Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health in...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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In a nutshell...

  • When you file an insurance claim, the information that you provide will be investigated before a payout is made
  • The first step in any claims process is to collect as much information as needed to get compensated quickly
  • Once you call and report your claim, the file will be assigned to an adjuster who will contact the parties involved
  • The main purpose of investigating a claim is to allocate fault and to look for signs that the claim is fraudulent
  • An estimator must inspect your vehicle in its post-loss condition to determine how much it will cost to repair

When you get into a car accident, one of the first things you must do is remain calm.

Before you have an accident it’s important to have the right insurance coverage in place. Compare car insurance quotes today and make sure you’re prepared.

It’s easy to get caught up in your emotions and panic after you see the state of your vehicle but cool heads will prevail. If you’ve survived the accident without anything more than bumps and bruises, the very first step is to check on everyone else to see if they are okay.

Once you check on everyone, move your vehicle off of the road and start exchanging all of the information you need to file an insurance claim.

As difficult as it might be to calm your nerves, what you do at the scene of the accident is what will dictate how smoothly the claims process will go. If you’re not familiar with the process, here’s a valuable consumer guide to help:

Do you need to file your claim immediately?

The first call that you should make after you have an accident is to the police. Once you’ve contacted the local authorities and the reporting officer has drafted a police report, you can take the steps needed to officially file a claim with the insurance company.

You don’t have to file a first-party claim for your own damages but you do have to contact the company in a timely manner if you have the intentions to.

While there’s not a specific deadline that you have to file your claim, you have to contact the insurer in a reasonable amount of time or it could delay the entire claims process.

You’re given more time to pick up the phone if you were injured in the accident.

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Which carrier do you contact after the accident?

Deciding which company to contact can be a bit confusing after you’re in a major accident.

If the accident was clearly the other driver’s fault, you could contact the other carrier and handle your third-party claim entirely through the other driver’s insurer but that’s not advisable.

If you don’t inform your insurer of the loss, you’re opening the door to problems.

If your car is damaged, you’ve suffered injuries, or you’re liable for damage to someone else’s damages and injuries, you should file a claim with your own insurer.

By filing a claim under your existing insurance policy, you’ll have an expert claims adjuster by your side protecting you and communicating with the other insurer for you.

What is the risk of speaking with a third-party insurer on your own?


You might not think that it’s a big deal to call the other driver’s adjuster, but it could be one of the biggest mistakes that you could make during the claims process.

A claims adjuster represents their client. Their job is to keep the claims payment as low as possible.

Adjusters will look for slip-ups in your statement or misinterpret what you say to justify offering you less than you deserve. If you let your own adjuster speak to the other company, they know exactly what to say to protect you from bad faith tactics.

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What information do you need to collect at the scene?

The claims process starts before you ever file a claim. The claims process starts right at the scene where the accident occurred.

It’s your duty as a policyholder to collect everything that your agent needs to thoroughly investigate the case. If you don’t have an accident checklist in your car, here’s what you should gather:

  • Date and time of the accident
  • Location of the collision with addresses, cross streets, and/or landmarks
  • Road conditions and weather conditions
  • The direction you were traveling and rate of speed
  • Injuries to you, passengers, or bystanders
  • Police department responding and report number
  • Damage to your vehicle and other vehicles with photos
  • Year, make, and model of each vehicle
  • License plate number and VIN of each vehicle
  • Name and contact information of driver
  • Insurance company, agent, phone number, policy number, and expiration date

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What happens once you file your claim?


When you initially call your insurer, you’ll speak with a representative who will take basic information to start a claims record. The information is forwarded to the adjuster who’s assigned to your claim.

Claims adjusters do the following:

  • Interview parties
  • Verify information
  • Settle claims for a reasonable amount

How does the claims adjuster investigate a claim?

Some adjusters are employed directly through the insurer they work for and others work independently. There are also adjusters who only investigate property damage claims and there are others who only handle bodily injury claims.

No matter what type of adjuster is working on your case, the claim will be investigated the same.

The first step of investigating a file is to contact the driver and take a recorded statement. After this, the adjuster will contact the other carrier or the other driver to take a second statement.

Once both statements have been made, the adjuster may do the following to determine who was at fault:

  • Review a copy of the police report
  • Look at pictures of the damage and scene
  • Talk to witnesses
  • Inspect your vehicle
  • Visit the scene of the accident
  • Contact your medical providers if you were injured

Which company will pay for your loss?


How much you’ll receive depends on who’s at fault and what type of coverage you’re carrying. If you’re liable, you must have first-party physical damage coverage for your repairs to be covered by your own carrier.

If you’re not liable, you’ll collect under the other party’s liability coverage. Things work differently if you live in a no-fault state.

The claims process for more severe accidents can take a bit more time. If you’re not happy with how your insurer has handled your claim, you have the right to switch.

Start by getting instant quotes right here and then you can decide which carrier has the best reputation for settling claims quickly.