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The Insurance Claim Process After an Automobile Collision


Hello, my name is Spencer Pittman, and I am an attorney with the law firm of Winters & King.  Winters & King represents people who have suffered personal injuries, such as car wrecks, and seek the highest amount of compensation available under the law from the at-fault party, primarily through their insurance carrier. This podcast discusses what to do after you have been involved in an automobile collision and how to initiate the claims process with an insurance company.  Not making an insurance claim after an injury in an automobile collision can result in the loss of the ability to financially recover for the collision and which may also lead to overwhelming financial repercussions.  For instance, when you seek medical attention after an automobile collision, you are still responsible for paying off all your hospital and doctor bills.  This is why we recommend using your own health insurance for your bills.  Later, when you have been released from treating physicians, your health insurance will likely want to get reimbursed from any settlement from the liability insurance carrier or the at-fault party.  Financial proceeds from a settlement with an insurance carrier can pay in whole or in part all of the bills or expenses but not until the case is finalized.

Statistically speaking, nearly every person who owns an automobile will at some point in their life be involved in an automobile collision.  Automobile collisions, no matter how minor, can result in significant permanent and lifelong injuries.  If you have been involved in an automobile collision and you believe you are injured, the first thing you should do is call 911 and request for an ambulance.  Many people are concerned about the cost of an ambulance ride but there are two reasons why you should call an ambulance.  First, you do not know what internal injuries you may have suffered or the extent of these injuries, and you should consult with a medical expert and get checked out to make sure you are not seriously injured. Second, many insurance companies argue that if you do not call an ambulance to the scene of an accident, you probably are not that injured.  As unfair as that sounds, it may directly affect your future recovery in settlement or even litigation.

Generally, if you pursue a claim to recover for bodily injuries after an automobile collision, you will probably be pursuing recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, who we often refer to as the liability insurance carrier.  Making a claim with an insurance carrier is usually an easy process, usually in less than 15 minutes, and most major insurance companies permit you to make a claim over the phone or on their website.  Before making a claim, you will need to get all necessary information.  At the scene of the collision, make sure to exchange insurance information with the other driver and if you have a camera, even on your phone, take pictures of the vehicles and any visible injuries, like bruises or contusions.

If possible you should try to make a claim the same day as the collision because the facts of the collision may be fresh in your mind and you are less likely to leave out important details.  If it helps you, write down how the collision occurred and save the paper for later.  When you are ready to make the claim with the other driver’s insurance company, you should have readily available all information about the collision, including the other driver’s personal information available along with information about your vehicle if you want to make a property damage claim.  The insurance company will likely record your conversation and ask some general questions about yourself, how the collision occurred, your injuries, and your property damage.

It is important to always be truthful when making a claim with an insurance company. This is because it is not only the right thing to do, but also the insurance company will try to use any information you give them against you, especially if you try to make your injuries or the facts worse than they really are. Also, misrepresenting facts to an insurance company may result in criminal implications.

After providing all the requested information, the insurance company will provide you a claim number, which is an identifier for your specific collision and will assist the insurance company in locating your claim at a future time.  You may also be assigned a claims adjuster – this is the individual that is responsible for collecting the necessary information to process your claim. The claims adjuster will usually send you a claims acknowledgement letter by mail or email to confirm you made a claim.

Depending on the applicable law and where the collision occurred, if the adjuster believes you were partially at fault for the accident, they may try to reduce your settlement amount proportionally to your assigned percentage of fault.  For instance, if the adjuster, after investigating the collision, determines you were 20% at fault for the collision, your final settlement amount may be reduced by 20%.  The other driver’s insurance company is going to do everything they can to reduce your final settlement amount because they do not represent your interests- they represent the interests of their insured, who is the at-fault driver. Also, many injuries after automobile collisions manifest weeks and sometimes months later.  Likewise, down playing injuries at the time can also be a mistake because some injured parties end up with more serious injuries than they realize at the time of the collision.  Often times it is best to the let the medical records speak for you.  Insurance companies will try to settle your case early on to avoid these later discovered injuries. Determining the at-fault party is not always straightforward.  Just because one person is issued a traffic citation by a police officer does not always mean that cited driver is the only at-fault party or that the non-cited party may have some culpability.

The claims adjuster will ask for medical records and bills, lost wage verification, and other information to document your damages during the claims process.  The adjuster may ask for another recorded statement to get additional information about the collision. After receiving medical records and bills or other documents to substantiate the damages, the insurance company may submit an offer of settlement and which may contain legalese that most people do not understand.  Understandably, this is around the time a majority of people seek legal assistance for their claims.  Often by this time, claimants have made mistakes in the claims process or made representations to the insurance company that could be misconstrued or used against them, and this could compromise the claim.  Winters & King, for instance, prefers to help injured parties file their claim and assist them through the entire process as soon as possible to avoid these mistakes and so we can help navigate through the claims process.

If you were involved in a motor vehicle collision, it is likely your vehicle suffered property damage.  This is another aspect of the claim to be made to the liability insurance carrier.  On the other hand, you also  may have the option to pursue your own insurance company for the property damage, but this can be a double edged sword.  For instance, your own insurance company owes you a fiduciary duty of good faith, meaning they have to treat you well and give you reasonable offers on your property damage.  That means they will likely pay you more money in settlement than the liability insurance carrier.  But, you may have to pay your deductible up front.  If you pursue this route instead of pursing the liability carrier, your own insurance company should try to get you reimbursed your deductible at a later point in time, sometimes months or years later, but this is not guaranteed.  Your insurance company will most likely seek recovery of the amount it pays for your car from the at-fault driver’s insurance company in a process called subrogation.  Usually, you will not be involved in this process.

Hiring an attorney, either before or after you have made a claim with an insurance company, takes the stress of the insurance company and the claims process away from you, and allows you to focus on your recovery and getting your vehicle repaired.  The attorneys at Winters & King can question witnesses, examine the facts of the collision, and apply them to the relevant law to ultimately determine who is at fault.  Our firm is also not afraid to take the at-fault party to a lawsuit, called litigation, if the liability insurance carrier is not willing to compensate our clients the amount they deserve for their damages and losses.

If you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle collision, call the attorneys at Winters & King at 918-494-6868 to discuss your case in more detail.

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