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Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident is no walk in the park. Not only do you have to handle the physical and emotional fallout of a stressful event, but you also have to deal with filing an insurance claim.

Unfortunately, you can’t take your time about filing a claim. Most insurers put a time limit on how quickly you must file a claim following a covered accident. Missing the deadline could mean your reimbursement gets delayed. Or, you claim could be disqualified completely.

Here’s what you need to know about filing an insurance claim after a car accident:

Car insurance claim deadlines

After getting into a car accident, it’s generally wise to contact your insurer as soon as possible to get the claim process started. That’s because many car insurance providers have a time limit on making a claim after a covered accident.

To make a claim, you’ll typically follow these steps:

  • Contact your insurance agent. In many cases, it’s smart to call from the scene of the accident, even if it’s unclear who’s at fault, and the damage appears minor. By contacting your insurer right away, you can determine if your policy covers the loss and learn what specific information you’ll need to provide, which may be more difficult to gather later.
  • Begin the claim process. If your insurer has a mobile app, you may be able to start this process at the scene of the accident. A mobile app can often help you take and upload photos of the damage, as well as schedule an appraisal, reserve a rental car, and request reimbursement. Even if you’re unable to start a claim this way, filing a claim as soon as you can after the accident will help the process go more smoothly.
  • Provide necessary documents. Your insurer will likely require several documents in order to approve your claim. These may include a proof of claim form, photos of the damage, a copy of any police report associated with the accident, bills for repairs, and the contact information of other drivers or witnesses.

There’s no industry-wide standard for claim deadlines. The majority of insurance policies use vague language about claim deadlines, asking policyholders to file a claim “promptly” or “within a reasonable time frame.”

This is because the claim deadline has more to do with the insurer’s ability to investigate the claim than any hard-and-fast industry rule. The insurer needs to determine certain things — like who’s at fault — to approve or deny a claim, and it becomes more difficult to investigate after time has passed.

However, several states set specific car insurance claim deadlines. In general, states with no-fault auto insurance requirements (also known as personal injury protection insurance) are the ones with explicit rules about claim deadlines.

The following 12 states have no-fault auto insurance requirements:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah

If you live in one of these states, contact your insurance agent to find out what the claim deadline is where you live.

Check out: Medical Payments Coverage: What It Is and How It Works


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Car insurance claim deadlines are different than lawsuit deadlines

It’s important to note that your car insurance claim deadline is different from the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Except for in the states where the law imposes a car insurance claim deadline, insurance carriers are able to set their own time frames for claims.

Lawsuits, on the other hand, are subject to each state’s statute of limitations, and they’re strictly enforced by each state. That means you have a limited and legally mandated time frame in which to file a lawsuit after a car accident. The time limit varies depending on your state, as well as what you’re suing for (personal injury, property damage, etc.).

For example, in California, the statute of limitations for personal injury is two years from the date of the injury. For property damage, it’s three years from the date that the damage occurred.

Good to know: If you feel the need to file a car accident lawsuit against another driver, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of legal counsel in the state where the accident occurred. A lawyer will help you meet the required lawsuit filing deadlines and navigate the process.

The importance of filing a car insurance claim quickly

Though your insurance carrier may not provide a specific deadline for filing a car insurance claim, it’s wise to handle this post-accident task as quickly as possible. Here’s why:

  • It’s easier to gather the necessary information and evidence. Beginning this process at the scene of the accident (or as soon afterward as you can) will make it simpler for you to get the proper evidence. After some time has passed, it may be more difficult to track down the information you need from the individuals involved and prove that damage came from the accident and not a subsequent event.
  • Witness statements are clearer. Both witnesses and drivers may have a more solid memory of the events just after the accident. Details can get hazy if you wait to file a claim, making it more difficult for your insurance adjuster to accurately determine what happened, who was at fault, and if the insurer can approve your claim.
  • You’ll receive your payment faster. The sooner you file your claim, the sooner the insurer will be able to hopefully approve it and provide you with the compensation you deserve.

Finally, remember that promptly filing your claim means it’s much less likely that the insurance carrier can deny your claim, since the insurer’s ability to quickly investigate the claim will affect its ability to determine liability.

Keep in mind: If too much time passes before you file the claim, your insurer may have more reason to deny your claim, since it’ll be that much more difficult for the insurance provider to determine if your policy covers the damage.

Your auto insurance coverage matters

Driving is a potentially hazardous activity that many of us do every day. It’s vital to carry the proper auto insurance coverage in case of an accident. The right coverage will protect you and your finances if you’re involved in an accident.

To find the best auto insurance policy for your needs, make sure you shop around and compare quotes from a number of different insurance providers. That’s the best way to know that you’re getting the right coverage at the right price for you.

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Disclaimer: All insurance-related services are offered through Young Alfred.

About the author
Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a Credible authority on student loans and personal finance. Her work has been featured by Forbes, Kiplinger’s, Huffington Post, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.

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