Auto Accident Claims Handling: From Start To Finish

Anxiety in dealing with an auto accident claims can tremendous. Familiarizing yourself on the process and what to look for may diminish much of the fear.

When an accident occurs it can be a difficult and somewhat uncomfortable time for those involved. Making a claim against an insurance company for the damages can, sometimes, exacerbate the situation. But familiarizing one's self on how the claims process is handled can alleviate some of the anxiety. There are many areas in which one should familiarize themselves when dealing with the claims adjuster, repairmen, medical expenses, litigation that may arise from the incident or any or other party involved.

Helping Yourself

First, be familiar with the auto policy that is in effect. A policy is a contract between two parties, the purchaser of that policy and the insurance company providing coverage for a specified premium. When a policy is purchased purchaser will receive a booklet that spells out the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy, this is also known as the insuring agreement. The other important component to the policy is called the Declarations page. This page shows what vehicles are covered, the drivers that are covered, the limit of the policy, and the insured's portion of responsibility. Also listed on the declaration page are specific forms and endorsements, called add-ons that are included in the policy. Knowing this will enable the policyholder to be aware of what is covered and what is not in the policy.

The next step is familiarizing one's self with key definitions of the policy. These are important to know when dealing with a claim. The adjuster will be referring to some specific key terms and having an understanding ahead of time what those are, can make the claims process go smoother. Some key terms are:

- Premium - the amount charged by the insurance company from the insured for coverage against specific losses.

- Insured - this is the first party or direct customer of the contract, this usually the policyholder.

- Covered Persons - drivers that are covered under the policy. Usually this includes all family members or any person driving your vehicle, unless a person is specifically excluded.

- Damages - these are what will be specifically paid out if a loss occurs. Generally, this covers property and liability losses, which include bodily injury. The policy can also pay for specific, verifiable expenses that the other party incurs, and general losses, other party's pain and suffering compensation. These two losses are covered under the liability portion of the policy and are subject to the limits of liability for the policy. Punitive damages are usually excluded under most policies unless required by law.

- Claimant - is known as the third-party to any claim against an insured. They do not have a direct contract with the insurance company but they have implied coverage when the insured is deemed responsible for the loss.

- Claim - declaration of damages incurred for a loss by either the insured or claimant.

- Claim Process - the handling of a loss by the representative of the insurance company.

Know the Process

There are various aspects of the claim's process that one needs to familiarize himself with in order to understand and lessen the anxiety when a claim occurs. Once the insurance company is notified of a loss against its policy a representative will be assigned to handle the claim. The first step in the process is for the representative of the company to determine if there is coverage that applies. The will look to see if a policy is in effect for the time of loss and if the loss is covered under the policy. The second step in the investigation is a determination of liability. They will interview all parties involved, get accident reports and witness statements. By doing this they will be able to determine whom the responsible party is for the losses incurred.

After liability is determined and it is found that the insured is the responsible party then the claim's adjuster will review the damages to the property and/or any bodily injury. The insurance company is only responsible for damages arising out of the covered loss. Any losses that are determined not related to the accident will not be covered. All medical information is gathered in this time, this includes medical bills, lost wages, prognosis and projected future expenses if the need arises. This portion of the investigation allows for the claim's adjuster to determine the amounts that should be paid out before a claim can be settled.

The next step in the claims process is the pay out of damages to the insured and/or claimant party. Critical assessment of the claim and fair claims handling will serve for a better outcome of the loss. If a claim's adjuster and those making a claim against the policy remain in a less antagonistic atmosphere and determine to resolve the matter amicably, litigation, medicate and a lengthy claim's process can be avoided. However, there are times when it is necessary to seek legal advice regarding a loss sustained by the wronged party. Tread warily because, though the person giving the legal advice may represent your behalf they are also serving their self-interests. It is customary for legal counsel to retain about one third of damages awarded, unless a flat fee can be negotiated before hand. Know before hand what the possible damages sustained were before retaining counsel, it may not be worth the legal fees.

If an individual is prepared to handle their own claim without bringing in another party it is to their benefit not to incur any additional expenses. As a third-party claimant, doing the homework, gathering the information and coming up with a fair settlement that you are willing to accept can help when negotiating with the claim's adjuster for compensation. Know as much as the claim's adjuster knows, get all accident reports, know how much damage your property sustained and if there was bodily injury then collect all medical bills and wage information, as well as, any pertinent information that may aid in settling your case.

By familiarizing one's self with the claim process some of the anxiety about the unknown is diminished. Also, be aware of damages that are covered by the contract and be realistic about the damages that are suffered. By cutting down on anticipations of high rewards you can negotiate a more realistic settlement which in turn brings the claim process to a speedier end.

Looking Out For Your Own Interests

The best way to avoid the hassles of a, sometimes, lengthy claim process is not to be involved in a loss in the first place. This is not always possible because you cannot always account for the other drivers. You can however, take precautions when driving on the roadway. Be alert to the surroundings at all times. Stay away from aggressive drivers. If another vehicle is moving in an uncharacteristic manner, it may indicate that there is some impairment on the driver's part. Allow enough space, preferably about two car lengths, between you and the vehicle in front of you. This allows room to take evasive action should it become necessary.

Pay attention to right-of-way laws. Drive with constant awareness to what is going on around you. Distractions such as cell phones, eating, reading and dealing with children should be kept to a minimum and can be best handled if time is taken to pull off the roadway to handle the situation. Great care should be taken when driving, by paying more attention and being aware of other drivers many accidents can be avoided.

© High Speed Ventures 2011