The law in every state requires a driver to notify his or her auto insurance company immediately after a traffic accident. An auto insurance “claim” asks an insurance company to reimburse an accident victim for damages to a vehicle involved in the collision. Offered here are some guidelines for filing and negotiating an auto insurance claim, but if you’ve suffered personal injuries as well as property damage, you’ll want to discuss your case with an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney before you take any other action.

A top priority for every driver in California is knowing and understanding your insurance coverage. The kind of coverage a driver carries determines who is liable to pay for property damage to a vehicle. Knowing and understanding your auto insurance coverage prepares you in case of a collision. If a collision happens, the very first thing you must do is to see if anyone needs immediate medical attention, and if so, summon it.

But even if you don’t think you’ve been injured in a traffic collision, it’s imperative to have a medical checkup as swiftly as you can – within 24 hours if at all possible. If a latent injury should emerge days or even weeks after a traffic accident, and you need to seek compensation for the injury, the results of that medical checkup can become key evidence in a personal injury case.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT?

After determining if immediate medical attention is required, the next thing that you must do after an accident is to summon the police to the accident scene. Get the names, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance details from the other driver or drivers – and share your own information as well. You must get the name of the other driver’s insurance company, that company’s contact information, and the driver’s policy number. If the other driver is too injured or impaired to help, ask the police officers to help you obtain the details you need. Confirm as quickly as possible that the information you’ve received is accurate.

Next, take as many photos as you can of the accident scene, the damage to the vehicles, and your own visible injuries, if any. Photographs are often powerful evidence in a personal injury case. If there were eyewitnesses to the accident, try to get their names, phone numbers, and addresses, or some way that your attorney can contact them for statements and testimony. Like photographs, the testimony of eyewitnesses – total strangers with no stake in the outcome – can be quite convincing evidence in a personal injury case.

Be prepared to provide all of that information, along with your own side of the story, when you contact the insurance company to file an auto insurance claim. Depending on which driver was at fault, either driver’s insurance company may be responsible for the repairs. If the insurance companies cannot agree regarding liability and the cost of the repairs, you may need to consult an attorney.

WHAT DOES NEGOTIATING WITH AN INSURANCE COMPANY ENTAIL?

If you negotiate a claim by yourself, contact the insurance company, complete the claim forms, and include copies of the supporting documentation. In most cases, negotiating with an insurance company will usually entail only a couple of telephone conversations and possibly a brief meeting with a claims adjuster representing the company. The adjuster will evaluate the damage to your vehicle and give you an estimate of the repair costs.

Before you contact the insurance company, take a few minutes. Decide what you think your claim is worth, and decide on a minimum acceptable settlement figure. Never disclose that minimum acceptable settlement figure during your negotiations. An adjuster will often begin a claim negotiation by offering a ridiculously low settlement amount – to see your reaction. Counter with a figure that is higher than the amount offered but just a bit lower than your original claim amount.

Never drop below your minimum acceptable settlement figure. You may have to go back and forth with an adjuster several times to arrive at an agreement. Do not let yourself feel rushed or pressured, and don’t let an adjuster intimidate you. If the adjuster points to legitimate details regarding your claim, and you have not considered those details, you might need to readjust – that is, reduce – your claim figure.

There’s no need to repeat the details of your claim each time you meet the adjuster. Instead, find your strong points – the extreme inconvenience your family has suffered, for example, or the other driver’s egregious negligence – and emphasize those.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CLAIM AGREEMENT IS FINAL?

When you have a final agreement, verify it immediately in a written letter to the adjuster. State the settlement amount, what the settlement amount covers, and the date you expect to receive payment. After a final agreement, you should be compensated quickly. If you aren’t, you have the right in California to take an insurance company to court for “bad faith” and hold the company liable for unethical settlement practices.

Bad faith practices by insurance companies include:

  • unexplained delays in payments
  • perpetually requesting more information to delay making a payment
  • settling auto accident claims for only a fraction of their value
  • offering you phony reasons for denying your claim

Sometimes, merely hiring an attorney who has bad faith insurance experience is all it takes to get some positive action from an automobile insurance company. If you go to trial in the state of California with a bad faith insurance lawsuit, and if your lawsuit prevails, you may be reimbursed for your attorneys’ fees as well as for the initial settlement claim amount that you were originally seeking.

Every company is in business to earn profits, and insurance companies are no different. Still, insurance companies cannot be permitted to increase their profits by ducking out of their obligations. When claims are undervalued, denied, or held up for no reason, victims can suffer unexpected and unnecessary financial hardships. And if you’ve sustained physical injuries in a traffic crash because another driver was negligent, don’t even attempt to negotiate with an insurance company before first consulting an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney.

If you sustained a severe injury in the accident, or if the details are in dispute over even a minor injury, don’t speak to an adjuster, and do not sign anything. If you sign an insurance document before meeting with an attorney, you could be waiving legal rights you will need if you were seriously injured. Unless you suffered only minor property damage and no personal injuries, let an experienced personal injury lawyer represent you and handle your insurance claim after a California traffic accident.