. Often if you are paying cash out of pocket and the body shop owners don’t have to fool with an insurance company they will offer you a good deal. You can consider that, however, you should still get your vehicle checked, because you may have suffered damage invisible to the untrained eye.
“Cars can be deemed a total loss even if it appears that they’re fine. Cars have a subframe that if even slightly bent or damaged makes a car dangerous to drive. Even the most minor fender bender can cause that,” explains Mullins. “It largely depends on the age and make of the vehicle as to whether it’s a total loss or repairable.”
Over all else, Mullins says the most important thing is to take care of yourself and passengers—regardless of whether you’re at fault and regardless of whether you’re concerned about premiums increasing.
“True, if you’re injured and the accident is your fault, whether another car was involved or not, your premiums will probably go up for a bit,” admits Mullins. “But that’s not worth forgoing treatment you may desperately need. You can make more money—you can’t make health.”
Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.