When should I call my insurance after an accident?

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Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®https://res.cloudinary.com/quotellc/image/upload/insurance-site-images/ciccom-live/41b5e36b-joel-ohman.jpg

UPDATED: Aug 7, 2019

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Here's what you need to know...
  • Though you should notify your insurance company after an accident, it is not necessarily the first thing you should do
  • Assess injuries and damages before contacting your insurance provider
  • Be sure to take plenty of photos of the scene to help adjusters pinpoint exactly what happened and who was at fault

When you are involved in an accident, the shock of the collision can affect how you react.

You may be going through a mixture of different emotions, but even in your emotional state, it is important to take the proper steps so that your insurance company can easily investigate who is at fault.

When you purchase auto insurance, you are agreeing to the terms and conditions of the contract and promising to meet your obligations following a loss.

While some assume they must call their insurance agent immediately after a car accident, it is not always practical to do this.

When you call your insurer depends on where the accident happened, whether you are in safe place, and whether you have suffered injuries.

If you would like to know the steps that you need to take following an accident, read this step-by-step guide.

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Step 1: Immediately Following an Accident

If at all possible, you will need to move your vehicle off of the road and away from clear and present danger.

For those who are in vehicles that are not operable following an accident, it is important to cone off the area so that drivers know there is a hazard ahead. Be sure to move away from traffic so that you do not suffer further injury.

After you have taken all of the proper safety precautions, you can begin to assess injuries and damage.

– Ask If Anyone is Injured

You should check your vehicle and the other vehicles involved to see if anyone is injured.

If you do find that someone has suffered moderate or serious injuries, you should call emergency services and have an ambulance dispatched to the scene.

As long as no one is hurt, you can begin to document the loss to make claims investigations easier.

– Assess the Damage to Your Vehicle

Walk around the vehicles to assess the damage.

You will need to document where the third-party car is damaged and where your car is damaged so fault can be assessed when the claims adjusters file the claim.

With your phone, take pictures of the scene of the accident, where there is debris, along with detailed pictures of each vehicle.

Taking photos is very helpful to your adjuster and could make the difference in fault determination.

– Contact the Police if There Are Damages

In some states, you are required by law to call law enforcement whenever you have an automobile accident. In others, you must only notify the police when there are damages or injuries.

If you are not sure about the process, it is best to contact the police and report the accident.

The dispatcher will ask if there are serious injuries and may say that dispatch is unnecessary. If the police are available, they will report to the scene.

Most of the time, you will get a police report where the police will do a preliminary investigation. The investigation does not determine fault with the insurer, but the report can help.

Ask for the report number so that you can give this to your claims representative.

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– Collect As Much Information As You Can

When you are shaken up, it can be difficult to remember all of the information that you need to collect from the other drivers and witnesses. This is information that you will need to provide to your carrier, so you must ask for it before you make the call.

It can be very helpful to create an accident checklist and keep it in your glove box.

The accident checklist may be downloaded online, or you can type one up yourself. It should include the following:

  • Date and time of accident
  • Location (cross streets or address)
  • Vehicle make, model and color, plate number (VIN if possible)
  • Name of the owner of the vehicle
  • Driver name, address, phone number, and driver’s license number
  • A list of injuries for each driver, passenger, and pedestrian
  • Name and contact information for each witness
  • Police department, officer name, and case number
  • Insurance company and policy number of owner
  • Insurance company and policy number of the driver

– Leave a Note If You Cannot Find the Vehicle Owner

If you hit an unoccupied vehicle, or you believe someone hit your car in a parking lot, leave a note in the vehicle with your contact information.

Do not just leave the scene, which is considered leaving the scene of a crime.

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Step 2: After Leaving the Scene of the Accident

A man stands in front of his SUV being towed.

Once you have collected all of the information that you need and the police have come to the scene, you can leave.

If you were injured in the collision, you might have already left to get medical attention. It is possible that you will not be sore until hours after the accident, and if this happens you should seek medical attention.

Here are the steps to take once you are discharged from the hospital or once you get home:

– Arrange Towing

If your car was inoperable, you should call to have the car towed to a mechanic or a yard.

It might be best to wait until you speak to your claims adjuster before you have the car towed so that it is taken to the right location. The insurer will also pay for the tow as part of the claim if you are not at fault or if you have full coverage.

– Notify Your Insurer

It is finally time to file your insurance claim with your insurance agent.

You should file the claim as soon as you are safe and able. When you call, describe what happened. You should also describe the property damage and send pictures. A damage estimator may come to your location to assess the damage.

If you have any questions about the process, ask your agent.

While it is possible to call your agent right away, it is best to gather what you need first. After you file your claim, and it is investigated, you may discover that you are not happy with the service that you have received.

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