If you’ve paid auto insurance premiums for years or decades and never had to deal with an insurance carrier until now, consider yourself fortunate. Or maybe, you’ve been the at-fault driver in a car accident, requiring a slightly different approach when dealing with your insurance carrier.
If you have been in an accident caused by the other driver, you might have questions like “Do I call my insurance company if it’s not my fault?” or “Do I report an accident to my insurance carrier or theirs?”
You do have to report the accident to your insurance carrier, but your carrier’s role depends on your coverage and the other driver’s coverage. Below, we take a closer look into how you deal with insurance issues after a car accident that isn’t your fault, the choices you have in different scenarios, and preliminary information about the legal process of recovering compensation.
Regardless of the exact circumstances, it’s always in your best interest to consult with an experienced car accident attorney to find the best way to recover compensation related to property damage and personal injuries.
Contacting Your Insurance Company After an Accident You Didn’t Cause
Reporting an accident and filing a claim under your auto insurance policy differ greatly. You will not have to file a claim to recover damages in most cases. However, you need to report the crash to your carrier as soon as possible.
The most important reasons for notifying your insurance carrier are:
- Policy requirements. Your insurance policy is a legal contract between you and your insurance company. Most auto insurance policies have language that requires policyholders to report accidents immediately, regardless of fault and whether you need to make a claim. If you do not report an accident, your carrier might be able to cancel your policy. Also, if you do have to file a claim for an accident, your carrier could deny coverage.
- Vehicle repairs. Even though an accident isn’t your fault, you will likely have to wait a fair amount of time before receiving any money from the other driver’s insurance company. Settlement negotiations can take months, even when they go well. The most severe and complex accidents sometimes take years to resolve. For many accident victims, it’s often quicker to file a claim under their own policy to repair their vehicle and get a rental car. If you wait too long to notify your insurance company, they might not approve your claim.
- Uninsured/Underinsured motorist claim. California does not require drivers to carry uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UI) coverage. If the driver who caused the accident does not have insurance, has too little coverage, or commits a hit and run, you can file a claim with your insurance carrier if you have UM/UI coverage. If you promptly notify your insurance company of the car accident, they will likely accept your claim.
If you have to file a UM or UI claim with your insurance carrier, they will investigate the claim as if another party filed the claim against your insurance policy. It’s in your best interest to let your lawyer help you through this process. Additionally, your attorney might identify one or more third parties who share liability and can help directly sue the at-fault driver.
Contacting a Negligent Driver’s Insurance Company
You need to file a claim with the at-fault drivers’ insurance company, but it’s best to let an attorney communicate for you. Ultimately, many of their strategies focus on protecting their bottom line. Reasons why you should consult an accident injury lawyer and let them handle communication include:
#1. Insurance Companies Make Lowball Offers
Insurance companies do not like to pay claims, and they especially do not like paying large claims for property damage and injuries. One common strategy they use to avoid financial liability when their policyholder is at fault is to make a lowball settlement offer. When their policyholder or another driver files a claim, the insurance company assigns a representative to investigate the accident.
If they know their policyholder is at fault, they worry about paying out massive claims or jury awards. They avoid this by making attractive offers to injured accident victims to tempt them to settle. Once someone accepts and signs a settlement offer for their personal injury claim, they waive their right to sue for additional compensation related to the accident.
Accepting an early, lowball settlement offer can leave accident victims without the money they need for additional care and treatment if they suffer a personal injury. Additionally, these offers are often much lower than the actual value of a claim. In most cases, it’s best to consider an early offer as a starting point for negotiations.
An experienced lawyer can evaluate your claim and properly assign a monetary value to your damages. Additionally, lawyers are trained negotiators who often obtain more money for their clients.
#2. Insurance Companies Sometimes Twist Words
Once you file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, they will want a statement from you about how the accident happened. Many carriers request a recorded statement and request claimants to sign a release for medical records. Insurance adjusters know how to elicit statements from claimants that provide grounds for them to deny or devalue a claim. Additionally, accident victims who aren’t careful about what they sign end up releasing their entire medical history to an insurance company.
Attorneys who communicate with insurance companies for their clients protect them from innocently saying something that could hurt their claim. You have to give them a statement, but your attorney can guide you on the information you need to provide and protect the value of your claim. Lawyers also ensure their clients do not sign documents that give insurance companies more information than they need, especially regarding medical history.
#3. Insurance Companies Take Claimants with a Lawyer More Seriously
The law prohibits insurance companies from acting in bad faith by ignoring claims and delaying claims. Some insurance carriers flirt with the moral, ethical, and legal lines of reviewing, accepting, and paying claims.
Accident injury victims who hire an attorney to represent them often find the other driver’s insurance company takes them more seriously during the entire claims process. They know they will have a more difficult time getting away with questionable tactics when communicating with a lawyer instead of directly with a claimant.
#4. You Can Use Your Time to Focus on Healing
Dealing with insurance companies can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially when you aren’t the policyholder. When you let a lawyer handle communications with a negligent driver’s insurance carrier, it frees up your time to focus on healing and recovery. Those who suffer severe injuries might not make a full recovery, but they need to make every effort possible to attend doctor appointments and engage in related therapy.
This also benefits your case. Once your doctors know the full scope of your injuries and your likelihood of a full recovery, your lawyer has adequate information to put a monetary value on your personal injury claim.
Negotiating a Settlement with the Insurance Company
Going to trial is costly for both sides, so settlement negotiations are almost always part of an insurance claim. Once you hire a lawyer to represent you in your personal injury claim, they contact the other driver’s insurance company to file a claim for damages.
They typically include a demand letter that includes the compensation you want to receive for losses related to your injuries. As mentioned above, sometimes insurance companies contact accident victims with early settlement offers far below the value of a claim.
Regardless of who makes first contact, you can expect the insurance company will not offer you anything close to the value in the demand letter or the value your attorney places on your claim. They will attempt to do everything they can to devalue or deny your claim. If they cannot find a reason to deny your claim, they will try to downplay your injuries or argue that you’ve overestimated your losses.
Your attorney and the insurance company may go back and forth multiple times with different settlement amounts. You have the choice to accept or decline any offer, but your lawyer can advise you on the best course of action for your situation. Negotiations often take months or longer, so you can expect to wait.
Your attorney needs to investigate, collect, and present evidence to the insurance company to justify the amount of your claim and prove their policyholder should be liable for your losses.
Almost all accident injury claims settle so that both sides can avoid costly litigation. Sometimes, injured victims do not even need to file a lawsuit. However, if settlement negotiations aren’t going well, your lawyer may advise you to bring a lawsuit to place more pressure on the insurance carrier.
How Much Money Will You Receive in an Insurance Settlement?
It’s impossible to predict the exact financial outcome of an accident. Many factors influence the amount of a settlement. Generally speaking, those who suffer the worst injuries typically receive the largest settlements.
The value your attorney places on your settlement includes various economic and non-economic damages, including:
- Vehicle repairs. Accident victims often receive money for property damage to their vehicles. Sometimes this includes money for repairs, but other times victims must replace a totaled vehicle.
- Medical expenses. Your claim will include medical treatment costs, including ambulance service, emergency room treatment, diagnostic tests and imaging, surgery, hospitalization, and prescription medication.
- Estimated future medical expenses. If you suffered severe or permanent injuries that require additional or ongoing care and treatment, such as a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, your settlement could include future medical expenses.
- Specialized treatment costs. Accident victims typically need specialized therapy to help them cope with the physical and/or mental aftermath. Examples include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and mental health services.
- Lost wages. If you had to take time off work because of your injuries, your attorney will include your lost income when they place a value on your claim.
- Future lost wages. Accident victims who suffer permanent injuries might have to change careers or may not be able to work at all. Lawyers estimate future earnings and include them in insurance claims and associated personal injury lawsuits.
- Home modification expenses. Sometimes, accident injury victims need to modify their houses to make them more accessible, especially if they suffer permanent injuries. These expenses can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Examples of common home modifications include adding a wheelchair ramp, installing handrails throughout a home, putting grab bars in the shower, and constructing a living area on the ground floor of a home.
- Replacement service expenses. Depending on the severity of injuries, a victim or their family might need to hire one or more people to help with household responsibilities the victim performed before injuries. Examples include a cook, maid, personal assistant, lawn care service, tutor, and childcare provider.
- Pain and suffering. Traffic accidents are traumatic events that cause victims physical and emotional pain and suffering. Pain and suffering typically make up a hefty portion of non-economic losses in the value of a claim.
- Loss of consortium. Permanent injuries can impact the relationship between partners inside and outside the bedroom. When a victim’s marriage suffers from injuries, lawyers typically include loss of consortium in the claim.
- Reduced quality of life. Accident victims who suffer permanent injuries cannot enjoy the things they did before the accident. Their injury impacts their hobbies, their career, and other activities. Sometimes, reduced quality of life increases the value of the claim.
Settlement amounts are seldom the full value of a claim. However, costly litigation can eat up the gain of going to trial, so many accident victims choose to settle for fair compensation for their injuries.
Contact an attorney who will present you with any settlement offers, and you can decide what works best for your situation.