How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim?

Your Timeline for Filing a Claim After a Car Accident

Drivers in an accident examine the damage.
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Tom Merton / Getty Images

From a minor fender bender to a more serious accident that injures one or more people, car accidents can be stressful. Knowing beforehand what to do after an accident could improve the outcome for everyone involved.

After an accident, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Call your insurance representative or the company’s claims hotline immediately to report the incident and begin filing a claim. Insurance contracts vary widely, so read your policy’s fine print or ask your representative to help you understand the reporting requirements to make the claims process smoother.

Learn more about when to file a claim after an accident, factors that could affect the insurance timeline, and the procedure for filing a claim.

Key Takeaways

  • You should call your insurance agent or company’s claims hotline to file a claim as soon as possible after the accident.
  • Insurance contracts vary, so make sure to read your policy’s fine print so you understand the reporting and filing requirements.
  • Collect names, contact information, and insurance information from everyone involved in the accident, and take photos of the damage and the scene.
  • If another driver is at fault for the accident, you may file a claim with either your own insurance provider (if you carry the necessary coverages) or the other driver’s insurance company.

When To File a Claim After an Accident

Different policies and states may have specific time frames for filing claims. For example, if you’re injured in a car accident in New York, you must file a no-fault claim within 30 days of the accident. Generally, it’s in your best interest to file an insurance claim as soon as possible so that you clearly remember as many details of the accident as you can.

Some insurers even recommend starting the claims process immediately at the accident scene—of course, after making sure any injured parties receive medical attention.

Factors That Can Affect the Insurance Timeline

If you’re involved in a car accident, your insurance provider is obliged to handle your claim fairly and with minimal inconvenience. You can expedite the process by providing accurate information when you purchase your policy and by documenting the accident scene in as much detail as possible.

After you file your claim, the insurer should respond promptly, and state law may dictate a maximum timeline. For example, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, insurers must respond to claims within 10 business days.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Insurance Claim

After an accident involving another vehicle, you typically have the option to file a claim with either your insurer (first-party claim) or the other driver’s insurer (third-party claim), depending on who is at fault. If you file a claim with the other driver’s insurer, they’ll investigate and settle it when they’re satisfied that their policyholder is liable for your injuries or damages.

Insurance laws around first- and third-party claims differ, and they also vary between states. For example, in some states, you must be less than 50% at fault for an accident to file a claim with the other driver’s insurer.

Settlement timelines are often limited by state law. In New Jersey, for example, an insurer is allowed 30 days to settle a first-party claim and 45 days for a third-party claim. In Pennsylvania, an insurer must accept or deny a first-party claim within 15 business days and a third-party claim within 30 days.

At-Fault vs. No-Fault State

Before filing a claim, it’s important to know whether you live in an at-fault or no-fault state. In an at-fault state, the other driver’s insurer may pay for both property damage and bodily injury. But if you live in a no-fault state, the other driver’s insurance company will only pay for property damage, and you’ll need to file a medical payments or personal injury protection claim with your own insurer. Filing with your own insurer or the other driver’s insurer may take different amounts of time.

If you sustained bodily injuries and damage to your vehicle in an at-fault state, the other driver’s insurer may settle an agreed-upon property-damage claim but withhold a bodily injury liability settlement until you’ve completed all medical treatment for your injuries.

Other factors that may impact your insurance timeline include the extent of the damage, how long it takes to send out an insurance adjuster, and whether you and the insurer agree on a settlement amount.

How To File an Auto Insurance Claim

Filing a car insurance claim is typically fairly straightforward, and many insurers make it convenient to handle online. You can expedite the process and avoid any problems by following the guidelines below. Here’s a walkthrough of how to file an auto insurance claim.

Gather Evidence

The first step to filing an auto insurance claim is documenting every aspect of the accident scene. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners provides a free printable WreckCheck checklist to help you collect information you’ll need for your claim:

  • Names, telephone numbers, addresses, and driver’s license numbers from all drivers
  • License plate and vehicle identification numbers (VINs)
  • Names, telephone numbers, and addresses of any passengers and witnesses
  • Insurance companies of all drivers involved

In addition, you should take photographs of the accident scene and any damage to vehicles or other property, such as a fence or guardrail.

Don’t make accusations or admit fault for the accident, which could hurt your case later on.

Report the Accident

State and local laws may require you to immediately report the car accident to the police or DMV in specific cases, such as if there were injuries or damage to other people’s property, or if the incident required a tow truck. It’s essential to know your local reporting requirements, as some states assess penalties for not reporting within a certain time frame. Even if it’s not required, many insurers recommend contacting the police from the accident scene because a police report could be useful in case you file a claim.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Alert your insurance company as soon as possible, while the circumstances around the accident are still fresh in your mind. While you can always report an accident to your insurer, you can only file a claim if you have the necessary coverages, such as collision. You may also want to consider the extent of the damage compared with any deductible on your policy.

If you decide to file a claim, you’ll need the police report, your insurance information, and all the accident information you collected at the scene. Your insurance company may also require additional documentation, such as medical bills, auto repair bills, and the vehicle’s bill of sale, among others.

Typically, the insurer will assign a claims representative to walk you through the process. It’s a good idea to keep a record of all correspondence between you and your insurance representative.

What if the Other Party Is at Fault?

If another driver is at fault for the accident, you may file a claim with either your own insurance provider or the other driver’s insurer. Depending on your state and insurer, your insurance provider may file your claim and work with the other party’s insurer on your behalf, or you may be able to file a third-party claim directly.

Either way, the other party’s insurer will investigate your claim, and may interview you about the circumstances around the accident. A representative will then determine whether their insured driver is at fault and the amount of damages they’ll pay.

The Bottom Line

After you’ve filed your claim, you’ll wait for the insurer to accept or deny it. If your claim is accepted, the insurance company will make an offer of settlement. If the offer isn’t what you expected, you can attempt to negotiate a fair settlement.

Your claim won’t affect your current premium, but insurers may consider your claims history when you apply for coverage, request a quote, or renew your policy. To do so, they’ll use a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report, which summarizes your coverage and past claims. You can also request a copy for yourself to ensure it contains no errors. Having claims on your record could mean your premiums increase, potentially because you no longer qualify for a claims-free discount.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How soon can you file a claim after getting insurance?

You can file a claim with your insurer if the covered incident occurred after your policy was in force. That means you can’t purchase optional coverages, such as collision or comprehensive, after the damage occurred.

How long after an accident can you file a health insurance claim for injuries?

It’s a good idea to file a health insurance claim for injuries from an accident as soon as possible after you receive medical care. If you have medical payments coverage or personal injury protection on your car insurance policy, these coverages may help you pay for hospital and other medical expenses. They may also help pay your health insurance deductible, if you have one.

Article Sources

  1. New York State Department of Financial Services. “Filing Claims Under Your Own Policy,” see “Filing a No-Fault Claim.”

  2. Pennsylvania Insurance Department. “Automobile Insurance Guide,” Page 10.

  3. State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. “What You Should Know About…Filing an Auto Damage Claim With Another Insurance Company,” see Questions 7 and 8.

  4. State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. “What You Should Know About…Filing an Auto Damage Claim With Another Insurance Company,” see Question 8.

  5. State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. “What You Should Know About…Filing an Auto Damage Claim With Your Own Insurance Company,” see Question 5.

  6. California Department of Insurance. “So You've Had an Accident, What's Next?” see “What To Do if There Is an Accident.”