How to Survive the Auto Insurance Claim Investigation Process

Filling in a car accident report when you have a car crash
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If you’ve been in an accident and your vehicle has been damaged, you're probably hoping to receive enough money from your insurance claim to cover your expenses (minus your deductible). It's not always easy, though.

While you're hoping to cover costs, your car insurance company is trying to sniff out fraud and avoid paying anything more than it absolutely has to. As such, you can expect the company to see whether it finds cause to deny your claim, in full or in part. That's why they need to investigate.

As you go through the auto insurance claim investigation process, you should know what to expect, what documents to keep handy, and when and if you should hire a lawyer.

What Happens After You File a Claim

Once you’ve completed the process of filing a claim with your car insurance company, a claims adjuster is usually assigned to your case. Since this person is an employee of the insurance company, he will work to pay you in a reasonable amount of time if your claim is legitimate and avoid paying you anything if it's not.

This claims adjuster may contact you or your attorney for details and to confirm the information from your original insurance claim. If there was a serious accident, the adjuster may request a copy of the police report, contact witnesses listed, or even visit the scene of the accident. The adjuster also is likely to ask you for photos of your car and might inspect it for damage. This is why it’s always a good idea to take photos of your car and any other cars involved in a collision as soon as possible after it happens.

When to Hire a Lawyer

Whether or not you need professional legal assistance depends on your individual case and circumstances. In a simple claim, you might not need to consult an attorney. However, if you were seriously injured or your insurance company is delaying processing your claim, consider getting legal help.

Many attorneys do not charge for an initial consultation to help you decide whether you want to hire them. Even if you decide not to proceed with them, this phone call can prepare you for talking to the claims adjuster who will likely ask similar questions.

If you were seriously injured and have racked up large medical bills, it is very likely that the insurance company will try to avoid paying for the cost of your treatment, whether or not they are obligated to. It may make even more sense to take on an attorney in such a situation. An insurance company also is likely to request access to your medical history in an attempt to prove that you already were injured before the accident.

You may also consider getting a lawyer if your insurance company keeps making excuses for why it still hasn't paid you after you’ve made a claim.

Finally, once the insurance adjuster has processed your case, he likely will propose a settlement value. In cases of personal injury, if you don’t have an attorney, they may ask you to name the amount you’re willing to settle for. It’s usually better to see how much the company is willing to offer first and negotiate from there. Since this negotiation can be difficult, it may be helpful to work with a qualified personal injury lawyer.

Take Photos and Keep All Documents Handy

It’s hard to remember every detail of an accident, but it’s important that you do everything in your power to preserve your memory and keep your facts straight. Though it’s inadvisable to give a claims adjuster a recording of what happened at the scene of an accident, it may be helpful to make such a recording for your own records.

It’s also important to keep track of any documents and important information that go along with the accident, such as its date, location and description, as well as a copy of the police report and any medical documents. As mentioned, it’s a good idea to take photos of your car and any other vehicle involved as soon after the accident as you can. If you were injured, get photos of your injuries as well. This documentation helps support your claim.

Receiving Payment

The process of paying you for damages and losses is known as indemnification. Once it determines fault and coverage, the insurance company will either bargain with the other insurance company to determine the percentage they must pay, pay you the cost of your damages minus your deductible, or seek payment from the other driver’s insurer (called subrogation). For repairs, you likely will be asked to go to an auto shop approved by your insurance company.

If you’re unhappy with the amount of the settlement you’re offered, it’s advisable to contact an attorney to discuss your options.

While the investigation of an insurance claim might make you feel like you are on trial, just remember that, armed with the facts, you will get the money you deserve and that your policy covers. Always be on the offensive and arm yourself with proper documentation and a lawyer if necessary. A positive attitude never hurts, either.