How to Handle the Aftermath of a Car Accident and Negotiate Insurance
Motor vehicles are responsible for a high number of fatalities and injuries. Knowing how to stay composed and deal with the aftermath of a car accident can mitigate stress and keep complications to a minimum. With the right steps, you will be able to file an insurance claim correctly with your auto insurance provider.
If you find out your accident may not be covered, it may even be a good time to discuss additional car insurance options or find other providers.
Why Trust MoneyGeek? MoneyGeek tapped several reliable sources for tips on handling the aftermath of a car accident and navigating the insurance claim process. We spoke various professionals who contributed to, examined and offered guidance on this topic. Our guides undergo a multistep process of authoring, fact-checking and editorial review.
How to Manage the Aftermath of an Accident
It’s crucial to ensure your safety and the safety of everyone involved after a car accident. Before you manage the particulars of insurance, always seek professional medical attention if you feel pain or discomfort. This step-by-step process can help you obtain an auspicious result.
Assess any injuries
Immediately after the accident, don’t focus on the damage. First, determine if you or anyone around you is injured. If someone is hurt, call 911 immediately to get an ambulance and police officers on the scene.
Move your vehicle to a safe spot
If your car is still functional, park it off the road to avoid obstructing traffic. Set up any flares or reflective gear to warn other drivers there may be debris. If not, turn on your emergency lights.
If you can move without pain or discomfort, get the information of those involved in the accident, including their names and phone numbers. You’ll also want to get the contact info for any witnesses who may be present.
Document the scene
Taking photos and creating an accurate record of what happened will help you file an insurance claim. The GPS feature of apps such as Axikit can help pinpoint the date, time and location where the accident occurred. Be sure to also write down the number of the police report.
Establish who is and isn’t at fault. If you are at fault, you’ll have to pay the other party through your liability insurance, and you’ll need to pay for your own damages through collision coverage.
Call your insurer
Most insurance companies require you to notify them immediately after an accident. That is not the same as filing a claim. Filing a claim means you are making a formal request for compensation.
Understanding What’s Covered Under Your Car Insurance Policy
All states except New Hampshire require drivers to have an auto insurance policy, but car insurance coverage varies from state to state. All policies should have liability coverage, which covers bodily injury and property damage. Bodily injury coverage pays for third-party injuries, while property damage pays for third-party property damage resulting from an accident.
In addition, some states will require the following:
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This protection policy covers the medical bills of the driver and passengers, regardless of who is at fault in an accident. Costs vary based on where you live and how much coverage you purchase, among other things.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM): If you get hit by an uninsured driver, this helps cover the costs of any damage or injuries you may sustain. Nearly 13% of motorists were uninsured in 2019, so it’s important to have this coverage regardless of whether it’s required by the state.
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM): If you get into an accident with a driver whose insurance does not cover the total cost of expenses, UIM can make up the difference.
In general, full coverage insurance is highly recommended. Full coverage insurance is an umbrella term for comprehensive and collision insurance. The former covers any damages to your vehicle not caused by an accident, such as vandalism or hail, while the latter covers the costs of damages to your vehicle if you are at fault in a collision.
Navigating the Claims Process
The process for filing a claim can be complicated if someone is severely injured or it isn’t clear who is at fault. Depending on where you live, there may also be a liability time limit — known as a statute of limitations. When filing your auto insurance claim, keep the following in mind.
Once you’re safely at home, filing a claim can be done through an insurer’s online claims system, their mobile app or phone agents. It’s better to start sooner rather than later while accident details are fresh in your mind.
Know what to expect
If you are at fault and file a claim with your insurer, you’ll have to pay a deductible. If you file a claim against the other party’s insurance, no deductible will be needed on your end.
Inform your passengers
Passengers injured in a car crash can file claims through the driver’s policy or their own insurance company. Depending on who is at fault, filing a claim through another driver’s insurance is also an option.
At-Fault vs. No-Fault
The issue of fault plays a key role in the aftermath of a car accident. Determining who is at fault will dictate who has the right to sue, along with who pays for the injured party’s damages. If you are responsible for an accident, you must pay for the damages and injuries made to any third party involved through your insurance.
Some states, like New York and Michigan, are no-fault states and require drivers to have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage which can help pay for injuries and damages regardless of who caused the collision. The Insurance Information Institute offers a summary of automobile financial responsibility laws by state.
Obtaining and Negotiating a Good Settlement
Insurers lose money when they pay for damages, so they will initially offer you the smallest amount reasonably possible. If you are unsatisfied with the initial offer, you are free to decline and negotiate to get the best settlement possible. To negotiate with an insurance claims adjuster, you have a few options.
- Get a lawyer. A lawyer can help you communicate with another party’s insurance company, in addition to helping you manage your medical bills and records, present evidence to prove liability and damages and negotiate to get the best settlement.
- Represent yourself. If you are making a smaller claim, it may not be worth the expense of pursuing a lawyer. If you go through the negotiations process alone, make sure to think of a minimum settlement amount you’re willing to accept.
- Ask an adjuster to justify their offer. If an offer is incredibly low, highlight each concern in a letter. To receive a more reasonable settlement, note any emotional issues, such as how your accident has affected your day-to-day life and the extent of damage to your vehicle.
Mentally Recovering From a Car Accident
Car accidents are anxiety-provoking experiences that can elicit shock, anger, fear and guilt. Aside from dealing with insurance claims and other particulars, it’s important to prioritize your well-being. The following tips can bolster your mental health.
- Talk to friends, family or counselors. Discussing points of stress can help you understand your feelings and set you on a path toward wellness. Talk to loved ones, seek advice and explain how you feel to someone you trust.
- Establish a routine. Resuming your normal activities can help you move past trauma. Try to incorporate exercise and other enjoyable hobbies into your daily life, and consider stress-reducing activities such as yoga.
- Follow up with your doctor. If you’ve sustained a physical injury, you may have long-term health needs that require professional help. If emotional stress is impacting your life, you may also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Make sure your health insurance is current to get the treatment you need.
- What happens if you are visiting another state and get into an accident in a no-fault state? Are there additional steps you should take to work with your insurance company?
- What can you expect from the claims process and your insurance provider if you are involved in an accident driving someone else's car? Does this increase your insurance premiums?
Trial Attorney, Simeone & Miller, LLP
Managing Partner at Sawan and Sawan
Partner at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin
Resources for Dealing with an Auto Accident
A variety of resources can help drivers navigate the aftermath of an accident.
- United Policyholders: This nonprofit organization provides tools for solving insurance problems after an accident or adverse event. The Roadmap to Recovery program includes claim tips, sample letters, instructional videos and a professional help directory, in addition to other resources.
- National Institute of Health: PTSD can occur after a shocking, scary or dangerous event. The NIH can help individuals understand symptoms and how to start getting help.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Panel: If you are involved in an accident involving a driver under the influence, MADD offers a Victim Impact Panel (VIP) program that provides a safe space for survivors and others who are impacted to discuss openly about the crash. It is intended to help drivers who were under the influence navigate how their substance use and driving impact others.
- Accidental Impacts: Accidental Impacts provides information, support and ways to heal and cope with injuring or killing others as a result of an accident. It also offers peer support to work through the accident and learn and grow from the experience.
About the Author
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem." Accessed August 4, 2021.
- Insurance Information Institute. "Driving Behaviors Reported For Drivers And Motorcycle Operators Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2019." Accessed August 4, 2021.
- Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Uninsured motorists." Accessed August 5, 2021.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2020." Accessed August 4, 2021.