6 Important Facts about Filing a Car Insurance Claim (New Data)

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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: Jan 27, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • How long you have to file a claim depends on the requirements of your policy
  • Before filing a claim, make sure you have necessary documents in order
  • If your policy expires after your accident but before you file a claim, your insurance company still obligated to cover your accident

Article outline:

  • The Insurance Company’s Rules
  • State Laws (Statute of Limitations Table)
  • Your Responsibility after an Accident
  • The Insurance Company’s Responsibility

Have you been in a fender bender while driving your car lately? Maybe things in your life were already too hectic and you didn’t file a claim at the time of the incident.

Now some time has passed and things have calmed down. Unfortunately, you continue to see that ugly dent in the side of your car. You are now wondering, “Can I still file a claim?”

Here is another scenario. What if you were in a very bad accident and had to stay in the hospital for a time? You would need to make sure that you have all your records and medical bills together before filing a claim.

This can certainly take quite a bit of time, especially for a person who is not functioning at 100 percent.

The amount of time you have to file a car insurance claim can be as long as two or even four years; it truly depends on a number of factors.

Read on further to learn generally how much time you have to file an auto insurance claim with your car insurance company and then be sure that you enter your ZIP code above to compare FREE car insurance rates!

#1 – The Insurance Company Plays a Role

Every car insurance provider and every state have different policies and laws as to how much time a motorist has to file a car insurance claim.

The best place to look for this information is on your automobile insurance policy contract.

The contract will state in plain words something along the lines that you have X amount of years from the date that an accident occurred to file a claim.

Every policy will be different, and some policies do have a clause permitting the company to reject a claim that was not reported in what they consider a “timely” manner.

It may be in your best interest to contact your insurance provider directly and ask a few hypothetical questions to be on the safe side.

Remember when contacting the insurance company, that they often have their best interests at heart, which usually means giving you the least amount of information they possibly can.

That said, there are still some excellent and honest insurance providers out there that do care about your interests. Contact your insurance provider so you can get answers to all your questions in an upfront and truthful manner.

Asking a hypothetical question of how long you have after an accident to file a claim should be accompanied by a specific time frame, not a reply of “as soon as possible” with no other details given.

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#2 – Laws Differ from State to State

If for some reason your policy does not have a set time, and the agents are unwilling or unable to give you an answer, you may need to check into your state’s laws.

Look up information on:

  • State precedents
  • The statutes of limitations
  • The amount of time you have to make a claim

The following table contains the statute of limitations for each state. You can check the data right here.

StatePersonal Injury Statute of LimitationsProperty Damage Statute of Limitations
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
2 years4 years
Hawaii2 years2 years
Idaho2 years3 years
Illinois5 years2 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 yearas
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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A rough estimate for most states and agencies usually falls between the two- to four-year marks.

The statute of limitations refers to state laws in which a limit is placed on the maximum amount of time you have to pursue legal action against someone or something.

Most companies prefer it if a motorist files a claim right away, as this tends to save the company money due to having fewer details of the accident, and thus lower payouts.

While you should try to file a claim as soon as you have all the documentation together (such as police reports and hospital bills) do not let the insurance company rush you.

You do not want to miss details that will end up costly, due to the fact that you rushed to make a claim. As long as your claim time follows your policy guidelines, you cannot be denied for taking your time and making a shrewd move.

#3 – Documentation of the Scene of the Collision Will Help

There are some precautions to take to ensure the process goes smoothly.

  • Keep a camera in your car and document any damage that happens to it. This may help document and capture evidence that would not otherwise be there.
  • Always contact the police and have them file a police report so you can have additional evidence and proof on your side.
  • You should also seek to ask any witnesses near the scene for their contact information.

Now you know that the amount of time you have to file a car insurance claim all depends on your state and insurance provider.

#4 – Claims Could Expire

For example, if you are expecting the payout for your totaled vehicle to include coverage for high-performance parts, the insurance company will require you to produce receipts proving that you purchased those parts.

If your time limit is 60 days, and you fail to produce the receipts within that period, your claim could expire.

The good news is that in cases like these insurance companies very rarely terminate your claim in whole.

Instead, they would just forget about the high-performance parts and issue you a payout based on the replacement value of your vehicle.

Cases where your claim would be fully terminated include the failure to provide the following:

  • police reports
  • medical evaluations
  • doctor bills

As long as you comply with your insurance company’s requests in a specified amount of time, you have nothing to worry about.

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#5 – The Insurance Company Has a Deadline

days of a calendar_60115764-1600x1600

Different states have different regulations when it comes to this part of the insurance claims process.

For example, California has very specific time requirements for claims settlement, while Iowa simply requires insurance companies to settle within a “prompt and reasonable” time frame.

That state never defines what “prompt and reasonable” means, giving insurance companies great leeway to settle claims at their own pace.

Regardless of the state in which you live, if you feel your insurance claim is not being handled promptly or prudently you can always petition your state insurance department to intervene.

Insurance companies are tightly regulated in every state and are subject to regulatory authority.

Even if your insurance company does attempt to settle your claim in a prompt manner, you can still dispute their findings through your state bureau.

Remember that insurance is a contract between you and the provider. If you don’t believe your car insurance company is living up to its end, insist that it does through the legal resources available to you.

#6 – Your Policy Will Protect You Even if It Expires the Day after the Accident

man in front of car accident

Your car insurance company is required to cover you right up through the expiration date printed on your policy documents. Therefore, even if you have an accident the day before your policy expires the insurance company is still required to honor its commitment.

Keep in mind that they probably won’t go out of their way to be prompt should you still decide to let your policy expire. But by law, they can’t put you off forever. At some point, the insurance contract requires them to settle up with you.

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  1. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2013/07/when-to-report-a-car-accident-to-an-insurance-company/index.htm
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_limitations
  3. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11_Bmzi_3ur23B_L11aedWQuvFqaWMvD5ZYeDMU8JGZo/edit#gid=0
  4. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/what-to-do-after-a-car-accident/index.htm
  5. https://www.simmsshowers.com/news/the-importance-of-taking-pictures-following-a-motor-vehicle-accident/
  6. https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/12/17/7-steps-to-take-after-a-car-accident
  7. https://www.flickr.com/photos/alachuacounty/25168022601/sizes/h/
  8. https://www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm

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