Getting a fair settlement when filing a claim with an auto insurance company depends on knowing which steps are required and keeping good records, according to a recent report by a consumer advocacy group.
Here are 10 tips from the "Guide to Navigating the Auto Claims Maze: Getting the Settlement You Deserve" by Mark Romano, director of insurance claims projects at the Consumer Federation of America:
After an accident, check your policy to review the terms. You need to have collision coverage to pay for damage to your own car. Cooperate by providing information and making your car available for damage appraisal.
In many cases, you call in your claim to your insurer's claims call center. When doing so, get the name of the adjuster who is being assigned to your claim (if the phone representative has that information), the claim number, the phone number of the claim office that will be handling your claim and a timeframe for when you can expect to hear back from someone.
Typically, you'll be asked to make a statement about the accident that will be recorded. From there, you should get detailed information about how the insurer will estimate losses and conduct repairs on your car. Find out if the company will send an appraiser to your home to assess damage or if you are required to bring your car somewhere for this process.
Remember that you are not under contractual obligation to have any particular business do your car repairs. Should your auto insurance company recommend a garage, it's your choice whether to bring your car there or not. "Your insurance company may recommend that you take your car to a particular repair facility. That is because they have established a relationship with that facility that will likely save them money," says the report.
Document all of your efforts to get problems resolved by keeping a record of every call you make or receive, including who you talk to, when the calls happen and what you were told during these conversations.
If you are not getting satisfactory service during the claims process, the report recommends skipping the adjuster's immediate supervisor and contacting more senior-level executives who oversee the entire office – managers, directors or regional vice presidents.
"Assuming that your concern is justified, supervisors at this level are often very interested in customer service and extremely motivated to resolve problems before they escalate," as customer service is typically a component of their bonus structure, says the report.
Another option is to contact the vice president or director of claims in the home office of the car insurance company.
The report also recommends filing a complaint with your state insurance department, which can typically be done online. Although the department cannot order a company to take any action, you may at least get answers to your questions. If you feel strongly that your car insurance company failed to meet its obligations under the terms of your insurance policy, you can always contact a lawyer who specializes in insurance litigation.
For those who file a claim with the insurer of the driver he or she believes to be at fault, there are some potential pitfalls. The other insurer is not contractually obligated to assist you, so you may not get much information during the process.
If you decide to move forward with a claim through the other driver's insurer, you are not obligated to agree to a recorded statement with the other driver’s company. In fact, the CFA recommends that you decline to do so if asked. "They could then attempt to distort your statement and use your own words against you in an effort to reduce the amount they offer you for either your car repair or an injury. However, you should certainly cooperate within reason; explain what occurred, what are the damages to your vehicle and describe any injuries that you may have," says the report.
You should also not give the other driver's insurance adjuster your Social Security number, which could be entered into a national database insurers share to determine injury claim histories, says the report.
Also, the CFA advises that you obtain medical bills and records related to your auto accident and submit them to the other driver’s insurance company. This allows you to remove your Social Security number and any medical information not related to the accident.
Sometimes insurers have outside firms evaluate your medical information once you have provided it. To increase your chance of a fair assessment, the CFA advises that you tell the other driver's insurer that you will not allow it to share your medical information with any third-party consulting firms. Likewise, ask if the company will use injury evaluation software programs to assess your medical information, and if so, ask to receive a copy of any resulting reports.
Finally, do not agree to release all claims against the insurance company if you are still under treatment or your condition is unresolved, says the report. "You should also not agree to this restriction if you feel pressured by the adjuster to make a decision too quickly, or feel that the amount of reimbursement the adjuster is offering is not reasonable. You should, however, seek legal advice promptly in such circumstances. There are legal limits that vary by state that restrict the time you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit."
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