Nobody likes filing a car insurance claim — partly because it is never fun to have to deal with insurance companies, and partly because that means you have been involved in an auto accident.
You usually want to avoid going to court to sue for a more favorable settlement or a jury award, because juries are unpredictable. Even so, there is no reason simply to accept whatever settlement the insurance company offers you without question. Consider the following steps to get the insurance payment that you deserve.
- Initiate Claims Quickly – Contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. The longer it takes to file the claim, the more details get fuzzy. Witnesses are less reliable, and important evidence may be lost. Injuries that prevent you from filing will be taken into account, but you still need to get the claim in as soon as possible.
- Gather All Necessary Records – Compile and organize all the records you need to justify your claim, including accident reports, photos, affidavits of any witness accounts, damage estimates, and any applicable medical bills and records from accident-related injuries. If you lost time at work, have records to verify that as well.
- Know the Proper Value – Calculate a total value for the claim you expect to receive based on the value of your car, all medical bills, lost wages from missed work time, and any enduring issues (pain and suffering or some degree of disability).
Start with the value of the car (if totaled) or the damage estimate. The value of the car can be found through Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) or similar online sites. Consult with the medical care facility to make sure that you include the upfront medical bills but also any scheduled future medical procedures or likely bills.
The point is to enter negotiations with a settlement amount in mind. Consult an attorney if you need assistance correctly valuing your settlement.
- Send a Demand Letter – Once you know the proper value, send a demand letter to the insurance company detailing the accident and all of the losses you suffered. Do not forget to include ongoing health concerns. Ask for anywhere between 25-100% over the value you calculated. You will need some room to negotiate.
- Don't Accept the First Offer – Insurance adjusters start with the lowest offer in the range they can pay (why would they do otherwise?), and perhaps even less. It is understood that neither side will accept the initial offer, but those unfamiliar with the process may accept just out of convenience. Rest assured that any insurance company can pay more than their first offer indicates.
- Prepare for a Prolonged Process – It may not turn out that way, but it is likely to do so. Insurance companies can drag out the process hoping that you will either tire of the process or need to settle because you are getting short of cash. We cannot tell you that you should always hold on to the bitter end, but if you possibly can avoid it, do not let time be one of the settlement factors.
- Get it In Writing – The terms of the settlement must be properly documented and signed by all parties to avoid future concerns on either side.
Should all efforts fail, you may have no choice but to go to court. Retain an attorney and ask them to review the situation and determine whether a personal injury lawsuit is warranted. We hope that will not be necessary with the precautions you have taken — but oddly enough, you can never be sure about anything regarding insurance.