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How to report an accident to insurance

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Accidents are never a good thing, but they happen more frequently than you might expect. Whether you’re in a fender-bender or multi-car collision, knowing what to do after the accident is something you should learn beforehand. It enables you to handle the situation effectively in the chaotic moments following an accident.

In this report, we’ll look at when you need to report an accident to your insurer, and when you might not need to report it. We’ll also review what information you should provide and what to expect after you’ve reported your accident. 

When to report an accident to insurance

Whether or not you need to report an accident to insurance largely depends on the extent of damage, whether or not others were involved, and the speed of the vehicles in the collision. 

In most cases, you will want to report an accident to your insurance company to ensure you are protected and provided for financially in the event of injury or damage. 

Any accident that involves another car or cars should be reported. The same is true for any accident where there are injuries — or any accident that involves significant damage to your car, another vehicle, or to other property, such as a fence or light post.

The only time you might not need to report your accident is if your car is the only one involved, or the damage is negligible. For example, if you are backing out of your garage and you sideswipe your mailbox, you may decide to pay for the repairs yourself and not involve your insurer, so your premium doesn’t rise.

What you need to report an accident

Accidents can leave you feeling somewhat shaken, so having a good idea beforehand of what you need to say and do is a great idea. You may even want to keep a list of the information you’ll need in your glove compartment so that if the time comes when you need it, it’s easily accessible.

Basically, you’ll need to share the following with the insurance rep you talk to:

  • Your name and the name of any other drivers
  • The policy number of the policy that you’ll be making the claim to (whether it is yours or the other driver’s)
  • License numbers of all involved drivers
  • Where the accident happened
  • The date and time it happened
  • A general description of what happened. A quick internet search may result in diagrams useful for describing right of way and intersections as necessary. 

In addition, if you are able to get the names and contact information for any witnesses to the accident, that can be helpful. You may need this information later if your claim is contested. Having photograph or video evidence of any damage to vehicles is also recommended.

Reporting an accident to insurance

Many providers now make it easy to report your accident via the carrier’s website. Many major insurance companies, such as Geico, offer an online form you can fill out to report your claim. Others may take a phone call. Either way, it’s typically a fairly simple process to initiate a claim.

Having a police report from the accident helps even more. Calling the police for all but the most minor of accidents is recommended. They will fill out either an incident or an accident report that you can keep with your paperwork related to the accident. 

Note that the insurer you report your claim to may not be your own. There are two types of claims: a first-person claim goes to your own insurance company; while a third-person claim goes to the company of the other driver involved in the accident. The latter would come into play if the other driver was at fault for the accident.

Regardless of which insurance company you make the claim with, the steps will essentially be similar. If you do make a third-party claim with the other company, it’s a good idea to let your own insurer know so that if there are issues with the claim, they can advocate for you through the process of subrogation

What to expect after you report the accident

Most claims progress smoothly, provided all information is accurately conveyed at the time of filing. Expect a brief period of waiting while the insurance adjustor assesses the damage and works through the paperwork involved. In many cases, your initial claim will be decided without additional input from you, and you’ll receive a check, if you’re entitled to one. The best car insurance companies will handle the situation quickly and competently.

Occasionally, a claim will be denied. If the denial is justified — for example, if you make a claim on damage to your own car for an accident you caused, but don’t have collision coverage — there’s little you can do about it. 

But if you feel the denial was unjust, or that the amount you received wasn’t fair, you do have recourse to arbitration. Don’t cash any checks, and speak first to your insurance agent to find out what the problem was. Every insurer has its own process for filing an appeal; you’ll need to follow their directions to do so.

If that doesn’t resolve your situation, and you still feel you’ve been dealt with unfairly, you can file an appeal with your state’s insurance commissioner. Another option is to hire a public adjuster or lawyer and work out a strategy with them to recoup your losses.

The takeaway: 

  • In all but the most minor of accidents, it’s best to report the accident to an insurance company.
  • You can report an accident by phone, or online, in some cases.
  • A first party claim is one you make to your own insurance company; a third party claim goes to the company of the other driver in the accident.
  • If you do not feel the insurer has dealt with you fairly, you may file an appeal with the company or your state’s insurance commissioner. You may also hire a lawyer to represent you.

Being involved in an accident is never fun, but knowing what to do when it happens can spare you some grief. Unless the accident is very minor, you’ll want to file a claim with either your own insurer or that of the other driver in the accident. This is a fairly simple process handled over the phone or online, in most cases. If your claim is not approved, you can file an appeal or hire a lawyer to represent you with the insurer.

Mary Van Keuren

After 30 years as a writer and editor in academia, Mary now writes full-time for the insurance and finance industries. Her work has appeared on Reviews.com, TheSimpleDollar.com and Bankrate.com, as well as other consumer-focused websites.

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