While Ben Huber was driving around in his coupe last year, he had the misfortune of hitting a deer.
The damage to his front bumper and headlight was evaluated and he received repair shop approval within the same day.
The following morning, his car was dropped off for repairs near his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. The repair came to $2,000. After Huber paid the $250 deductible, his insurance company covered the rest. It was by far the was easiest claim he’s ever had to file.
On the flip side, Athena Lent was in a head-on collision in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011. The damage was so severe the local fire department had to break the door open to get her out. She suffered bruised ribs and dislocated discs in her neck.
But because the accident happened in Nevada, and state law gives someone up to 30 days to report an accident to their insurance provider, Lent had no choice but to wait. This was after a police report had been filed and the driver was cited for being at fault.
“Basically I had a totaled car at no fault of my own, but was at someone else’s mercy,” says Lent.
While waiting, she had to go through her insurance company to get a rental car. The other driver’s insurance company eventually admitted their client was at fault. The claim ended up taking over 45 days to replace the car. And Lent needed to seek medical treatment for her injuries.
Moreover, litigation for the accident was completed four years after the accident.
So how long does an insurance claim take? Why is it that the length of time to file a claim for car insurance can vary so much? And what can you do to speed up the process? Let’s dig in.
How long does an insurance company have to pay a claim?
While insurers typically have a goal of settling and paying your claim within 30 days, it’s not a hard requirement. But chances are the insurance company will do their best to get your claim filed as soon as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, the insurer isn’t trying to cut corners or not give you what you want.
“Insurers don’t want unhappy customers,” says Jim Whittle, associate general counsel and chief claims counsel of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA).
“They want people to be their customers, try to make sure things are done efficiently, and that you’re happy with the results.”
Different insurance companies, different states, different rules
The time limits to file a claim depend on the two things: your insurance company and the state you’re filing in.
Because insurers are regulated at the state level, the time frame a car insurance company has to pay a claim can vary, explains Whittle.
A further incentive? “They also want to get it right the first time,” says Whittle. “Otherwise you’ll wind up having to do it all over again.”
Under claims settlement practices, auto insurers are obligated to act under certain time frames. Claims are divided into two main categories: property damage and bodily injury.
For instance, in California, claims must be acknowledged within 15 days. After receiving proof of the claim, insurers are required to accept or deny a claim within 40 days. In the Golden State, once settlement has been reached, payment must be made within 30 days.
Note: California isn’t a “no-fault” state for car insurance, which means an injured driver doesn’t have to prove that another driver was at fault to receive compensation for lost wages or medical bills. If you have personal injury protection, or PIP, you can file a claim through your own insurance for bodily injury.
In the state of New York, which is a no-fault state, you have:
- 30 days to file a claim with your own insurer
- 30 days to file for disability payments
- 90 days to file a claim (if applicable)
- 90 days to file a claim with the Motor Accident Vehicle Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC).
The MVAIC processes no-fault claims and serious injury claims by drivers who don’t have insurance.
How long do I have to file a claim?
While your insurance card says to contact your insurer within 24 hours after an accident to file a claim, it’s not a hard requirement. As for how long you have to file a claim, each state has a different statute of limitations for property damage and bodily injury.
In Florida, you have up to four years to file both a claim for property damage and bodily injury. In Illinois, you have up to five years to file a claim for property damage, and two years for bodily injury claims.
If you’d like to settle or get compensated quicker, you’ll want to be prompt in reaching out to to the insurer and filing a claim. Generally, you’ll want to notify the insurance company right after the accident.
Factors that affect the turnaround for filing claims
How long does an insurance claim take? The variables that can make the process for filing claims slower or faster are:
State laws: As mentioned, each state has mandated filing times for auto insurance claims.
The insurer: Insurance companies also have different turnaround times for filing claims.
If there’s personal injury: Personal injuries will make the claim more complex and could lengthen the filing time, explains Whittle. With damage to a car, it’s pretty cut-and-dried.
But with a personal injury, it needs to be proven that the accident did in fact cause the injury. They’re more factually intensive, and require greater documentation and evidence of what was involved in the accident.
The nature of the claim: If the claim is complex, it could take longer, explains Whittle. A fender bender involving five cars will take longer than a single car hitting a lamp post. If the accident isn’t black or white, involved multiple parties, or if there’s debate over which party is at fault can all drag out the process.
For example, let’s say you need to get documents or information about the accident to the insurer, or you request a separate estimate after the insurance company has done an assessment. Or you prefer to shop around and get multiple estimates. These affect the filing times for a claim.
Tip on speeding up the process
Stay on top of the process by reaching out to the insurer and submitting requested documents as quickly as you can.
At the scene of the accident, if it involved another driver, you’ll want to get their vehicle registration, details of the car such as the VIN, driver’s license, and insurance information. You’ll also want to make sure you take photos.
Keep thorough records
This includes documentation of the accident and correspondence you have with your insurer. Remember: your claims agent is dealing with multiple claims at the same time. You’ll want to keep track of everything on your end.
Double-check and question estimates
Repair and replacement costs vary widely among repair shops. Go over estimates provided by the insurer to make sure they cover all damages and are from shops that do quality work.
If you want a separate estimate than what’s provided by the insurance company, you’ll need to take ownership and get that estimate in as quickly as possible, says Whittle.
Should you file a claim or pay out of pocket?
As you might expect, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
“It largely depends on the individual and the situation,” says Whittle. “It depends on factors such as whether the damage is lower than your deductible, what kind of money is at stake, and your risk level as a driver.”
When deciding on whether to go through insurance or pay out of pocket, you’ll want to consider how much filing a claim will affect your monthly premium.
“Insurers also consider what kind of risk you are,” says Whittle. “Based on your driving record, experience, history of accidents, are you riskier than the average driver?”
Some questions to ask to help you make you decide
How extensive the damage is: Is the cost to repair lower or higher than your deductible? If it’s minor damage, such as a broken tail light or scuff on your bumper, and if the cost to repair is less than your deductible, than you might consider paying out of pocket.
If other drivers were involved: The cost to repair the damage could be more than you can handle. Plus, there’s a chance there are more costs, such as medical bills or legal costs, than estimated.
If it involved property: The damages could be more than you anticipated, or there might be additional costs down the line.
You have accident forgiveness: Some policies include this for safe drivers. In turn, it won’t hurt your premiums. Keep in mind that it only applies for your first at-fault accident.
Your driving record: If you already have a history of accidents or tickets on your record, filing another claim typically ups your rates significantly. Accidents and tickets typically stay on your record for three years. Your rates can increase even after filing one claim.
Final thoughts: Ask what’s covered
When making a claim, always ask what you’re entitled to, recommends Whittle. Are you entitled to a rental car? If so, for how long and what’s the policy limit? If you needed urgent care, will the insurer pay for your wages lost while going to the doctor?
“You need to make sure you get the value out of it that you deserve,” says Whittle.
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