Contacting Your Insurance Company After an Accident

After a car accident, you'll want to notify your insurance company. Here are some legal issues you can expect.

After an accident, initial contact with your own insurance company is slightly different from your first phone call with the other side's insurer. Your relationship with your own insurance company is established by your policy, which is a contract between you and your insurer. You may be obligated by the rules of the policy to provide your company with more information than you would to someone else’s insurance company.

Here are some things to keep in mind when talking with your insurer after an accident.

Notification Through Your Agent

If you give notice of the accident to your insurance agent rather than to the company’s claims office, ask the agent for a letter stating the date you provided the information and confirming that the information has been passed along to the company’s claims department. You should receive a confirming letter from the claims department. If you do not, contact that department directly with the information.

If you actually file a claim for compensation under a provision of your own policy, your insurance company will have the following rights:

• direct access to your medical and work records

• to payment from you if you collect from any responsible third party; this is called “subrogation"

• to cooperation from you, and

• to inspect your vehicle.

Release of Medical and Work Records

Virtually all insurance policies give the insurance company the right to examine the policyholder’s medical and work records directly. So, your own insurer is likely to send you a form entitled Authorization for Release of Records, or something similar. If your own company sends you such a form, you must sign it if you want your company to process your claim. On the other hand, many companies do not actually bother to obtain and go through your records; it’s too much extra work for them. Instead, your company may simply wait for you to send them your medical records and income loss information, along with your settlement demand.

Read any release of information carefully. Although you are obligated to allow your insurance company access to certain records, it’s a good idea to review with care any release that the adjuster sends you. Some release documents ask for authority to obtain every type of record imaginable, including credit records and medical records dating back to time immemorial. For most accidents, only more recent records are relevant, and information like your credit history is almost never relevant to your injuries. If you believe a release is too broad, cross out the portions that you do not agree with, and initial the document next to the changes. Then sign and return it along with a letter explaining to the insurance company why the information to which you declined to give access is not relevant.

Right of Subrogation

Your own insurance company may send you a form entitled Right of Subrogation. This form says that if your insurance company pays you any compensation under your own policy, the company then has the right to recover that money from whoever was responsible for the accident. Once your insurance company pays you, it stands in your shoes with regard to the damage for which it compensated you. For example, if you have your own company pay for the repair of your vehicle (under your collision coverage) instead of waiting to settle a property damage claim against another driver, your company may recover that amount from the other driver’s -insurance company. Once your own company pays you, you may not personally pursue a claim for the same property damage against the other party, except to the extent that you were not compensated for any deductible under your own policy.

Sometimes the subrogation form will ask for your signature, but more often it will just be a notice. If you are asked to sign, go ahead and do so -- it’s the insurer’s legal right in any event.

Cooperation

Most policies say that in order to be entitled to collect on a claim under your own policy, you must cooperate with the insurance company in its investigation of the accident. That means that, if asked, you must give it the names of witnesses, the medical providers you are seeing, and a statement about how the accident happened.

However, you need only to cooperate in a reasonable way. For example, the insurance company is entitled to a statement about how the accident happened, but you don’t have to write an essay or undergo an interrogation nor do you have to give a tape-recorded statement. You don’t have to repeat information you have already given. And you don’t have to go places or do things on the company’s schedule. Be reasonable, but make sure the insurance company is reasonable in return.

Right to Inspect Your Vehicle

If you intend to file a claim under the collision or vehicle damage coverage of your own auto policy, you must allow your insurance company to inspect the damage before you have it repaired.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on injury claims, and everything you’ll need to navigate your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.

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