As if car accidents aren’t bad enough on their own, you also have to figure out what comes next, like dealing with insurance.
Depending on the severity of the accident, you might have more pressing immediate concerns, such as treating injuries or getting your car back on the road.
But even after a minor fender bender or accidentally brushing a metal pole, you’ll find yourself wondering things like: Do you need to file an insurance claim? And how long do you have to report an accident?
It all depends on several factors, such as the severity of your accident and your insurance company. But we’re here to help you navigate the process and understand how to deal with post-accident insurance claims.
How long after an accident can you file a claim?
Are there deadlines you have to deal with when reporting or filing a claim with your car insurance company? Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal answer to that question.
While the answer will vary based on your insurer and your auto insurance policy, most companies don’t give a strict window of time. Instead, you’re required to report accidents “promptly” or “within a reasonable time.” It’s vague but basically, it means you’re expected to do it as soon as possible.
Aside from reporting the accident to the insurance company, most insurers require you report the accident to the police within a certain time limit — usually 24 hours. But even then, your policy might include language such as “as soon as practicable.”
If you’re involved in an accident with another driver or a single car accident that results in property damage or personal injury, you should call 911 at the scene. So, reporting to the police within 24 hours isn’t that unreasonable. Once you’ve reported an accident, then you have a timeline for filing a claim.
Again, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. It varies based on insurance companies, your policy, and the state you live in.
Your insurance policy could have a designated timeline or might say you should initiate the claims process as soon as possible. But technically, you can file a claim as long as you stick to your state’s insurance laws.
We’ll touch more on state timelines further down. But typically you have a good bit of time — upwards of three or four years. The best way to determine how much time you have to report an accident or file a claim is to go directly to the source.
Check your policy to see if your insurer explicitly gives deadlines. And if that doesn’t turn up any answers or you’re still unsure, reach out to your insurance agent.
Are there rules for reporting and filing in my state?
Aside from your insurance company and policy, the state you live in will have its own time limits, aka statute of limitations, for reporting an accident and filing an insurance claim.
The statute of limitations for filing an insurance claim will typically be a few years. Each state will have two different time limits: one for bodily injury claims and one for property, collision and comprehensive claims.
Here are some examples of varying state time limits:
- Bodily injury: 2 years
- Property: 3 years
- Bodily injury: 2 years
- Property: 2 years
- Bodily injury: 2 years
- Property: 4 years
- Bodily injury: 6 years
- Property: 6 years
- Bodily injury: 3 years
- Property: 10 years
You can search your state’s laws for more information on reporting and claims deadlines or reach out to your insurance agent for help.
Is it bad to file a claim months later?
Your insurance policy might encourage you to start the claims process as soon as possible. But you can file later as long as you stick within your state’s statute of limitations.
Why would you delay filing a claim rather than taking care of it quickly? Well, some car accident injuries may not be immediately apparent, like whiplash or internal damage. Similarly, significant damage to your vehicle that isn’t as obvious as a dented bumper could go unnoticed for some time after the accident.
If you immediately file a claim and then discover other problems down the road, you could miss out on coverage from your insurer. Filing multiple claims for one accident can be extremely difficult.
Filing sooner than later is your best bet
While there are some reasons to consider delaying your claims process, it’s usually better to file as quickly as possible.
The biggest downside to delaying the claims process: You’ll be waiting longer for reimbursement. That means you’re stuck paying out of pocket for any costs incurred from the accident. But an outcome even worse than delayed payment? No payment at all.
Even if you file your claim within your state’s legal time limit, if it’s months or years down the road, your claim could be denied. Why? Because it might be harder for you to defend your claim.
Whether or not the claim gets approved depends on how well the company is able to investigate it. And as a policyholder, it’s your responsibility to provide reasonable proof.
When reporting damage months later, it’s harder to prove that the damage actually occurred from the original accident or from a later incident. If your insurer can’t properly investigate, they might deny your claim.
So, it’s better to be safe than sorry and start your claims process as soon as possible to ensure you won’t be stuck with a big bill down the road.
Six tips for filing a claim
The whole point of filing a claim after an accident is to help alleviate financial burden. So it’s in your best interest to be as thorough as possible throughout the process.
Here are a few tips to follow after a car accident to make the claims process go smoothly:
- When reporting to the police, be sure to get the officer’s information and police report number
- Write down the contact information for people involved in the accident and witnesses. This includes their name, address, phone number, insurance carrier, and policy number
- Note the make and model of other vehicles involved
- Take multiple pictures of damage and note other details, like the weather
- Report the accident to your insurer ASAP. Many companies have apps that let you report a claim directly from your phone. Or they offer 24/7 claims reporting over the phone.
- Keep copies of all documents and correspondence
What can I do after I file a claim?
Your premium will go up after you’ve filed a claim. So it’s a good idea to shop around and see if you can get a better rate with a different insurer.
It’s important to note that insurance companies treat accidents differently. Not all of them will penalize you as much for it as your current insurance company.
If you end up switching insurance companies, be sure to ask about their claims process and what type of time limits are in place. Each company is different and finding out upfront can help future claims processes a little easier.