After a motor vehicle accident, one of the first steps you may consider includes calling your insurance company to report the crash. However, you may hesitate to call your insurer when you didn’t cause the accident, especially if you worry that filing a notice or claim may cause your insurance premiums to rise.
But you have important reasons to contact your auto insurance provider even if another driver caused the accident. Your policy might pay for expenses following the accident, and timely reporting of a crash can preserve your eligibility for liability coverage if another party files an accident claim against you. However, consult with a skilled car accident lawyer before calling the insurance company to protect your rights as you deal with insurance adjusters.
Understanding Fault in Motor Vehicle Accidents
When an insurance company talks about fault in the context of a motor vehicle accident, it refers to the party or parties who are liable for injuries and financial or personal losses resulting from the accident. Insurance companies must determine which party or parties bear responsibility for causing an auto accident since those parties and their liability insurance providers must compensate other victims of the accident.
Insurance companies thoroughly investigate motor vehicle accidents to recover evidence that helps the insurer identify the cause(s) of the crash and the driver or other parties responsible for the collision.
Evidence that insurers frequently use in evaluating auto accident claims include:
- Police accident reports: When law enforcement responds to the scene of a crash, an officer will write an accident report detailing the results of the on-scene investigation. The report may list the vehicles involved in the crash, any injuries or property damage caused by the accident, a diagram of the collision, and the officer’s opinion on who or what caused the accident.
- Traffic citation/arrest records: Insurance companies also rely on evidence that a driver committed a traffic infraction or criminal offense during the accident as proof that the driver caused the crash due to their illegal behavior.
- Accident scene photos/videos: People involved in a motor vehicle accident may take photos or videos of the accident scene, including details like vehicle damage, skid marks, and traffic signs/signals. When a driver calls their insurance company from the crash scene, the insurer may send an adjuster or investigator to take photos or videos as soon as possible after the accident.
- Surveillance/traffic camera footage: Insurance companies may request copies of footage of the crash to confirm the drivers’ and witnesses’ recollections of the accident.
- Eyewitness testimony: Insurers may interview the drivers of the vehicles involved in the crash, the drivers’ passengers, and other motorists or bystanders who witnessed the accident.
- Accident reconstruction reports: Insurance companies may also retain accident reconstruction experts to review evidence from the crash to develop a re-creation or write a narrative describing the events of the accident.
In some auto accidents, multiple drivers involved in the crash will bear responsibility for causing the accident. All parties that contributed to an auto accident share financial responsibility for injuries and losses caused by the crash.
When Should You Call Your Insurance Company After an Accident
After a motor vehicle accident, you may debate whether to call your insurance company, especially if the other driver caused the crash. You might worry that notifying your insurance company about the accident may jeopardize your coverage or lead to higher premiums, even if you didn’t cause the accident.
No matter the circumstances of the accident, you can always benefit from calling your insurance company to let them know that you’ve had a motor vehicle accident.
When you’ve gotten into an accident caused by another driver with liability insurance, you still need to call your auto insurance company after an accident in New York.
As a no-fault state, New York requires all auto insurance policies to provide personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. PIP coverage can pay an insured driver and their passengers for medical expenses and lost earnings due to auto accident injuries up to the policy limit, regardless of who caused the crash.
Because you can receive PIP benefits without needing to prove fault for the accident, insurers frequently refer to PIP as no-fault coverage. You may have other coverages in your auto insurance policy that can help pay for expenses after an accident, such as collision coverage to pay for accident damage repairs.
Suppose you’ve had an accident where the at-fault driver doesn’t have liability insurance, and you have the right to pursue compensation for accident losses from that driver. In that case, you should contact your auto insurance provider to use your uninsured motorist coverage.
With uninsured motorist coverage, your auto insurance company steps into the shoes of the insurance that the at-fault driver should have had to pay you the compensation you can legally recover from the at-fault driver.
Insurance companies sometimes bundle uninsured motorist coverage with underinsured motorist coverage (although New York does not require underinsured motorist coverage), which kicks in when an at-fault driver has liability insurance, but their policy limit cannot cover all your losses.
You should also call your insurer if you get into an accident with a hit-and-run driver. Insurance companies treat unidentified hit-and-run drivers like uninsured motorists, regardless of whether the driver has liability insurance, entitling you to pursue financial recovery from your own policy through an uninsured motorist claim.
Finally, you should always contact your insurer even if you bear some responsibility for an auto accident. Your insurance company can help you defend against an accident claim filed by occupants of the other vehicle.
Furthermore, your auto insurance policy may require you to notify the insurer about an accident within a few weeks following the crash. Notifying your insurer within the time frame required by your policy can ensure your eligibility for coverage, including liability coverage for any claims filed against you.
What to Expect After Calling Your Insurance
Today, insurance companies offer multiple avenues for notifying them about an auto accident or filing a formal claim. You can call the insurance company, contact them via email or the company’s website, or file a claim through the insurer’s mobile application.
When calling the insurance company or filling out a claim form online or through a mobile application, the online form or phone representative will prompt you to provide the information necessary to process your claim. This information could include the date/time/location of the accident, the drivers involved (including their license and insurance information, if available), and any vehicle damage or injuries you may have suffered.
Once you file a claim, you will receive a claim number you can use to identify yourself when contacting the insurance company. The insurer will assign an adjuster to investigate your claim and decide whether to approve or deny benefits.
Document each interaction with the insurance company carefully. Keep copies of all emails and written correspondence, and take notes of all phone conversations, including the date and time of the call, who you spoke to, and an outline of the discussion.
Unfortunately, filing a claim with your insurance, even for no-fault coverage or an accident you did not cause, may increase your insurance premiums when your policy renews.
Insurance Subrogation When the Accident Isn’t Your Fault
After an auto accident that another driver caused, you can still obtain financial benefits from your insurance, whether through PIP, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, or collision coverage. However, if your insurer compensates you for losses from an accident caused by another motorist, your insurance company may pursue subrogation.
In a subrogation claim, your insurance company takes over your auto accident claim against the at-fault driver to obtain reimbursement for the money your insurer has paid for the accident, whether to you or on your behalf.
A subrogation claim can also recover money for any deductibles you had to pay to obtain coverage under your insurance. You can also receive any financial recovery in a subrogation claim over the amount needed to reimburse your insurer for benefits they paid.
Sometimes, an at-fault driver may settle your accident claim with you directly instead of dealing with your insurance company. As part of any such settlement, you may have to execute a waiver of subrogation, which prevents your insurance company from pursuing any legal claims against the at-fault driver after you execute the settlement.
However, signing a waiver of subrogation may make you liable to reimburse your insurer for any benefits it paid you, particularly if your insurance policy includes a provision requiring you to notify or seek your insurer’s approval before signing a waiver of subrogation.
Always consult an experienced auto accident lawyer about your legal rights and obligations before agreeing to any settlement containing a subrogation waiver.
How to Protect Your Interests After an Accident
Although you can benefit significantly by calling your insurance company after an accident, even if you did not cause the crash, remain alert to protect your interests while dealing with your insurer after an auto accident.
Though you may have the right to coverage under your insurance policy, remember that you and your insurance company have different interests. While you want to recover total compensation for your accident losses, your insurance company will want to minimize the benefit it must pay. Insurance adjusters from your insurance company may seem friendly and helpful when you talk to them, but they work for the insurance company, not you.
Insurance adjusters have training and experience in getting accident claimants to accept less than full value for their claims. For example, adjusters may ask questions or request a written or recorded statement to get an accident victim on record saying something the insurance company may construe as an admission of fault or partial fault for the accident.
Insurers may even use harmless statements like “I’m okay” or “I’m doing fine” as evidence that a claimant has recovered from their injuries or did not suffer severe injuries in the accident.
Obtaining legal representation from a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can help you protect your rights and interests after you call your insurance company or file an accident claim. Your lawyer can handle communications with the insurance company for you, providing adjusters with the information they need to process your claim while preventing an insurer from minimizing or denying it.
Critical Tips for the Insurance Claims Process
Tips to remember when going through the insurance claims process that can protect your rights and interests include:
- Remember that you and the insurance company (even your own insurer) have different interests. Although an adjuster may seem like they want to help after an accident, they work for the insurance company and will protect its interests.
- When filing a liability claim with the other driver’s insurance, you may face more conflict from that insurance company. An at-fault driver’s insurance company will do everything possible to avoid liability for your injuries and losses, including trying to shift blame for the crash onto you by tricking you into statements that minimize the severity of your injuries or seem like admissions of fault.
- Review your insurance policy and remember to file notices and claims immediately after an accident. Gather any potentially relevant documents or information to have at hand if requested by the insurance company.
- Get legal representation before or immediately after contacting an insurer. A lawyer can protect you from tactics designed to minimize your financial recovery in an insurance claim, such as requests for a written or recorded statement or a medical release to give the insurance company unlimited access to your medical records.