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More mobile devices used for auto insurance claims

That smartphone you're carrying could come in handy in more ways than one if you get into a car accident.

While your first inclination may be to call for medical help or report an accident to the police, your Blackberry, iPhone or Android also can be used to contact your auto insurance company and electronically file an auto insurance claim right at the scene of a crash.

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Car insurance claims on  smartphonesSubmitting an insurance claim is a lot faster, easier and more convenient these days, thanks to the recent emergence of mobile phone applications. But it also holds potential pitfalls for consumers, say legal experts.

Appetite for apps

Over the past year or so, almost every major insurance company has rolled out its own mobile claims app, capitalizing on Americans' growing use of smartphones. For example, Travelers Insurance recently reported that insurance claims filed using mobile devices more than tripled in the first four months of 2011 compared to 2010.

A full 70 percent of the mobile insurance claims filed with Travelers were related to car insurance. Another 28 percent concerned personal insurance property claims, while just 2 percent involved business-related insurance claims, according to company data.

"The faster our customers report claims to Travelers, the faster we can help them," says Jay Gauthier, vice president, Travelers personal insurance marketing.

Travelers isn't alone in seeing a huge increase in mobile insurance claims.

Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston unveiled its mobile claims app in October 2010. Spokesperson Glenn Greenberg says that in 2011 there's been "a big uptick in the use of the app."

"We're seeing rapid adoption of the technology and people are certainly enjoying the convenience that the mobile app offers," says Greenberg. "Our customers are pleased with it, they're subscribing to it, downloading it, and if necessary they're filing claims with it."

The app is designed to walk Liberty Mutual customers through every part of the claims process as clearly and easily as possible.

"It can be a nerve-wracking time to be in an accident, and you're not always mindful to remember all the information you should collect," says Greenberg. So the app gives you reminders and a checklist to help you through the process. For instance, it will prompt you to collect contact information from all parties involved, it lets you take photos of damage, and it even allows you to record a voice note so you can recall important details from an accident.

At any time during the process, if a customer using the mobile claims app wants to deal directly with a claims representative, the customer can simply click on a "call Liberty Mutual now" button and get a live person on the phone, Greenberg added.

Meanwhile, other big auto insurance firms, including Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm each have their own mobile claims apps too. Every company's free mobile claims app is different. But they  generally allow you to:

  • Map your location using GPS
  • Document the details of an accident
  • Record witness statements
  • Take photographs of a crash

More sophisticated apps from insurers also let you find nearby tow truck companies or rental cars, get car insurance quotes  and view your policy details directly from your smartphone.

Finding fault

Even though mobile apps can be handy  at the scene of a crash, legal experts say you should think twice about electronically conveying certain accident information -- practically in real-time  -- to an insurance company. In a worst-case scenario, lawyers suggest, discussing issues concerning fault could wind up raising your car insurance rates or hurting your efforts to receive adequate financial compensation from an insurer.

That's why the Virginia law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen advises consumers initially to only give car insurance companies the facts: that an accident occurred, the date and time of the incident, its location, and names and addresses of everyone involved. The firm cautions people against telling insurance companies, in the immediate aftermath of a crash, how and why an accident happened. It advises people to avoid discussing issues concerning fault.

"The general rule is that you should not give a recorded statement about the accident to anyone including your own insurance company representatives without first discussing this with your lawyer," the firm advises on its website.

Not surprisingly, Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen has developed a free mobile app of its own, called “My Lawyer Accident App.” It has the same features -- minus the claims submission tools -- that many insurers' apps contain. Plus it offers information about your legal rights, highlights of relevant state laws, and a free phone consultation if you think you may need a lawyer.

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