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If you’re ever in a car accident, assuming you and your passengers are unhurt, your thoughts are naturally going to quickly turn to the financial damage.

You’ll need to take steps immediately to protect yourself financially. Whether or not a car accident is your fault, you should:

  1. Call 911 if anybody involved in the accident has been injured. Even if no one has been hurt, you may also want to call the police if the cars are really damaged so you can get a police report.
  2. Exchange insurance information with the driver.
  3. Take photos of your car – and if the other driver doesn’t object – their car, too. This will help with everybody’s insurance.
  4. Don’t play the blame game. It’s best not to point fingers. Let the car insurance companies figure this one out.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about what to do after a car accident that isn’t your fault.

Key Takeaways

  • Filing a claim with someone else’s insurance company is called a third-party claim. A claim with your own insurance provider is a first-party claim.
  • It’s vital to call the police after a car accident and gather as much information as possible at the accident scene to make the claim process easier.
  • You may need to inform the other person’s insurer that you’ve been in a crash with one of its policyholders; don’t assume the other driver will report the accident.
  • Some car insurance companies may demand authorization before proceeding with any vehicle repairs or injury treatments.

What should you do after a car accident that wasn’t your fault?

Being in a car accident is a stressful experience, even when it isn’t your fault. It can be difficult to know what to do and how to proceed after an accident. Here are some tips on what you should do if you find yourself in this situation. 

Gather information at the scene

The driver who crashes into your car is responsible for reporting the accident to their car insurance company. However, unless your insurance agent makes it clear that they’ll be contacting the other driver’s insurance company, you may want to contact their insurer as well. Motorists who cause accidents are often reluctant to report them.

It’s vital to get complete information on the other party at the accident scene. Collect the following:

  • Other driver’s name and address
  • Other driver’s insurance company name and policy information
  • Statements and contact information from witnesses
  • Take pictures of the accident scene — most smartphone cameras are suitable. If you can take pictures of the cars as they sit right after the accident it is best. If you had to move due to safety concerns, then take photos of the damage to each vehicle.

In addition, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a Wreck Check auto accident checklist you can print and keep in your vehicle. Your phone can help you collect and exchange the right information.

Using a Google map satellite images of the intersection or accident area may also help explain how the accident happened. And, if you have a dashcam be sure to find and save any footage of the accident so you can share it with the insurance company. That is especially helpful if the other driver doesn’t admit responsibility to their insurer.

Contact your insurance company

After a third-party accident, inform the other person’s insurer that you have been involved in a crash with one of its policyholders and make sure to relay only the facts of the accident. Even if you believe the other driver to be at fault, it’s not smart to say that. Instead, give the insurer the facts to show their driver is at fault and liable for your damages. You’ll be far more credible that way.

Although you may not have caused the accident, you should also contact your insurance company. This establishes your good-faith accident-reporting effort and can aid you if the other party’s insurer denies responsibility for the accident or their insurance was not valid at the time of the incident and you need to make a collision claim.

Sometimes car insurance companies may demand that you obtain their authorization before proceeding with vehicle repairs and injury treatments. At a minimum, ensure that the insurance company has accepted liability before going ahead with repairs and get that authorization in writing or over email.

Decide if you need to file a legal claim

The at-fault driver’s insurer may tell you to seek payment from your own insurer because it has no evidence of its policyholder’s fault. Although most states have made it illegal for an insurer to deny claims without reasonably investigating the facts, you may not want to fight the other person’s insurance company. 

If you make a claim with your insurer, it likely will choose to fight the other insurance company for compensation if it finds that the other driver is at fault. But if you decide to fight the at-fault driver’s insurer on your own you’ll need a lawyer — especially if you’ve been seriously injured. An attorney can help you navigate the sometimes-murky laws that govern insurance. But keep in mind that if you hire an attorney, they will take a cut of any settlement they help you get.

You may have evidence of the other driver’s fault — maybe they even admitted it at the scene — yet you find your claim denied by their auto insurance company. Why? Because they probably told a version of how the accident happened that doesn’t square with yours. Their insurer may stand behind that story in order to avoid paying your claim.

Sometimes the insurance company will take its policyholder’s position, even if it contradicts the police report.

If all else fails, file a claim with your car insurance company

Even if you’re not at fault, you can make a claim with your insurance company for payment of damages and injuries — if you have the right coverages.

If you have collision insurance, file a claim with your own carrier. It will pay for the cost of repairs or total loss of your vehicle. If you take this approach, you will have to pay your collision deductible toward repairs. However, you may get that money back if your insurer is able to settle with the other driver’s insurance company.

If it turns out the other driver is uninsured and you have uninsured motorist coverage property damage (UMPD), you can make a claim for your vehicle’s damage. There is normally no deductible for UMPD claims.

How does car insurance work when you’re not at fault for an accident?

When you’re involved in an accident you didn’t cause, you should collect the other driver’s information at the scene so you can make a claim against their liability insurance. When you do this, the claim goes on their insurance record, not your own. If you have collision insurance and medical payments coverage or Personal Injury Protection — MedPay and PIP help pay medical expenses after a car accident that results in injury — tell your insurer about the accident. If the other driver doesn’t have insurance, or has low limits, you can make a claim to your insurance company.

What is a third-party insurance claim?

A third-party claim is when you file an insurance claim with another driver’s insurance company. There are three parties in this situation — the other at-fault driver, the other driver’s insurance company and you. You are considered to be the third party.

In most cases, if you aren’t at fault in a car accident, the other driver’s state-mandated liability insurance coverage would pay for damage to your car, property and for medical bills for injuries, up to the limit of the policy. This is especially useful if your policy doesn’t have adequate coverage. In no-fault states, however, regardless of who is determined to have caused the accident, you’d file a claim with your own insurance company.

How does a third-party insurance claim work?  

The third-party insurance claim sometimes referred to as a liability claim, uses the at-fault driver’s liability coverage to cover damages and injuries. Third-party insurance claims can be made for medical bills, vehicle repairs, a rental car, and lost wages if you miss work due to the injuries caused. All these claims depend on two factors – the state where you are and the other person’s coverage. Although, the third-party insurance claims work differently in states with no-fault insurance and states without no-fault insurance.  

If you are living in a state which offers no-fault insurance, after a car accident, you can file a claim with your own insurer for medical insurance. If a state does not offer no-fault insurance, you can file a third-party insurance claim for property damage and medical costs. 

It is important to remember that the at-fault driver’s policy will only support paying for your repairs, up to their coverage limits. For example, assume your car is declared a total loss by the competing insurance firm and is valued at $50,000. If the other driver’s coverage limit is $40,000, you may be required to pay $10,000 out of pocket to replace your vehicle.

How to file third-party insurance claims 

A third-party claim is a claim you file with the insurance of another motorist. As noted, you are the third party. You are referred to as the third party because you are making a claim with a policy that doesn’t provide you coverage.  

Below are the steps you can follow to file a third-party insurance claim:

Collect information at the scene: If you are in an accident, try to get the other driver’s insurance information and the accident details. If you can, talk to the other driver at the scene of the accident and get the information you need to file a third-party claim.

Call your insurance company:  Call your insurance company right away to inform them about the accident. Usually, they will file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. But first, they will talk to the other insurer to figure out who is responsible.

File a third-party claim:  If you file the third-party claim online with the at-fault party’s insurance company, you’ll have access to their portal for filing/tracking the claim process.

Work with an insurance adjuster: After you file a claim, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will assign an adjuster. The adjuster will investigate the accident, figure out who was at fault and give an estimate of how much it will cost to fix the damage.
Receive the settlement check: If the adjuster finds out that the other driver was responsible for the accident, they will pay for the repairs either by sending you a check or paying the body shop directly.

Do insurance rates go up after an accident caused by a third party?

Your car insurance rates aren’t necessarily going to increase at renewal time if you make a claim under your own insurance policy for an accident that wasn’t your fault.

Most state laws prohibit insurers from surcharging policyholders or raising their premium rates for accidents in which they weren’t at fault. However, those laws do not preclude your insurer from dumping your policy at renewal time if you’ve made a few recent claims of any type.

Frequently asked questions

Do you have to report an accident to your insurance if it’s not your fault?

You don’t need to, but you should just incase to avoid being blamed for the accident. If the accident is truly determined to not be your fault, your rates probably won’t go up. But often, rates don’t go up for the person who wasn’t at fault in a car accident, and some states have laws preventing your rates from going up if the accident was not your fault.

How to deal with an at-fault driver’s insurance company?

Just like you would your own driver’s insurance company. You give them the details of the accident and any necessary documentation. Ideally, however, you want to go with your own insurer first and let the insurers work everything out between them.

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Geoff Williams
Contributing Researcher

 
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Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and author in Loveland, Ohio. He has been writing about insurance and personal finance since the mid-2000s. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Washington Post, CNNMoney, Entrepreneur, Forbes.com and U.S. News & World Report.