Never let your auto insurance provider deny you coverage without a fight.
Though insurance experts insist that the overwhelming majority of automotive insurance claims are handled fairly and paid out under the terms provided, that hasn't prevented consumers from being stiffed through a denied claim. If you've found yourself in this position, the first thing to do is determine if the details of your policy actually covered the accident you were in.
For example, if you get into an accident while running a red light, the insurer obviously won't cover your claim. However, "fault," isn't always so black-and-white. Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at American College, notes that the driver of the middle car in a chain-reaction collision often believes they aren't liable for damages, but your insurance company thinks otherwise.
"This always infuriates consumers," Lynch told insurance pricing and information site InsuranceQuotes. "But the fact is you hit the car in front of you. And your insurance company will say that you weren't responsible for starting the chain of events, but had you been back further, you wouldn't have hit the other driver's bumper."
If the driver of your car isn't on your insurance policy -- like a child earning a learner's permit, for example -- that can also shift the blame your way. Using your car for a business like pizza delivery, for example, might also deny you a claim if you didn't tell your insurer that you use the car for that purpose. Finally, limitations on auto insurance coverage matter as much for the other driver involved in an accident as much as they do for you. If you're tooling around in your beater subcompact and total a $200,000 supercar, for instance, your policy's $50,000 property damage limit will leave the other driver with about $150,000 more to recoup.
"This is why uninsured-underinsured motorist coverage is so important," Amy Bach, executive director of California-based nonprofit consumer advocacy group United Policyholders, told InsuranceQuotes. "Too many drivers don't understand this until it's too late. What's more, it's important to understand the coverage limits on your own policy."
If you've cleared all of those hurdles and still haven't been paid, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners keeps a running list of every state's insurance department in case you want to file a grievance. Before you do that, however, InsuranceQuotes suggests building a case as soon as the accident occurs. Take photos of your vehicle, the other vehicle, your injuries and relevant background and signage. Keep all of your billing and medical records and make sure you have everything on hand. Also, never admit fault once an accident has occurred and never say you haven't been injured if you're unsure. If an insurance adjuster calls later and asks how you're feeling, don't give the person any specifics. Don't sign a medical authorization allowing the insurance company to gather your medical records and don't allow yourself do be recorded unless you'll lose coverage otherwise.
"Drivers are advised to avoid giving recorded statements, which is something that most adjusters demand," says Jordan Perch, driving expert and blogger for DMV.com. "If the adjuster is allowed to record the conversation, he or she might use the tape later to try and find potential flaws and inconsistencies in the driver's statement that could hurt the value of his or her claim. Drivers are not required by law to give recorded statements."
However, Simeone points out that you have a duty to comply with your own insurance company, so if they want to take a recorded statement you need to do it in order to not lose coverage."
Also, don't be rushed by the insurance adjuster, as Bach says the first offer they make is seldom their best offer. Also, be careful exactly what you say to your insurer regardless of if you're at fault or not. The insurance company of the person in the other car can either obtain statements you gave to your own insurance company or subpoena that information if it all heads to court. If that other driver has no insurance, your own insurer may have to cover them and may be in no mood to pay you your full premium.
Also, don't offer any more of an answer to a question than the insurer is asking for. If a representative asks, "Who, in your opinion, had the last opportunity to avoid the accident?," Lynch says it's O.K. to say that you assume the person who hit you had the last chance to avoid that collision. Don't lie, but don't offer more information than necessary.
"At the end of the day you can't just rely on what your insurance company tells you," Bach says. "You need to do your own research, keep your own records, and seek outside, independent opinions, because this is your life your car, and your future at stake."
As we've noted before, what the U.S. driving public doesn't know about car insurance is frightening. About 40% of you don't know what it means when your car is totaled. About 28% of drivers think insurance pays the post-crash value of a totaled car, while 12% aren't sure what happens when a car is totaled.
About 14% of people, including 23% of Millennials and people making $30,000 or less wrongfully believe insurance covers auto repairs. Even worse, 17% don't know that where they live affects their insurance. Finally, a full 44% of you -- especially those ages 18 to 29 (53%) -- think driving a red car increases your insurance rates (it doesn't).
Unfortunately, even if your claim is accepted, filing just one auto insurance claim can raise a policyholder's premiums by hundreds of dollars each year. The average rate hike for the first claim nationwide is 44.1% (up 6% from just three years ago) after filing a single claim of $2,000 or more. That rate spike costs consumers $371 per year on average, but the pain is far worse in North Carolina (where rates increase 57.3% on average after one claim), Massachusetts (57.3%), Texas (59.9%), New Hampshire (60.3%) and and California (63.1%).
"The rate increases drivers pay after filing a claim keep getting bigger, and this trend is likely to continue," says InsuranceQuotes analyst Laura Adams says, "It underscores just how important it is for consumers to shop and compare rates on a regular basis."