Typically, the procedure after an accident is:
- Stay put, help the injured, but dont move them if you can safely avoid doing so.
- Call the police, or see that someone else does.
- After emergency tasks are complete, give the police any information they need, and ask how you can obtain a copy of the accident report. You may need it later.
- Try to jot down the license number(s) and types of car(s) involved. Make notes that might help explain the nature and cause of the accident.
- As soon as possible, phone your insurer and ask about the companys specific claims procedure. Usually, its a straightforward, step-by-step process.
- Keep track of expenses you incur during your claims process. Make copies.
If you dont agree with your settlement
You can reject your insurers settlement offer. Many insurers will negotiate. Some may even come around if you make a good case. Or, some may agree not to raise your premium after your claim, given your current discontent. Its worth a try.
If you cant live with the settlement, try appealing to a higher and wiser power - the insurers corporate office. Many companies do want to resolve problems quickly, and keep customers satisfied. In the long run, this attitude can pay off handsomely.
Not every company buys into this view, however. Sadly, some firms discourage prompt claim settlement, having noticed that delay is to their financial advantage, at least in the short run.
If the company remains aloof, you can call the National Insurance Consumer Helpline (1-800 942-4242). Although an insurance industry group, they might help you.
If that doesnt work, you may have to contact your state insurance commission. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners lists all state insurance departments. Again, if the state folks think you have a good case, they might be able to help.
There is also such a thing as an insurance arbitrator, a person who specializes in finding a workable compromise when a claim is disputed. Some insurers will suggest an arbitrator, but you can also find one through Arbitration Forums, Inc. a private firm that furnishes arbitrators. You can call this group -- (914) 332-4113 -- or write to them at 200 White Plains Road, 1st floor, Tarrytown, NY 10590. A similar outfit is the American Arbitration Association , located at 140 W. 51st Street, NY, NY 10020; (212) 484-4000.
If none of these groups help, you may have to hire an attorney and sue the insurer. In the real world, legal action is an unpromising option unless you are seeking a substantial (hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least) settlement. A good attorney should be frank about your chances of success; allow this forecast to influence your decision.