At fault car accident with insurance
Dealing with your car insurance company after a crash can be a time-consuming hassle. Now imagine what it's like to deal with the insurance company of a person you don’t know who crashed into your car.
Here are some tips to ensure you maintain your cool — and your sanity — when making a claim with someone else’s insurer, known as a third-party claim.
Gather necessary information
The driver who crashes into your car is responsible for reporting the accident to his or her car insurance company. However, make sure you contact their insurer as well. Motorists who cause accidents are often reluctant to report them.
It’s vital to get complete information on the other party at the accident scene. Collect the following:
- Other driver's name and address
- Other driver's insurance company name and policy information
- Statements and contact information from witnesses
- Take pictures of the accident scene -- most smartphone cameras are suitable.
This way, you'll have evidence gathered at the scene to bolster your position on the cause of the accident. Check to see if your car insurance company has a mobile app that can help you document the accident while at the scene. Some of the best car insurance companies have apps that come with an accident checklist and tell you how to best gather information so you can make a claim with it or the other party’s insurer.
In addition, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ free smartphone WreckCheck App can help you collect and exchange the right information.
Notify the right people
You should then inform the other person's insurer that you have been involved in a crash with one of its policyholders. Relay only the facts of the accident, even if you believe the other driver to be at fault.
The police will determine who is at fault for ticketing purposes. Independently, the insurer will make its own determination of fault, which may or may not match law enforcement’s assessment of fault. The insurer will take into account items such as the police report, driver and witness statements and physical evidence. (Here's more on what to do after a car accident.)
Although you may feel that you have not caused the accident, you should contact your insurance company anyway. This establishes your good-faith accident-reporting effort and can aid you if the other party's insurer denies responsibility for the accident and you need to make a collision claim.
Theoretically, you should only have to notify the other party's insurer of your damages and injuries, take your car to a body shop, visit a doctor and expect the insurer to pay your bills.
But theories don't always reflect reality. Car insurance companies may demand that you obtain their authorization before proceeding with vehicle repairs and injury treatments. If the insurance adjuster doesn't authorize a repair before you take it to the auto shop, it can create a problem. At minimum, make certain that the insurance company has accepted liability before going ahead with repairs. Get that authorization in writing. Ask the insurer to email it to you.
Remember that an insurance company can't force you to take your vehicle to a specific repair facility. Most states allow auto insurers to recommend auto body shops but they aren't allowed to demand you use a certain repair facility. The choice is yours.
Pick your battles wisely
The at-fault driver's insurer may tell you to seek payment from your own insurer because it has no evidence of its policyholder's fault. Although most states have made it illegal for an insurer to deny claims without reasonably investigating the facts, or to deny claims when its liability is reasonably clear, you may not want to fight the other person's insurance company.
If you make a claim with your insurer, it might choose to fight the other insurance company for compensation if it finds other driver is at fault.
If you decide to fight the at-fault driver's insurer on your own you'll need a lawyer — especially if you've been seriously injured. An attorney can help you navigate the sometimes-murky laws that govern insurance. But keep in mind that if you hire an attorney, he will take a cut of any settlement he helps you get.
You may have evidence of the other driver's fault — maybe he even admitted it at the scene — yet you find your claim denied by his auto insurance company. Why? Because he probably told a version of how the accident happened that doesn't square with yours. His insurer may stand behind that story in order to avoid paying your claim.
Sometimes the insurance company will take its policyholder's position, even if it contradicts the police report.
It not unusual for companies to take their policyholder's side in cases where no police accident report was made and fault isn’t obvious. In many states, if an officer at an accident scene determines the damage is minimal (usually less than $500), he or she will not file an accident report. Body shop estimates for that same accident, however, might run into the thousands of dollars. Take your car to a repair shop so you can determine the extent of the damage.
If it's a small claim, you can take the other driver to small claims court. Otherwise, you may need a lawyer. Insurance companies know that unless you've hired an attorney, the longer the matter drags on, the more likely you are to compromise or simply go away.
If all else fails, look to your insurer
Even if you're not at fault, you can make a claim with your insurance company for payment of damages and injuries -- if you have the right coverages.
If you have collision insurance, file a claim with your own carrier. It will pay for the cost of repairs or total loss of your vehicle. If you take this approach, you will have to pay your collision deductible toward repairs. However, you may get that money back if your insurer is able to settle with the other driver's insurance company.
If it turns out the other driver is uninsured and you have uninsured motorist coverage property damage (UMPD), you can make a claim for your vehicle’s damage. There is no deductible for UMPD claims.
Your car insurance rates aren't necessarily going to increase at renewal time if you make a claim under your own insurance policy for an accident that wasn't your fault.
Most state laws prohibit insurers from surcharging policyholders or raising their premium rates for accidents in which they weren't at fault. However, those laws do not preclude your insurer from dumping your policy at renewal time if you've made a few recent claims of any type.
Understand your injury coverage
Can't work? Totaled car? Get paid
If you miss work because of an injury you sustained in a car crash that was someone else's fault, you can expect that person's insurance company to pay for your lost wages. But their policy will have a limit on the amount you can recoup for lost wages.
If you're hit by a driver whose liability limits are not high enough to cover all of your medical expenses and lost wages, you can make a claim under your own underinsured motorist coverage for the remainder. If you live in a no-fault state, your PIP coverage will pay for your lost wages up to the limits of your policy.
When another driver wrecks your car beyond repair, his or her insurance company should pay you the actual cash value of your car before it was totaled. The industry standard definition of actual cash value is "replacement cost" minus "depreciation." Replacement cost is the amount of money it would take to replace your vehicle with a similar one. Depreciation is the amount of money your car has devalued over time.
The insurer also should pay for the sales tax on the new vehicle that you purchase with the insurance money. See what to do when your auto insurer totals your car for more information.
In most states you would make a claim for your injuries through the at-fault person’s auto insurer. If they are uninsured, you could make a claim through your own uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, if you have it, or through your health insurance.
There are some states that require you to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) and have slightly different rules for collecting for your injuries after an accident. For example, your PIP coverage pays for your medical expenses and lost wages, even if you are not to blame for the crash. Receiving your PIP benefits requires you to make a claim under your own insurance policy. A deductible and/or copayment may be due when you use your PIP coverages.
This is commonly the situation in no-fault states — although the law differs in each one. Some no-fault states give you the option of contacting the at-fault driver's insurer to recover medical expenses not paid by your PIP. Your vehicle’s property damage would still be claimed through the at-fault party’s liability coverage in no-fault states (except Michigan where special rules apply).
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 12 states and Puerto Rico have no-fault insurance laws: Florida, Hawaii,, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota Pennsylvania and Utah. If you live in one of these states, it’s wise to check with your insurance agent, or your state insurance department, for the tips on how to handle third-party accident claims.
Insurance companies are always looking for ways to shave a few dollars from the cost of a claim, and reimbursements for rental-car costs often are the first to meet the blade.
Insurance companies often tell accident victims that they pay only a certain amount per day for rental cars. As a victim of another person's negligence, you have the right to recoup the costs associated with fixing the disruption you experience, including all of the costs of renting a vehicle while your own vehicle is being repaired.
To avoid having to pay for part of a rental, rent reasonably. And don't purchase a collision damage waiver from the rental company if your own insurance policy extends coverage for damage to rental cars.
If you rent reasonably and the insurer wants to short-change you on rental reimbursement, ask the insurer to put its reason in writing. Insurers must inform you in writing of their decisions to deny or reduce payments.
Know what you deserve
Knowing your state's prompt-payment law is beneficial. Every state's unfair claims settlement practices act outlines the time frame in which an insurer must issue you a check for your damages. We have more on how your state’s Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act can help you.
Laws vary widely from state to state, with many simply mandating a "prompt" payment of claims, while others specify a number of days and the interest owed to you if the insurer fails to pay within the specified period.
One last factor to keep in mind: Unfair claims settlement practices acts often do not extend the same rights to you if you're making a claim against another driver's insurance as opposed to making a claim under your own insurance policy.
Writing a matter-of-fact letter to the at-fault person's insurance company is a smart way to inform it of your expectations and rights. Telling the insurer that you expect it to pay all reasonable costs you incur as a result of the accident, including payment for repairs to or the total-loss value of your vehicle, diminished value of your car, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and rental-car costs will highlight the insurer's responsibilities under public policy.
Make sure you keep a record of all correspondence, including dates and the names of customer service reps.
by Patricia Gima
Fault and No-Fault Car Accidents: Understanding State Liability Laws by Patricia Gima
Fault in a car accident is generally determined by the state in which the accident occurred. State laws vary significantly, so it is important to contact an experienced lawyer to determine whether the state has a fault or no-fault based system.
Fault states: Most states have adopted a fault-based, or tort liability, system of auto insurance. In a fault-based system, insurance companies pay according to each party’s degree of fault. If you and your insurer don’t see eye-to-eye on your claim, you may have to file suit for uncompensated economic damages such as lost wages and medical expenses and non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
No-Fault States: Because the tort (lawsuit) system has led to many long and costly court battles over who was at fault and to what degree, policymakers in most states changed from a fault-based system to some form of a no-fault system.
Under no-fault automobile insurance laws, the good driver does not have to prove that the crash was somebody else’s fault before getting compensation. His insurance company picks up medical bills, rehabilitation costs and lost wages up to the amount spent. The tradeoff is the injured person cannot sue the other driver for pain and suffering, emotional distress and inconvenience. (If you live in a no-fault state, the no-fault portion of your auto insurance policy is usually called PIP or personal injury protection.)
At present, there are 12 states that have no-fault insurance:
When it comes to physical damage to your car or its contents, unlike compensation for bodily injury claims, insurance claims are still based on fault. Those claims are handled in the same way as those in a state with a fault law: by filing a lawsuit against the bad driver or looking to your own collision insurance.
Lawsuits, however, are permitted for injuries meeting a certain threshold, the definition of which varies considerably among the no-fault PIP states. An injured person can sue if the claim exceeds either a monetary or verbal (descriptive) threshold. In monetary threshold states (see below), medical expenses must be over a certain dollar amount. In verbal (descriptive) threshold PIP states (see below), injuries must be relatively severe (significant loss of use of body part, disfigurement, permanent disability, bone fracture) or expressed in terms of length of disability (full disability over 180 days). Some states have both, in which case an injured person can file a liability claim if he meets either one.
Because of the different hybrids in the PIP packaging, whether you can file an injury liability claim really will depend on the specifics of your state’s no-fault automobile law. Your best first step is to contact a car accident attorney to discuss how the relevant state law looks at fault and how that law affects your right to recover damages.
States with Add-On Coverage: To complicate matters, some states have “add-on” no-fault automobile insurance laws. Add on allows the driver to purchase personal injury protection as an optional coverage. The plan pays benefits to the injured without regard to who caused the accident, but the driver can sue (and be sued) for accident-related injuries and pain and suffering. The following are add-on states:
Thresholds: As stated above, no-fault car insurance limits your ability to sue another driver, except under defined thresholds. The threshold–which varies widely from state to state–may be expressed in a verbal description of the seriousness of the injury or a specific dollar value. If you meet the threshold requirements, you may sue to recover damages for pain and suffering.
States with Monetary Thresholds: In the following 7 states, the injured person’s medical expenses must exceed a dollar threshold before taking their injury liability claim to court:
States with Serious Injury Thresholds: In the following states, you can file a liability claim if you are at least relatively seriously hurt. The criteria of seriousness can be expressed in terms of a written description (e.g. permanent disfigurement, scarring, or fractured bones) or expressed in terms of length of disability (e.g. disability for more than 60 days).
Injuries that qualify as serious are defined by each state’s law. The states that use severity as a threshold are:
Choice States: In these 3 states, the driver chooses to have a policy based on no-fault or the tort-based system where the policyholder retains litigation rights for accident compensation.
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Car Accident Liability: Proving Fault in a Car CrashDownload article as a PDF
In almost all car, bike, or motorcycle accidents, it's important to prove who was liable or responsible, that is: who made the mistake or was negligent. It may be obvious to all who was at fault in an accident, but just saying that often isn't enough for insurance companies. You make a stronger argument to your insurer if you can support your side of the story with evidence. The following are things that can make your argument stronger.
Police don't always come to the scene of an accident, but if they do, the officer will probably have to make some sort of official report about the accident. The police generally come to accidents that involve injuries, but they often stop at non-injury accidents as well. If they do show up at your accident, be sure to ask the officer how to get a copy of the report once it's filed.
Sometimes police officers don't show up at an accident. In places where police resources are limited, the parties often have to report the accident to the closest police station. After filing a police report, investigators may pick up your report and conduct their own inquiries. You can obtain copies of these reports.
Police reports are the written recollections of the officer that studied the accident. These reports often contain great evidence about liability, such as the officer's opinion that one car was speeding based on the officer's observations of the length of the skid-marks. Officers also often indicate whether they issued any traffic tickets at the scene of an accident.
The police report can be one of the most important pieces of evidence you present to your insurance company. Insurance companies may drag their feet about issuing car accident liability reports without first obtaining a copy of the police report.
Amending a Police Report
If there's a mistake in a police report, it can be fixed. If the mistake involves a factual error, like incorrect vehicle or insurance information, you can generally amend the report by showing the police that information.
However, amending a disputed fact, like fault determination, is much more difficult. Police departments often have different procedures for objecting to a report. You should contact the department involved in your accident to learn about their procedure. In many cases, you simply add your statement to the accident report. While it's difficult to overcome a fault determination, it's not impossible. You should consult with an accident attorney to determine the strength of your case.
State Traffic Laws
State traffic laws, often called the vehicle code, are another great place to find support for your argument that the other driver was at fault. These laws are often condensed into simple-to-read "Rules of the Road" that may be at your local DMV. You can also find many vehicle codes online at various state government websites, public law libraries, and in FindLaw Codes.
After you've found the law that applies to your accident, you're in a better position to negotiate with your or the other driver's insurance company. For example, a code relating to yielding the right of way may be useful for a merging accident. Have the exact wording of the code, as it won't help you to cite a law incorrectly to an insurance company.
No Fault Car Accident Liability
Certain kinds of accidents will almost always be one driver's fault. In these situations, insurance companies rarely argue about which driver is responsible and will most likely attempt to settle immediately.
Rear End Accidents
Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of accidents. If a car hits you from behind, it'll almost never be your fault, even if you were stopped. One basic driving rule is that you're supposed to leave enough room in front of your car to stop when the car in front of you stops suddenly. If the driver behind you couldn't stop, he or she probably wasn't driving safely.
When one car's rear end is damaged and another car's front end is damaged, there really isn't much to argue about who hit who. But the driver who hit you may have a claim against a third party driver that caused you to stop suddenly or the car behind him that pushed him into your car. This doesn't affect his or her liability for the damage to your car.
Although another driver was probably at fault, you may also be partially at fault if your negligence contributed to the accident. For example, if your brake lights were out or you had a flat tire and decided to stop in the middle of the road, you may also bear some comparative negligence which will reduce your monetary compensation.
Similarly, left turn accidents are almost always the fault of the driver taking the left turn. Cars coming straight into an intersection will have the right of way in most cases, making the car turning left responsible for the accident. If the car going straight through the intersection is speeding or runs a red light, this may shift some or all of the liability away from the car turning left. Rarely, if the car started turning left while it was safe to do so, but was forced to stop because of some unforeseen circumstance, then some of the liability may be shifted.
How to Get a Free Case Review
While minor fender-benders typically can be resolved simply by exchanging insurance information, even minor accidents can result in serious injuries. If you have been injured in a car accident, have an experienced injury attorney review your claim free of charge. If you have a valid claim, many attorneys will wait until you have settled your case to collect their fees.