Contacting Your Insurance Company After an Accident

After a car accident, you’ll need to notify your insurance company. Here's what to expect.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Your car insurance policy is a contract that controls your relationship with your insurance company. Because of that contract, working with your own insurance company after an accident is different from dealing with the other driver's insurer, especially when it comes to accident-related information and records.

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

How to Contact Your Insurance Company After an Accident

If you call your insurance agent after an accident instead of the company's claims office, ask your agent for a letter with the date you called. It should also confirm that your report has been passed along to the company's claims department.

You should receive a confirmation letter from the claims department as well. If you don't, contact that department directly to ensure your accident has been accurately reported.

If you report the car accident or initiate the claim process through your insurance company's website or app, be sure you keep any confirmation email or other correspondence referencing the accident and/or your claim.

(Learn when you might also need to report an accident to law enforcement.)

What else must you do if you file a claim with your own insurance company after a car accident? Depending on the specifics of your claim(s), your insurance company might have the following rights:

  • direct access to your medical and work records
  • payment from you if you collect from any responsible third party (called "subrogation")
  • reasonable cooperation from you, and
  • the chance to inspect your vehicle.

Note that there are plenty of instances in which you won't file a claim with your own insurance company at all after a car accident, especially if you only carry liability insurance and the accident was the other driver's fault. In that situation, you'd file a claim with the other driver's insurer (assuming they're insured), or perhaps even a lawsuit.

Learn more about filing a car accident claim (including when to file with your insurance company, and when to file with the other driver's insurer) and when it might make sense to file a car accident lawsuit.

Your Insurer's Right to Your Medical and Work Records

Virtually all insurance policies give your insurance company the right to examine your medical and work records directly if you ask them to pay medical bills or lost wages. So, your own insurer is likely to send you a form entitled Authorization for Release of Records, or something similar. If you receive such a form, you need to sign it if you want your company to process your claim.

Read any release of information carefully. Although you must allow your insurance company access to certain records, it's a good idea to make sure you understand what you're giving access to.

Some release documents ask for permission to look at every type of record imaginable, including credit records and medical records from long before the accident. For most accidents, only more recent documents should be in play, and information like your credit history is almost never relevant to your claim.

If you believe a release is too broad, cross out anything you don't want to share and initial the document next to the changes. Then sign and return it to the insurance company along with an explanation of why the records you crossed off aren't relevant to your claim.

Some insurance companies don't bother getting and sorting through your records; it's too much extra work for them. Instead, your company might wait for you to send them your medical records and income loss information before they move forward with your claim.

Your Insurance Company's Right of Subrogation

Your insurance company may send you a form called a 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 the other driver and/or their insurance company, or anyone else who might be at fault for the accident.

For example, if you have your own insurance company pay to repair 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 insurance company has paid to fix your car, you can't ask the other driver or their insurer to pay you for those repairs again—except when it comes to the amount of your insurance deductible.

Sometimes the subrogation form will ask for your signature, but most of the time, it'll just be a notice. If you're asked to sign, go ahead and do so—it's just confirmation that you're aware of the insurance company's legal right.

Your Insurance Company's Right to Reasonable Cooperation

Most policies say that you must cooperate with the insurance company's investigation of the accident and that if you don't, they don't have to pay your claim. So, if asked, you must:

  • provide the names of witnesses
  • supply the names of the medical providers you're seeing, and
  • make a statement about how the accident happened.

You are required to cooperate with your insurance company, as long as the requests are reasonable. For example, your insurance company is entitled to a statement about how the accident happened. But your insurer can't require you to:

  • write an essay
  • give a recorded statement
  • repeat information you've already provided, or
  • go places or do things on the company's schedule.

You should be reasonable, but make sure the insurance company is reasonable in return. (Learn about your rights and obligations when dealing with the other driver's insurance company.)

The Insurer's Right to Inspect Your Vehicle

If you want your insurance company to pay for damage to your car under the collision or vehicle damage coverage of your own policy, you must allow them to inspect the damage to your vehicle before you have it repaired. Refuse, and your insurance company can deny your claim.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

When you make an insurance claim, you have a lot at stake. So, you might want to talk with an attorney—especially if you were seriously injured. A personal injury attorney can help ensure all your legal bases are covered, and your rights are protected.

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).

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