After an Accident: Insurance Claims

WHN TIP: Accident File

When you get home, make an "accident file". This will include all of your notes, contact information, messages and other pertinent information. This can be an envelope, file folder, binder - whatever works best for you.

  1. At home, write down exactly what happened. Include all of the information you and witnesses gathered, and the names and contact numbers of the people you spoke with. File this in your accident file.
  2. Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don't give away your last copy!).
  3. Consider another mode of transportation until your vehicle or bike has been repaired or you get a new one. (Some insurance policies include car rental fees, see next section.)
  4. WHN TIP: Public Transit

    If there is a public transit system in your area and you're new to the bus/train system, call their customer service line. Operators are trained to work with and address the questions and concerns of first-time riders.

Have Insurance

  1. When you get home or immediately after the accident, phone (or have a family member or friend phone) your insurance agent. Do this as soon as possible even if you're far from home and even if someone else caused the accident.
  2. Have the following items ready:
    • Your car/bike/motorcycle insurance policy number
    • Your police report/case number
    • Your accident file with detailed information about the accident
    • The address and phone number of the place where your car/bike/motorcycle is currently located (body shop, tow truck company, home, work, etc.)
  3. Read your insurance policy. The process will be easier to navigate if you know the details of your coverage. Check your policy for specifics and document every action you take.
  4. Document and keep all conversations in your folder; they should all include the following:
    • Date and time of the phone call
    • Who you called or who called you (insurance agent, mechanic, police officers, doctor, attorney, etc).
    • Full name of the person you spoke with
    • List of the items and decisions discussed
    • Next steps to be taken, deadline for completion and who is responsible
    • Your claim number
  5. Ask your agent how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim.
    • The insurance company may require a "proof of loss" form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and repair bills/receipts and a copy of the police report.
    • WHN TIP: Receipts

      Just got a maintenance check? New tires? If you have the receipts, give those to your agent - you might be reimbursed for recent maintenance costs, depending on your policy.
    • Ask your agent if your policy covers the cost of a rental car while your vehicle/bike/motorcycle is being repaired. If so, ask the allowed time of the car rental (days, weeks, etc.) and what rental car agencies will be compatible with your policy coverage. Read our article Renting a Car for more.
    • Ask if you should get info from the police to process your claim. If so, what type of information?
    • Ask when an insurance company rep will assess the damage. Get the following info:
      Date
      Time
      Name of insurance rep
      That person's contact number and email
  6. Supply the information your insurer needs.
    • Be sure you keep copies of what you are sending out - don't give away your last copy!
    • Keep records of the expenses you incur as a result of an accident. You may be reimbursed under your policy. This could include medical and hospital expenses, lost wages, etc. Ask your insurance agent about the reimbursement process.
    • Regardless of policy coverage - keep records of your expenses.

    WHN TIP: Store It!

    Again, store copies of all paperwork in your folder, you may need to refer to it later. Keep copies of receipts and financial notes with your accident info, but in its own envelope in the folder

The Car, Bike or Motorcycle

  1. Do not have your vehicle or bike repaired until an attorney or a representative from your insurance agency has inspected the damages.
  2. Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage from the repair shop recommended by your insurance company. You may also get your own estimate, but your insurance company must approve it.
  3. Keep the receipts and bids and all of this information should be recorded in your file.

WHN TIP: What Does "Totaled" Mean?

If the total cost to repair your car/bike/motorcycle exceeds a certain percentage of the insurance company's estimates of its worth, your car or bike is considered a total loss, or "totaled". Instead of covering the cost of repairs, the insurance company will pay you the car or bike's actual cash value, minus any deductible you have with your coverage.

Don't Have Insurance

  1. Keep the police case number with you at all times.
  2. Consider another mode of transportation until yours has been repaired or you get a new vehicle or bike. Renting a car? Read our article Renting a Car for tips.

The Car, Bike or Motorcycle

  1. With no insurance, repairing your car or bike is up to you.
  2. If you retain an attorney, do not have your car repaired until the attorney inspects the damages. Confirm next steps with your attorney.
  3. Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage, etc. from the repair shop you choose, or that you and your attorney agree upon.
  4. Keep the receipts. All of this information should be recorded in your accident file.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.