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 car has been damaged, you're likely hoping to receive enough money from your insurance claim to cover your expenses, minus your deductible. It's what most people who have car coverage expect to happen when they make a claim.

While you're hoping to get paid for your losses with as little hassle as possible, your car insurance company's main goal is to ensure that it doesn't end up paying any more than it has to. As is the case with every claim, it is also on the lookout for fraud.

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

What Happens After You File a Claim

Once you’ve filed a claim with your car insurance company, a claims adjuster takes your case. As an employee of the insurance company, this person will work to make sure you're paid in a proper amount of time if your claim is fair, and will avoid paying you if it's not.

The claims adjuster may contact you or your lawyer, if you've retained one, for details of the accident and to confirm your original claim. If there was a serious accident, the adjuster may request a copy of the police report, contact people who saw the event, or even visit the scene of the accident. The adjuster may ask you for photos of your car or even view it in person to 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 crash as soon as possible after it happens.

If the insurance company seems to be asking a lot of questions, don't take it personally. They are always on the lookout for fraud, and your case is no exception. It's their job to make sure they don't pay any money they don't have to.

Take Photos, and Keep All Documents Handy

It’s crucial that you do all that you can to recall what happened and keep your facts straight. Create a voice memo, or take notes as soon as you're able. You don't have to give this to the claims adjuster, but it may be helpful to keep it for your own records.

You should also keep track of any documents that were created as a result of the accident, including police reports and medical records. It’s a good idea to take photos of your car and other cars 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.

Should You Hire a Lawyer?

Whether you need a lawyer depends on the details of your case. In a simple claim, where no one was hurt, for example, you might not need to consult a lawyer. If you were gravely injured or your insurance is delaying paying your claim, think about getting legal help.

Get a Free Consultation

Some injury lawyers do not charge for the initial meeting that can help you decide whether you want or need to hire them. Even if you decide not to proceed with a lawyer, this meeting can prepare you for talking to the claims adjuster, who will likely ask some of the same questions.

Was Anybody Hurt?

If you or another person in your car were injured and have racked up large medical bills, you may need help getting your insurance to pay for the cost of your treatment. It may make even more sense to hire a lawyer in such an event. An insurance company can and may request access to your medical records to see whether you already were injured before the accident. A lawyer could help in that instance.

Even if nobody was hurt, you may want to get a lawyer if your insurance company keeps making excuses for why it still hasn't paid you after you’ve made a claim.

How Much Money Will You Receive?

Once the adjuster has processed your case, a settlement value will be offered. In cases of injury, if you don’t have a lawyer, 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 work it out from there. Since this negotiation can be difficult, it may be helpful to work with a good lawyer who works with injured clients.

How Will You Get Paid?

The process of being paid for damages and losses is known as "indemnification." Once the insurance company concludes the investigation and decides who was at fault, it will either pay you the cost of your damages minus your deductible or seek payment from the other driver’s insurer in a process called "subrogation."

If you’re unhappy with the amount of money you’re offered to settle your case, then it may be time to contact an attorney to discuss your options.

For car repairs, you likely will be asked to go to an auto shop approved by your insurance company.

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