How to Settle a Car Accident Claim
Picture this scenario: you are in a car accident that is not your fault, and both you and your car sustain substantial damage. As an educated driver, you know your rights, and once you are in an accident, you collect the other driver’s insurance information, and then you file a personal injury and property damage claim with the other party’s insurance. When you get a letter offering a settlement amount, should you accept it and move on with your life?
Sometimes, it can be hard to know what the right answer is. Often, an insurance company will offer you an amount that you feel is unfairly low, but you might not know the best ways to handle the process of getting that dispute resolved. Negotiating a settlement with the claims adjuster is never fun, but being informed about the process helps.
Step 1: Document, Document, Document
As you begin this process, it is essential to document, document, document: make sure that you file a police report at the time of the accident, see a doctor to document your injuries, and take photos of damage to your vehicle. Any documentation you can get is going to be evidence that you can use to build your case that the amount you are claiming is fair and just. And of course, it’s imperative that you get the other driver’s insurance information — otherwise, you won’t be able to file the claim in the first place.
Step 2: Report and Initiate the Claim
Once you’ve initiated a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you’ve begun the process. If the other driver is uninsured or underinsured and you have insurance coverage for this scenario, you might even file the claim with your own insurance company.
Step 3: Open Your Mail
When you file your claim, the insurance company will send you a letter confirming that they received your claim and will soon begin the process of discussing it with you. This letter, called a “reservation of rights” letter, allows them to acknowledge the claim was received without accepting the truthfulness of the claim itself. At this point, it might make sense to consult an attorney on the next steps.
Step 4: Take a Deep Breath
No matter how accurately you document the evidence and are fair in your claim, the insurance company will try to fight its way out of paying the amount you are owed. Just like all businesses, insurance companies are trying to make money, and paying out expensive claims isn't a great way to do so. Of course, it’s nothing personal; especially if you are doing everything right, negotiating can be a frustrating process, but it's the only way to settle a car accident claim. They will try to argue that the accident was partially or entirely of your fault or that you haven’t provided enough evidence — but don't let it get to you.
Just calmly stick to your story and do the best you can.
Step 5: Negotiation Begins
If you sustained bodily damage or damage to your property, it's a good idea to send a damage letter which outlines your medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses and lost income as a result of the accident. The claims adjuster for the insurance company will respond to your assessment with one of their own — or, they might send one first. They will always offer you a lower amount than you think you are owed, but this is a regular part of the process, and you shouldn't take it personally. At this point, you can either accept the insurance company’s offer or continue to negotiate.
If you and the insurance company don't reach an agreement, you might need to file a lawsuit, but hopefully, it doesn't come to that.
Always keep in mind that this process requires patience and self-confidence. Filing a claim is a hassle, and seeing it through to a successful settlement is a hassle indeed. At the end of the day, it's worth the time to fight for the money you're owed, but that doesn't mean it will be fun. Arming yourself with the right information and documentation is half of the battle, but the other half is pure grit — which you are more than capable of providing.