In the days following your auto accident, you can expect to have a great deal of contact with your insurance agent. However, to ensure that you receive a fair settlement, it's crucial that you understand your rights throughout the process of filing a claim.
When Should You Contact Your Insurance Agent?
After an accident, your first priority should be attending to any injured people and speaking to any law enforcement on the scene. Once this has been done, you can contact your car insurance agent. It's perfectly acceptable to contact your agent after you return home from the accident scene. If needed, you can even wait until the following day.
It's vital that you contact your insurance agent even if you're convinced the other driver is 100 percent at fault for the accident. There are several reasons for this:
- Your policy terms most likely require you to report all accidents to your agent.
- You could be mistaken about the facts and have partially contributed to the accident.
- The driver could have insufficient insurance to cover your injuries and require you to seek reimbursement through your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
- You might need your insurance company to help you obtain a rental car while yours is being repaired.
What Happens After You Contact Your Agent
Under the terms of most auto insurance policies, the insurance company has certain rights when you report an accident. These include:
- To expect reasonable cooperation. You are obligated to cooperate with your insurance company, but there are limits to what you're expected to do. You must provide names of witnesses and any medical providers you are seeing, as well as a general statement about how the accident happened. However, don’t allow them to interrogate you, and you don’t have to provide a recorded statement speculating as to who caused the accident.
- Access to your medical and work records. You will most likely need to sign a form called Authorization for Release of Records or something similar, so your insurance company can verify your losses following the accident.
- To inspect your vehicle. You must allow the insurance company's representatives to inspect your vehicle before any repairs are made under your own policy. Even if you've already provided pictures of the damage, your insurance company still has the right to an in-person inspection.
- Right of subrogation. This is the technical way of saying that your insurance company has the right to collect damages from the responsible driver if they've already paid out on your behalf. For example, if you opted to have your vehicle repaired immediately using your own collision coverage, the insurance company could legally seek reimbursement for its expense from the responsible driver's insurance company.
Should You Contact an Attorney?
Although it's understandable to hope that you'll quickly resolve your claim without professional legal representation, contacting an attorney is often the best way to make sure your rights are protected.
For example, when requesting access to your medical and work records, some insurance companies will want permission to go decades back and request every type of record imaginable—including your credit history. Your attorney can review any release you sign to make sure you're not giving permission for this type of action. In addition to being irrelevant to your case, an overreach in requesting records is an invasion of your privacy.
If the investigation into the accident reveals that you're partially at fault, your attorney will provide invaluable assistance in negotiating a fair settlement. There is no standard formula for assessing fault, so a skilled attorney can often maximize your ability to collect damages by reducing your assigned fault percentage.
Even if you're not at fault, most insurance companies will provide a low-ball offer for their initial settlement. It's best to have an attorney review any offer you receive to make sure it fully compensates you for your injuries and any applicable property damage.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's attorneys are committed to helping injured Louisiana residents recover damages from negligent drivers. To schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation, please complete our online contact form.