Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2020

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Here's what you need to know...

Staying calm and knowing what to do when you are in an accident can help ease the situation for everyone involved. Here are some of the topics we’ll review to help you make it through.

  • There are two types of automobile accident claims, first-party and third-party. How you file will depend on the laws of your state.
  • There may be times when filing an accident claim is not necessary.
  • After you’ve filed, there’s still more to do. Remember to take care of your self and your property.
  • If your claim is denied, you may still have options.

The last thing that any wants is to be involved in a car accident. But the fact of the matter is that they happen!

When accidents happen, instead of fumbling about trying to figure out what to do next, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you navigate what to do.

We’ll cover topics such as what exactly an accident insurance claim is, how to file a claim, what happens after you file a claim, and how filing a claim can affect your insurance rates.

Are you in the market for insurance now? Use our FREE online tool to help you compare now, using only your ZIP code.

Understanding an Accident Insurance Claim

To kick off this guide, you’re going to want to know exactly what an accident insurance claim is! In this section, we’ll elaborate on the things you’ll want to know!

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), national traffic statistics look a little something like this:

Police-Reported Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes20172016201520142013201220112010
Fatal34,24734,74832,53830,05630,20231,00629,86730,296
Injury1,889,0002,116,0001,715,0001,648,0001,591,0001,634,0001,530,0001,542,000
Property-Damage-Only4,530,0004,670,0004,548,0004,387,0004,066,0003,950,0003,778,0003,847,000
Total6,452,0006,821,0006,296,0006,064,0005,687,0005,615,0005,338,0005,419,000
TRAFFIC CRASH VICTIMS: FATALITIES
Occupants24,97325,27623,89922,30722,48323,01722,51023,371
Drivers18,72618,71717,61516,47016,52016,83816,47416,864
Passengers6,1746,4856,2135,7665,8966,1065,9726,451
Unknown7374717167736456
Motorcyclists5,1725,3375,0294,5944,6924,9864,6304,518
Nonoccupants6,9887,1936,5565,8435,7185,7795,3395,110
Pedestrians5,9776,0805,4944,9104,7794,8184,4574,302
Pedalcyclists783852829729749734682623
Other/Unknown228261233204190227200185
Total37,13337,80635,48432,74432,89333,78232,47932,999
TRAFFIC CRASH VICTIMS: INJURED
Occupants2,524,0002,790,0002,230,0002,121,0002,099,0002,134,0002,010,0002,027,000
Drivers1,816,0002,003,0001,605,0001,524,0001,450,0001,489,0001,416,0001,431,000
Passengers708,000786,000624,000597,000648,000644,000593,000596,000
Unknown1,0001,0001,000**1,0001,000*
Motorcyclists89,000104,00088,00092,00088,00093,00081,00082,000
Nonoccupants133,000166,000125,000125,000125,000136,000126,000130,000
Pedestrians71,00087,00070,00065,00066,00076,00069,00070,000
Pedalcyclists50,00064,00045,00050,00048,00049,00048,00052,000
Other/Unknown12,00015,00010,00010,00011,00010,0009,0008,000
Total2,746,0003,061,0002,443,0002,338,0002,313,0002,362,0002,217,0002,239,000
OTHER NATIONAL STATISTICS
Vehicle Miles Traveled (Millions)3,212,3473,174,4083,095,3733,025,6562,988,2802,969,4332,950,4022,967,266
Resident Population325,719,178323,405,935321,039,839318,622,525316,234,505313,993,272311,644,280309,338,421
Registered Vehicles290,386,987288,033,900281,312,446274,804,904269,294,302265,647,194265,043,362257,312,235
Licensed Drivers225,346,257221,711,918218,084,465214,092,472212,159,728211,814,830211,874,649210,114,939
NATIONAL RATES: FATALITIES
Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled1.161.191.151.081.101.141.101.11
Fatalities per 100,000 Population11.4011.6911.0510.2810.4010.7610.4210.67
Fatalities per 100,000 Registered Vehicles12.7913.1312.6111.9212.2112.7212.2512.82
Fatalities per 100,000 Licensed Drivers16.4817.0516.2715.2915.5015.9515.3315.71
NATIONAL RATES: INJURED PERSONS
Injured Persons per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled8596797777807575
Injured Persons per 100,000 Population843946761734731752711724
Injured Persons per 100,000 Registered Vehicles9461,063869851859889836870
Injured Persons per 100,000 Licensed Drivers1,2191,3801,1201,0921,0901,1151,0461,066
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So making sure you understand what an accident insurance claim is will be vital.

What is an Insurance Claim

So what exactly is an accident insurance claim?

An accident insurance claim can be defined as the request by a policyholder (you) to an insurance company for coverage/payment after a car accident has occurred.

Once the insurance company receives your claim, and approves of it, they provide compensation to the appropriate parties that the claim is covering (such as yourself or another driver for instance).

So who exactly can file a claim? The simple answer is that anyone involved in the accident can file a claim, particularly depending on whether you live in an at-fault or no-fault state as discussed in the next section.

There are two main types of insurance claims that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with; first-party claims and third-party claims.

  • First-Party Claims: A claim that you file with your own insurance company.
  • Third-Party Claims: A claim that you file with the insurance provider of another person/business.

Which of these two types of claims you will file will depend highly upon the fault-based system in your state, which we will cover in more detail in the next section.

At-Fault Versus No-Fault States

In the United States, there are two types of states when it comes to car insurance, at-fault states and no-fault states. What are the differences between these two?

A state that is “at-fault” means that if you are the one who caused the accident, it is you and your insurance provider who is responsible for providing compensation for damages/injuries from that accident.

A state that is “no-fault” means that regardless of who caused the accident, you will have to rely on your own insurance coverage to provide compensation for damages/injuries from that accident.

Why is this something you’ll want to keep in mind?

This means that you’ll want to know which state you are in to know whose provider you will want to file a claim with.

If you are in an at-fault state, you can file a claim with the provider of the driver who caused the accident. If you are in a no-fault state, you will need to file a claim with your own provider.

Not sure of which state you fall under? Check out the table below to see which states are “no-fault” states according to the Insurance Information Institute:

No-Fault Car Insurance States by Effective Date
No-Fault Car Insurance StatesEffective Date
Puerto Rico1970
MassachusettsJanuary 1, 1971
FloridaJanuary 1, 1972
New Jersey*January 1, 1973
MichiganOctober 1, 1973
KansasJanuary 1, 1974
UtahJanuary 1, 1974
New YorkFebruary 1, 1974
HawaiiSeptember 1, 1974
MinnesotaJanuary 1, 1975
Kentucky*July 1, 1975
North DakotaJanuary 1, 1976
Pennsylvania*July 1, 1990
*Optional
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What You Should Do Immediately Following an Accident

First things first, what in the world are you supposed to do immediately after an accident has occurred?

Well, we have a few steps and tips for you to follow if you’ve just been in a car accident.

  • Make sure that it is safe for you to exit your vehicle, otherwise remain in your seat until help arrives.
  • If you are able to, and there are no injuries, pull your vehicle over to the shoulder of the road. Turn on your hazard lights as well.
  • Call 911, especially if anyone is injured. Provide them with your name, number, and the crash site location If you are unable to provide the exact location, give the approximate location with any landmarks you can see. Make sure to provide them with any other information they request.
  • When it is safe to do so, you’ll want to exchange information with the other driver(s) involved in the accident, such as the following:
    • Driver’s license
    • Name, address and phone number
    • Insurance card
    • License plate number
  • If it is not a significant crash, take pictures of the other vehicle(s) involved, the road, the direction of each vehicle and any other damage caused by the accident. Get the following details written down as well for reference later:
    • Year/make/model/color of the other vehicle
    • Date, time and any weather conditions
    • Witness’s names, phone numbers and addresses
  • Keep a record of all of the information you have (from above) should you ever be brought to court because of the accident.

Remember, accidents happen. So making sure that you are prepared in the event of one will help you turn a bad situation into a better one!

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Time to File a Car Accident Claim

Alright, so you’ve successfully navigated getting through the accident, now it’s time to file an insurance claim.

In this section, we’ll discuss when you should file a claim, when you shouldn’t file a claim, who to file your claim with, and more!

When Should I File a Car Accident Claim?

Ideally, you should always file an accident insurance claim after an accident.

After you’ve been involved in an accident, and if there was damage done (either to yourself or to your vehicle), you’re going to want to file a report with the police and to file a claim.

Insurance claims can help you pay for any damages to your vehicle, medical treatments from any injuries you received during the accident, and more.

The best way to receive full coverage for an accident is to report and file a claim as soon as you can.

When Should I Not File a Car Accident Claim?

The obvious answer to this would be for you to submit a claim after any accident you’ve been involved with. But did you know that there are actually certain times when you actually shouldn’t file a claim?

For example, if you were to get into an accident (where no injuries occurred) and have damages to your vehicle worth an estimated $1,500, but your insurance deductible is only $1,000.

That means that you’d have to pay for the $1,000, while your insurance would only have to cover $500. This would be an instance where you might not want to file an insurance claim.

Another instance would be in a low-speed, single-car mishap (like if you were to back into a fence or garage). In this instance, it would cost you more for your insurance rates to file a claim.

This would be another case in which you would probably not want to file a claim.

So, while it’s always recommended to file a claim with your insurance provider, there are instances in which you probably shouldn’t.

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Who will I file the claim with?

This is where the previous section on “no-fault” versus “at-fault” states comes into play.

Depending on which type of state you fall under, you will either file a claim with your own insurance company or with the provider of the driver who caused the accident.

One exception to this would be in the case that you are ever involved in a hit-and-run accident. In this case, where you would be hit by another driver who then fled from the scene, you would file a claim with your own insurance company.

Should the hit-and-run driver ever be found, they will then have to repay the claim paid to you by your insurance company, but it would not be a cost held against you.

When you do file your claim, there is some basic information that you’ll want to make sure that you have, as listed below:

  • Your Insurance policy number (which can be found on your insurance card)
  • Date the accident took place
  • Location that the accident took place in
  • Description what happened during the accident (how did it occur)
  • The information of the other driver(s) involved such as their name, address, license plate number, and their insurance information
  • Police department involved (if the police were involved at any point after the accident)
  • Police report number (if a police report was filed)

Statute of Limitations

Another factor when filing your claim is exactly how long you have to submit your claim.

There’s something known as the statute of limitations; essentially a cap in the amount of time you have to submit your claim.

Depending on what state you live in, the statute of limitations will highly depend:

StatePersonal InjuryProperty Damage
Alabama2 years2 years
Alaska2 years6 years
Arizona2 years2 years
Arkansas3 years3 years
California2 years3 years
Colorado3 years3 years
Connecticut2 years3 years
Delaware2 years2 years
Florida4 years4 years
Georgia2 years4 years
Hawaii2 years2 years
Idaho2 years3 years
Illinois2-3 years5 years
Indiana2 years2 years
Iowa2 years5 years
Kansas1 year2 years
Kentucky1 year2 years
Louisiana1 year1 year
Maine6 years6 years
Maryland3 years3 years
Massachusetts3 years3 years
Michigan3 years3 years
Minnesota2 years6 years
Mississippi3 years3 years
Missouri5 years5 years
Montana3 years2 years
Nebraska4 years4 years
Nevada2 years3 years
New Hampshire3 years3 years
New Jersey2 years6 years
New Mexico3 years4 years
New York3 years3 years
North Carolina3 years3 years
North Dakota6 years6 years
Ohio2 years2 years
Oklahoma2 years2 years
Oregon2 years6 years
Pennsylvania2 years2 years
Rhode Island3 years10 years
South Carolina3 years3 years
South Dakota3 years6 years
Tennessee1 year3 years
Texas2 years2 years
Utah4 years3 years
Vermont3 years3 years
Virginia2 years5 years
Washington3 years3 years
Washington D.C.3 years3 years
West Virginia2 years2 years
Wisconsin3 years3 years
Wyoming4 years4 years
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Making sure you know what your state’s statute of limitations is will help prevent you from having your insurance claim denied!

How do I Claim for an Accident?

The next step will be to actually file a claim with the insurance company you need to file with.

There are a few basic ways, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), in which you can file an insurance claim, such as the following:

  • In person (at your local insurance office)
  • Phone (through your insurance provider’s preferred accident claims number)
  • Online (through your insurance provider’s online portal)
  • Mobile app (if your insurance provider has a mobile app with the capability to file a claim)

We’ll dive a little deeper, however, into how to file a bodily injury claim and how to file a property damage claim.

Filing a Bodily Injury Claim

In order to file a bodily injury claim, follow the info-graphic we’ve provided for you below:

Filing Bodily Injury Claim

The following video will help you break this down further:

Filing a Property Damage Claim

In order to file a property damage claim, follow the info-graphic we’ve provided for you below:

Filing Property Damage Claim

The following video will help you break this down further:

What Happens After a Car Accident Claim?

You’ve submitted your claim… now what?

In this section, we’ll talk about some of the next steps to take after you’ve filed your car accident claim.

Dealing With the Damages

One of the other things you’ll want to take care of pretty immediately after an accident has occurred, aside from filing your accident insurance claim, is to deal with the damages caused during the accident.

If you’ve been injured at all, you’re going to want to make sure that you get the medical attention you need. Do not delay this! The more serious the injuries, the sooner and more urgently you will want to get to a health care provider.

Once you’ve dealt with your injuries, you’ll want to know what kind of compensation you’ll need. Common injury claims include compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and Suffering

For instance, if your injury was severe enough that you had to be out of work for a month to heal, an injury claim can help pay for any lost wages that you had.

So making sure that you get to the doctor as soon as you can after your accident is crucial!

In addition to it being damaging to your health, delaying medical care can actually hurt your claim for any of the above types of medical claims!

If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid injury, but your vehicle wasn’t so lucky, you’re going to want to get your vehicle evaluated for damages, and get the repairs you need to restore your vehicle to its original state.

For repairing your vehicle after an accident, you’ll want to follow the following steps:

  1. Make the insurance claim
  2. Take your car to a car repair shop (either one you’ve been to before, or one your insurance company recommends)
    A few tips for getting your vehicle to the repair shop after an accident:
    – If you have Roadside Assistance on your policy, check to see if towing is included by your insurance provider
    – If you are a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), see if they can tow you there
  3. Leave your vehicle at the repair shop (if needed) and follow up with them about the repairs
  4. Confirm what repairs needed to be done and follow up with that information with your insurance company
  5. Pick your vehicle up and wait for your claim to be processed

Based on what make and model your vehicle is, you may experience greater insurance loss than others according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). So make sure to factor this in when submitting a claim!

What To Do If Your Claim is Denied

It’s not something you would want to think about, but should you submit your insurance claim, and it were to be denied, you need to understand what to do next.

We’ve come up with a couple of steps that you should follow if your accident insurance claim is denied:

First, you’re going to want to find out why your claim denied. There are actually a few common reasons why your claim was denied, such as the following:

  • Disputed Liability: This would happen if the insurance company you are filing your claim with says that their policyholder (whether it’s you or the other driver, depending on what state you live in) was not the cause of the accident. Or, they could also claim that the injuries/damages you submitted the claim for did not happen.
  • Policy Exclusions: This would happen if you don’t have all of the coverage needed for the claim you are submitting. For instance, if you don’t opt for Personal Injury Protection, but submit a claim to receive payments for this, the insurance company would then basically say that you don’t have the coverage needed to give you the payment.
  • Lapsed Policy: This one would happen if you haven’t been paying your premiums regularly like you should, and your policy has entered a “lapsed” period. Meaning that during the time of the accident, because you hadn’t paid your premium on time, your policy simply didn’t cover you.
  • Failure to Notify: This would happen if you were to not inform your insurance company of an accident after it has occurred (within a reasonable amount of time). This is why it is so important to inform your insurance company as soon as safely possible after an accident, because otherwise they could deny your claim stating that they didn’t have the opportunity to investigate the accident claim properly.

Once you’ve figured out why your claim has been denied, and you’ve taken action to rectify any issues within your power, you will then want to see if you can appeal the denial.

There are two ways that you can appeal this decision, through an internal appeal or an external appeal.

An internal appeal is directly with your insurance company. There are a few things you’ll want to do when taking your case for an internal appeal:

  • Complete all of the required forms by your insurance provider.
    • You can also write to your provider with your name, claim number, and health insurance ID number.
  • Submit any additional information that you want the insurer to consider, such as a letter from the doctor. Basically any evidence to further your case as to why they should reverse their denial.
  • Additionally, you can contact the Consumer Assistance Program in your state so they can file an appeal for you.
  • This process should take approximately 30 to 60 days depending on whether or not you have received services the claim is based on (such as hospital treatments or car repairs).

If an internal appeal does not work (especially for an injury claim), according to the Affordable Care Act, you have the right to take your appeal further for an external appeal. An external appeal can be taken to the state or federal government for review.

To take your case for an external appeal, you may use any of the following methods according to the Affordable Care Act:

  • Visit externalappeal.cms.gov. You’ll be able to file a request using a secure website. For claimants who are able to do so, the portal is the preferred method of submission for review requests.
  • Call toll free: 1-888-866-6205 to request an external review request form. Then fax an external review request to: 1-888-866-6190.
  • Mail an external review request form to: MAXIMUS Federal Services 3750 Monroe Avenue, Suite 705 Pittsford, NY 14534
  • Submit a request via email: is ferp@maximus.com

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How Filing a Claim Affects your Insurance Rates

Now that you know all that you need to know about filing an accident insurance claim, in this last section, we’ll touch on some of the ways that filing such a claim can affect your insurance rates.

Your insurance rate may increase. 

This is an unfortunate side-effect of getting into an accident, especially if you are the driver who caused the accident. Your insurance provider now sees you as a higher-risk driver, and increase your rates to help pay the difference.

There are several factors in which this decision would be based upon by your insurance provider, such as how severe the accident was, your prior driving record, and who caused the accident (you or the other driver).

For example, did you know that State Farm typically charges an 8.5 percent surcharge for your first accident?

Your insurance provider may also decide not to renew your policy, known as non-renewal.

There are several reasons why an insurance provider would choose not to renew your policy, but this is usually reserved for particularly severe occurrences. Such offenses as drunk driving, or a large history of accidents in the past, would be cause for non-renewal.

Now that you’ve made it through this comprehensive guide, you’ll know exactly what you should do should you ever need to file an accident insurance claim.

Don’t forget to use our FREE online tool if you’d like to get started with your car insurance journey.

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