Here’s a brief overview of what to do once you’ve been in an accident and some bits of information you probably don’t know…
After an accident has occurred and you’ve made sure everyone is alright what should you do next? People often wonder if they should call the police right away, even if there is no “major” damage or if there are no injuries… Here in Southern California when you call the police they will ask if anyone has been injured or if there is any blood. If there are no injuries then the police will not show up. They will advise you to exchange information with the other party and call your insurance company. Even if the other party doesn’t have insurance they still won’t show up. But it’s important that you get their license plate number and their driver’s license information.
So let’s say you and the other party in the accident are both insured, you need to gather 4 pieces of information:
1. Personal information: Name, Address, Phone number.
2. Drivers License number and state
3. License Plate number
4. Insurance information: company name, policy# and telephone number, and make, model & year of their car.
IMPORTANT: If you are missing one (or more) of these 4 pieces of information or you fail to give the other party one (or more) of these 4 pieces of information you or the other party can actually be charged with a felony hit and run. This has happened to customers of mine. If someone wants to push it to the limit you can lose your license for a year and be charged a $3,000 fine. So I highly recommend that you give all 4 complete pieces of information to the other party if you are in an accident. This has nothing to do with who’s at fault.
Side note: if for some reason the other party claims to have insurance but doesn’t have their full insurance information with them, then you should have them get their insurance company on the phone on the spot. Don’t trust that you’ll be able to track them down at a later date.
After you’ve gathed the other party’s full information you should call your insurance company and put in a claim. Ideally do it within 24 hours. You may want to catch your breath first… From there you will want to get your car to a body shop for an estimate where they will walk you through the repair process. If you have a shop that you know or have used before that’s great. If not you might want to ask for a referral from family, friends, your insurance agent, your mechanic, etc.
Once you’ve decided on a body shop your insurance will send an adjuster to the shop to write a preliminary estimate for repairs. By this point you should be familiar enough with your policy and your insurance company to know your deductible and if you have car rental coverage and how much the allowance for that is. NOTE: you don’t need to wait for an accident to know this information…
Your DEDUCTIBLE: the check from the insurance company to the body shop is the amount of your repair minus your deductible amount. It’s your responsibility to pay the body shop your deductible when you pick up your car. Note: in California it’s a felony to negotiate not paying the deductible within an insurance company’s claim.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES & SOME NOTES
Something that may happen that is perfectly okay: one of the people in the accident says they don’t want to go through their insurance and are willing to pay out of pocket for the damages. This usually occurs when someone is clearly at fault, knows it, takes responsibity and isn’t concerned about their car repair. So what should you do in this instance: I recommend as long as you have all 4 full pieces of information you go get an estimate or two from a local body shop and then contact the other party with that information. If at this point the other party is still agreeable to cover the costs of the repair (often at this point the other party says it’s too high – this is your cue to call your insurance company and put in a claim) then you should arrange for the other party to make direct payment to the body shop. Be sure to have your body shop give a bill with liability release to the other party before you have repairs commence. This way you are covered and not liable for the repair expense.
Note: in California if you are not at fault your insurance company cannot and will not raise your rate.
Note: In California you have the right to take your car for repair to any body shop. Your insurance company can only suggest a shop for you they can’t make you use one of their preferred shops.
Note: If you get your insurane through a “survival” type broker instead of an insurance company this may lead you to getting insurance from an out of state company (which you may not even realize) then you may need to go to one of their shops for repair or they won’t pay the full repair amount. Buyer beware!
Note: In California if the repair total is under $750 then it won’t show up as an accident or claim on your policy or on your DMV record.
I hope all of this helps!