Auto Claims FAQs: Handling Claims Like a Pro
Insurance claims can be a major hassle, causing confusion and anxiety, regardless of the situation. No one wants to be involved in an auto accident, but in the unfortunate event you find yourself in that position, it helps to be knowledgeable about the auto claims process to reduce as much stress as possible.
We talked with our dedicated in-house Claims Advocate, Heather Ross, about some of the most common auto claims FAQs and her best advice on how to approach each situation.
Disclosing Policy Limits
Question: I was involved in a serious auto accident, and I was found to be at fault. My adjuster has asked whether it’s okay with me to disclose my policy limits to the attorney representing the other party. Is that standard practice? And should I do it?
Answer: In California, if your insurance company receives a demand to disclose your policy limits, your permission is required to release that information. So, it’s good they asked. Whether or not you decide to release those limits requires some further consideration.
Some attorneys and insurers argue that withholding the policy limits discourages frivolous claims, since the other party will need to file a lawsuit to find out your limits. In the interim, this may give your insurance company a tactical advantage, since it forces the other party to negotiate and make a demand without knowing what limits are potentially available to address the damages being claimed.
On the flip side, disclosing the limits may encourage the other party to present a reasonable settlement demand, and reduce the need to engage in full-scale litigation to resolve a claim; this could potentially save a lot of time and hassle.
If you decide to disclose your limits, you’ll probably also need to disclose whether you have an excess liability or umbrella policy, as well as the limits of that policy. Intentional concealment of your excess limits is a misrepresentation, or a lie of omission, and is contrary to the principles of good faith and fair dealing.
Whether or not you choose to disclose your policy limits, keep in mind that the value of the case is not affected by the amount of insurance available to address the damage. In other words, just because you have a policy limit of $1,000,000 doesn’t mean that the other party’s damages are worth $1,000,000, or that your insurance company will agree to pay that amount.
If you’re agonizing about whether to disclose your policy limits, it’s recommended that you talk to an attorney who is familiar with personal injury claims and can counsel you regarding your specific situation.
Paying Out of Pocket
Question: I hit a parked car in a parking lot, and it’s clearly my fault. There’s no damage to my car, and I don’t want to have a claim on my policy. Is it okay for me to just pay the other party for the cost of their repairs without going through the insurance claims process?
Answer: Paying for a claim outside of insurance might not seem like a big deal, but it’s rarely a good idea.
First, your auto policy requires that you do not assume any liability, make a payment, or incur any expense without your insurance company’s consent. By accepting fault and making out-of-pocket payments to settle the loss, you could potentially void coverage under your policy.
Apart from the coverage considerations, even the smallest claims can still get pretty messy. For example, what if you pay the other party based on the initial estimate, and then they come back requesting a supplemental payment to address additional damages? Are you qualified to evaluate the shop’s estimate to determine whether the charges are reasonable? What if the claimant wants a rental car while their vehicle is in the shop?
The potential complications become even more serious if someone was sitting in the car when it was struck, as the claimant could return later and allege injury due to the accident.
No one likes to get into an accident, especially the little, avoidable ones where we just weren’t paying close enough attention. It’s tempting to try to avoid getting dinged for having an at-fault accident on your record, but in most cases, trying to handle a claim “out of pocket” causes more headaches than solutions.
Coverage Options & Your Deductible
Question: Our vehicle was in an automobile accident, and the other driver was at fault. Should we go through their insurance for repairs?
Answer: There are a few things to consider here before you make that decision.
If you carry collision coverage on your vehicle, your insurance will pay for the repairs regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Since your carrier wouldn’t have to decide liability before approving the repairs, it may be a little faster to go through your own insurance. On the other hand, you will be responsible for paying your deductible at the time the repairs are completed.
After your claim is finalized, your insurance company will seek recovery (subrogate) from the at-fault party for the amounts they have paid out, plus your deductible. If they successfully make a full recovery, your deductible will be reimbursed. If they are only able to make a partial recovery, they will refund a portion of your deductible as a proportional percentage of the total recovery.
If your damages are below the deductible, or if you don’t carry collision coverage on your vehicle, you will need to pursue a claim through the other party’s carrier. You also might want to go through the other party’s insurance if you want a rental car and you don’t carry rental reimbursement on your own policy. Keep in mind though, that not all carriers will offer direct billing for your rental. So, you may end up paying out of pocket first and then seeking reimbursement for those expenses later.
If you’re trying to decide how to proceed with handling an auto claim, you may contact our dedicated in-house Claims Advocate, Heather Ross. She’ll be happy to use her expertise to help you develop a plan to get your vehicle back on the road as soon as possible.
Morris & Garritano: Here to Help
Our team of experts at Morris & Garritano is equipped to handle the full scale of your insurance needs. With more than 130 years of industry experience, our agency is known for providing generations of excellent service and professionalism.
As always, we’re here to help and you can contact your Account Manager any time with questions regarding claims or general assistance needs. Not an M&G client yet? Email Dan Cole at email@example.com to speak to a risk advisor in our office.