Filing a Car Insurance Claim After an Accident

The aftermath of a car accident can shake you up even if it’s minor. Emotions can run high. Even so, write down what happened right away, exchange insurance information, and call the police if necessary, especially if there’s an injury involved. If someone is injured, you might feel disoriented and anxious. It can be tough to think about what you need to do. Call 911 and file a police report which will help with the documentation process for any accident claim that you decide to file. Claims operate only on the facts of the accident.

If you’ve suffered severe injuries that land you in the hospital, this can delay not only police reports but filing accident claims with your insurance, which delays compensation that you’re entitled to by Florida law.

Man takes picture for car insurance claim after accident in Pinellas, FL

Florida is one of 12 states requiring a minimum of no-fault and Personal Injury Protection or PIP insurance. No-fault and PIP insurance mandate that if you’re injured in a car accident you receive compensation for your injuries no matter whose fault the accident was. In these cases, most times you won’t likely go to court unless your injuries involve great property damage, injury, and suffering.

No matter how severe your car accident was or if a ticket was issued at the scene, you must document what happened. Take pictures, and write everything down. The more time that elapses, the less reliable your memory will be which can affect the settlement of your case. Even if you aren’t seeking damages outside of the usual no-fault, PIP insurance benefits, consulting a lawyer can help you through the filing process, keep you organized, and keep you privy to deadlines that you may not otherwise have known or understood.

The Two Major Claim Filing Deadlines

There are two non-negotiable deadlines that you must know. First, you have only 14 days to seek medical attention for any injuries that you sustained in your accident. Second, there is a statute of limitations for filing any lawsuit that has to do with your accident. These two deadlines have to be met if you’re filing for compensation under no-fault and PIP insurance.

PIP’S 14-Day Rule

If you don’t seek medical care for your injuries within two weeks of your car accident you may forfeit your right to receive compensation for your injuries. You must consult and be diagnosed for your injuries by an MD, DO, dentist or nurse practitioner. Your insurance will want to see that you honestly tried to mitigate your injuries – that is, seek appropriate care and not wait for injuries to get worse for possible larger compensation.

Florida’s PIP Statute 627.736 operates under an 80/20 payout. This means that you may receive a maximum of $10,000 in benefits should you be injured in your car accident if you seek medical help within those 14 days. But it will pay only 80 percent of all reasonable expenses for medically necessary treatment. You will be responsible for the remaining 20 percent.

Lawsuit Statue of Limitations

You have two years after the date of your car accident to file your accident claim under Florida law. This statute of limitations is the deadline for you to file any personal injury or property damage lawsuit in regard to the accident. This also applies to your vehicle if it was deemed a total loss. Miss this deadline and you will not recover any compensation for your accident. If there was a death involved, the statute of limitations is two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Filing Your Insurance Claim

When you file your claim with your insurer you will have to present documentation to support it. Besides the usual exchange of contact and insurance information at the scene of the accident, this documentation will include:

  • Where the accident took place, the weather, and road conditions. The National Weather Service provides historical online information that can help you document conditions on the date of your accident.
  • The names of responding officers and their badge numbers will be on the police report, but if you can document them on the scene, do so.
  • Pictures of vehicle and property damage. Pictures circumvent memory lapses that can happen when you are under stress.

Next, you need to know what your insurance covers. If you are able to call your insurance company from the accident scene, do so. It can be tough to ask the right questions when you’re in the throes of an accident; but even if you forget something, you’ll at least get the ball rolling so your insurance company can begin assessing your claim.

The Claims Adjuster

Some insurance companies will send a claims adjuster to take pictures of the accident scene before everyone leaves. Never leave the scene of your accident until it’s appropriate to leave. Note that you may be dealing with a couple of adjusters since Florida is both a no-fault and a PIP state. One for the no-fault process and one for the PIP process.

It’s a natural inclination to talk when you’re stressed and nervous at the accident scene. Don’t give unnecessary information, especially to claims adjusters. Never admit fault, speculate about the accident or apologize to an adjuster. Never talk about injuries or accept any offer of settlement without the advice of counsel.

It’s your responsibility to know what insurance basics are covered whether you’ve read your policy and understand it or defer to your insurance company for an explanation. Either way, at least know what your deductible is as it affects many financial decisions.

What’s Your Deductible?

When’s the last time you looked at your car insurance policy? If you’re like many, it was probably the day you bought it. Do you know what your deductible is? That is one of the most basic pieces of information in your policy. You need to know the amount of your deductible because you will have to pay this amount before your insurance benefits will kick in.

You also need to know what your insurance limit is. Just because Florida is a no-fault, PIP state doesn’t mean that you will automatically get the maximum $10,000 allowed payout under the law. Knowing your deductible and insurance limit can help you decide about where to go and which repair estimates to include in your claim.

Loaner Cars

Does your insurance supply a loaner car until your car gets fixed or until you get a new car if yours was totaled? How many estimates are you required to get before your insurer will consider your claim? Do you have gap insurance in case your coverage isn’t complete? This is important to know and understand for your claim. You don’t want to be on the hook for more bills than you have to.

Who Actually Files Your Claim

This depends. If no one else is involved in your car accident, you file a claim with your insurance company. If other parties are involved, claims can be filed with multiple companies. Often if the accident is very minor or there’s no injury or property damage involved, you may decide not to file an insurance claim if you are sure that your premiums will rise because of the accident. This is why you should understand the basic tenets of your insurance policy and your rights under that policy.

Here’s Your Accident Claim Checklist

Make sure that you get the following information about any other vehicle involved in the accident:

  • Contact information
  • Vehicle make, model and year
  • Vehicle description, registration information, and license plate information
  • Insurance carrier and policy information

Also write down the basic accident information, taking photos as necessary:

  • Document the day, date, and time of the accident
  • Document what road the accident occurred on and any roads that intersect with it, including the posted speed limit and gradients
  • Document the direction you were traveling along with the direction any other involved party was traveling
  • Note any landmarks
  • Document road conditions, visibility, lighting, road construction, and other hazards

Inform your insurance company:

  • That you’ve been in an accident
  • What happened and if there have been any injuries
  • Get a copy of the police report
  • Keep track of all medical treatment making sure to adhere to the 14-Day Rule. Itemize your expenses.
  • If there was property damage and any estimates to repair your vehicle

Remember, don’t speak to insurance adjusters that don’t work for your insurance company. Only discuss your case with the police, your own insurance company and your attorney, if you’ve hired one.

If You Choose to Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Case

The insurance claims process can be challenging, especially if you’re under duress. After the accident, your insurance company will be investigating your claim in order to process and estimate the value. If you are nearing or have missed important filing deadlines, your personal injury claim may be denied. It will be up to you whether to appeal the denial or not.

Don’t let the process overwhelm you. You are entitled to medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages under Florida’s no-fault, PIP law. If you decide to hire an attorney to help you or a loved one who’s had an accident, contact us at Herman & Wells to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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