How to File a Car Insurance Claim in California
To file a car insurance claim in California, policyholders must promptly notify their insurers. Notification of a claim can be made by calling the telephone number listed on the policyholder’s insurance card. A claim can also be initiated online using the insurer’s website or mobile app.
People who have an auto insurance policy should notify their insurer first, regardless of who was at fault for a motor vehicle accident in California. Those who were uninsured can file a claim with the other party’s insurer if they believe the other party was solely or partially at fault. If both parties involved in an accident are insured, each person should contact their own insurance company to begin the claims process.
It’s important to know that California is a “fault” state when it comes to car insurance. That means the person who is determined to be at fault for an accident is responsible for the damages caused. When you file a claim with your own insurance company, your rates may go up as a result. You may also be required to pay a deductible before your insurer will cover any costs.
For these reasons, it’s often in your best interest to contact an experienced car accident lawyer before filing a claim with your insurance company. An attorney can help you determine who was really at fault and negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf to get the best possible outcome.
Who should I call after a car accident in California?
If you are in a car accident in California, you should contact the following parties:
- First responders: If you have been in a car accident and require immediate medical assistance, your first step should be to contact the first responders. These are the professionals who will be able to provide you with the care you need and get you to a hospital if necessary.
- Local law enforcement: If the car accident is more than a fender bender, you will need to contact local law enforcement. They will investigate the accident and file a report, which can be used in any future legal proceedings.
- Your auto insurer: If you are insured, your next step should be to contact your auto insurer. They will be able to help you through the process of filing a claim and getting your vehicle repaired.
- The other party’s insurer: If you are not at fault for the accident and the other party is uninsured, you will need to contact their insurer. They will be responsible for paying for any damages incurred in the accident.
What if the accident was my fault?
If you are involved in a car accident in California, you should notify your first-party insurer regardless of who was at fault. Some types of insurance policies such as Med Pay insurance and California collision insurance, pay without regard to fault.
Additionally, it may turn out that the other party was wholly or partially responsible for the accident. California’s “comparative negligence / shared fault” law allows people to recover damages even when they were partly to blame for an accident.
And finally, when an accident is your fault, the other party is likely to claim your insurance policy. By notifying your insurer, you can ensure that your policy will provide coverage in the event of a claim.
Do I need to notify the California DMV after a car accident?
If you've been in an accident, you may be wondering whether you need to report it to the DMV. The answer depends on the severity of the accident and the amount of damage caused.
If anyone was killed or injured, or if the accident caused more than $1,000 in property damage, you are required by California law to notify the DMV within 10 days.
However, just because you report the accident to the DMV doesn't mean you're automatically suing for damages. If the responsible insurance company or party doesn't pay up, you may eventually need to take legal action to get the compensation you deserve.
Don't wait too long to act after your accident. The sooner you contact the DMV and/or an experienced attorney, the better your chances of getting the outcome you desire.
How long do I have to recover damages from car accident injuries?
The statute of limitations to sue for injuries from a car accident in California is generally two years. However, it is important to note that this is how long you must sue the other party or his/her insurer, not how long you can take to report the accident to the California DMV and your insurer.
Most insurance companies require that you notify them promptly after an accident if you have a claim. Delaying too long could compromise your ability to recover damages. The auto accident settlement timeline is generally one to three years from the time of the accident.
Therefore, if you have been involved in a car accident, it is important to act as soon as possible to protect your rights and maximize your chances of recovering damages.
What if I don’t have insurance?
If you don't have insurance but were not at fault for the accident, you can file a claim with the other party's insurer. Keep in mind, however, that the other party's insurance company does not represent you. While your insurer must act in good faith regarding your claim, the other party's insurer has no such obligation. They can simply ignore you. For this reason, we recommend contacting an experienced California accident lawyer before making a claim directly against another party's insurance.
An experienced California accident lawyer will be able to negotiate with the other party's insurance company on your behalf and fight for the compensation you deserve. Contacting a lawyer should be your first step after being involved in an accident, even if you are not at fault.
Can I take my car anywhere for repairs after an accident in California?
If you've been in a car accident, you may be wondering whether you should use an in-network or out-of-network repair shop. Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each option.
In-network repair shops usually have pre-negotiated rates with insurers, which can save you money on repairs. And if more damage is found during the repair process, it can be easier to get additional costs approved by the insurer.
However, you may have less negotiating power on price if you use an out-of-network repair shop. And the insurer may not pay the full cost of repairs if you choose this option.
So, what's the best option for you? It depends on your situation. If cost is a major concern, an in-network repair shop may be the way to go. But if you're more concerned about getting the best possible repairs, an out-of-network shop may be worth considering. Ultimately, it's important to do your research and make the decision that's best for you.
Can I get my car repaired even if I am still injured?
When you are involved in a car accident, the last thing you want to worry about is how to pay for repairs or medical bills. Luckily, most insurance companies are willing to cover damages to your vehicle and any physical injuries you may have sustained. However, it is important to read any documents you are asked to sign carefully to avoid comprising your rights.
If you have been injured in a car accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you navigate the legal process and get the compensation you deserve.
Do I need an attorney to make a car accident claim in California?
Insurance adjusters are indeed trained to lowball claimants and get them to accept a settlement that is far less than they deserve. However, this does not mean that you cannot negotiate a fair settlement on your own.
If you have a strong case and you are confident in your ability to negotiate, you may be able to get a good settlement without hiring a lawyer. However, if your case is complex or the insurance company is being especially difficult, it may be worth hiring an experienced California personal injury attorney to help you get the compensation you deserve.
The process for settling a California vehicle accident claim
Getting assigned to an adjuster
If you've been in a car accident, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to your case. The adjuster's job is to gather evidence and determine who was at fault for the accident.
You can expect the insurance adjuster to contact you within 15 days of receiving notice of the claim. The adjuster will ask you for a statement and may ask for additional evidence. Once the adjuster has all the information they need, they'll decide on fault and damages.
Do I have to give the adjuster a recorded statement?
It's important to be careful about what you say to an insurance adjuster after an accident. While you are not obligated to give a statement, anything you do say can be used to deny or delay your claim.
Simply present the facts of the accident, without embellishment. Avoid stating that you feel fine or giving the impression that you are in a hurry to settle. If asked how you are doing, you can honestly say that it’s too early to be certain.
Do I have to agree to an independent medical examination?
If the insurance adjuster asks you to undergo an independent medical examination (IME), politely tell them that you will sign a medical release so they can obtain treatment notes from your providers. IMEs are not as independent as insurers would have you believe, and in general, you should say as little as possible about your medical condition. Let the evidence, and your attorney if you have one do the work.
What evidence will the adjuster need to obtain?
The insurer will collect evidence to support your claim, including (but not limited to):
- Your claim forms
- Your recorded statement (if you give one)
- The statement(s) of the other party and any witnesses
- An inspection of your vehicle
- Photos of the accident scene
- Damage reports from car repair shops
- Medical bills
- Medical reports
- Evidence supporting any claim for lost wages and/or lost earning capacity
- Anything else that is relevant – including, potentially, your social media posts.
This evidence will help the insurer determine whether to approve your claim.
How long will it take to get my money after a car insurance claim?
If you have been in an accident and filed a claim with your insurance company, they are legally required to open a good faith investigation within 15 days. Notification does not need to be in writing.
The insurer must accept or deny the claim not later than 40 days after it has been proved.3 Proof involves establishing that you are entitled to recovery and how much you are entitled to.
If the claim is simple and the fault is not at issue, a claim can be proved in a matter of days. However, if the fault is an issue, it can take longer - especially if anyone was seriously injured. In the most serious cases, proving your case may take many months.
If your insurance company has not contacted you within 15 days of your accident, or if they have not decided on your claim within 40 days, you may have grounds to file a complaint. Contact an experienced attorney to discuss your options.
The initial settlement offer
Here are some tips to help you deal with a lowball offer from an insurance company:
- Don't be afraid to negotiate. The first offer is usually not the best, so be prepared to counter-offer.
- Be polite but firm. It is important to maintain a professional attitude while negotiating with the insurance adjuster.
- Know your policy limits. This will give you a good starting point for negotiations.
- Document everything. Keep track of all correspondence with the insurance company, including phone calls and emails. This will be helpful if you need to escalate the matter or file a complaint later.
- Seek legal counsel if necessary. If you feel like you are being unfairly lowballed, you may want to seek the advice of a lawyer.
If you are dealing with a lowball offer from an insurance company, remember that you don't have to accept it. With some persistence and negotiation, you should be able to get a fair settlement.
Should I send a demand letter?
If you’ve been in a car accident, you may be wondering whether you should send a demand letter to the insurance company. While it’s not required, it can be helpful in some cases.
A demand letter sets out your version of events, with a brief explanation of the evidence to back it up. It also includes a request (“demand”) for a certain amount of compensation.
If you’ve hired a California personal injury lawyer, they will usually opt to send the insurance company a demand letter before (or even after) the adjuster makes an offer.
Just as an adjuster’s initial offer is usually on the low side, the demand letter often asks for an amount that is higher than what you would.
The most critical part of a car insurance claim is the negotiation. This is where you or your lawyer present your evidence and argue for more money.
The adjuster will want to bring the case to a quick resolution. In addition to getting work off the adjuster’s plate, it limits the insurance company's exposure in case you later discover your injuries were more serious.
Being patient but persistent is often the key to obtaining the best results from a negotiation.
In rare cases, you may need to file a lawsuit to get a decent settlement offer. Be sure to keep track of when the statute of limitations expires on your case, so you don't miss your chance to take legal action.
The settlement agreement
Make sure you understand the terms of the settlement agreement before you sign it. Once you sign, you give up your right to sue for any additional damages, even if it later turns out that you were more seriously injured than you initially thought or that your car needed additional repairs. If you have any questions about the agreement, be sure to ask the insurance adjuster before you sign. Once you sign, the settlement is final.
How do I get my money after I settle my California car accident claim?
Make sure you keep track of all the bills related to your accident. Once you have a settlement agreement, you will be responsible for paying these bills yourself. If you used a repair shop within the insurer’s network, the insurance company will usually pay the shop directly. All other damages will be paid once the insurance company receives an original of your signed settlement agreement.
Note that you may be responsible for paying other parties out of the proceeds – for instance, doctors and body shops that weren’t paid directly by your insurer. Make sure you don’t have any outstanding bills for services before you spend your settlement money!