Motor Vehicle Accidents

How and When Do I Tell My Insurance Company About My Car Accident?

Justin Macfayden, JD
Law and Claims Analyst

When you’re involved in an accident involving damage to your property or injury, you should contact your insurance company, and possibly another person's insurance company. This is to tell them what happened, so you can be compensated as soon as possible.  

When to notify your insurer of a car accident or injury

Professionals recommend you contact your insurance carrier within 24 hours of the incident. Your province or insurer may have different, or unclear deadlines for reporting an insurance claim (such as informing the insurer "within a reasonable time".) However, notifying an insurer within 24 hours allows you to better recall the details about the claim when reporting, it ensures that you are compensated quickly, and it is within the reporting deadline of almost every insurer and province.  

Are there instances where you should not file a claim?  

It is always smart to notify the appropriate insurers when you’ve been injured, or insured property has been damaged.  This is because there may be legal or contractual mandates to do so under your policy or the law. Generally, if anyone has been injured, all necessary insurers (every person, car, or location which is insured and related to the incident) must be notified of the incident.

In a typical two-person car accident, this means the car insurance companies of both drivers.

If a house guest is injured on your property (such as in a dog bite, slip and fall, or any other injury), you'll need to promptly report the incident to your homeowner's insurance carrier.

If there was only light property damage, most jurisdictions and policies do not require you to report the damage if you choose not to.

Consult your insurance policy and provincial rules to confirm the rules for you jurisdiction.  

Does notifying the insurer affect my premiums?

This depends on a lot of factors, but generally, letting the insurer know that a claim may arise is not the same thing as starting a claim. When you first contact the insurer, make sure to discuss this with them so that you are well-informed about the process and how it can affect you in the future.  

How to notify your insurance carrier

Whenever possible, it is best to directly let your insurance company know about the potential claim. If this was an automobile accident, your pink cards will have contact information for your insurance company. The policy documents that you receive after your policy is issued will also have claim contact information. This is the same document that will include coverage details, payment information, and other important details.  

If you cannot find a contact from the above documents, you can also reach out to your broker or agent. Contact the broker or agent at the same contact information you used to buy your policy, and they will tell you how to file your claim. If you purchased your insurance through an online portal, you can log in to their online claims portal to report your claim and notify your insurer.

When reporting your claim, you’ll want to make sure you've provided all details relevant to the incident:

- How the incident happened – Ex. Another car was trying to change lanes and hit your car;

- Who witnessed the incident – The contact info of anyone who saw, but was not involved in the accident;

- Who was injured – The contact info of anyone who was injured;

- What property was damaged – A description of the damage to cars, phones, clothes, etc.;  

- Who was involved – The contact info for anyone involved in the accident like both drivers and any passengers;  

- etc.  

The insurance adjuster (the person you will likely report your claim to) will ask you for these details and more. It's important to be as comprehensive as possible because they can only cover you for the injuries and damage that they know about. There is one big exception to this rule: If you get a call from an opposing party's representative (like the other driver’s lawyer), it’s best to refrain from saying too much. You should contact your own insurer or an attorney as soon as possible if you are contacted by another lawyer.

At this point, do not admit liability to apologize for causing an accident. Assigning liability is a complicated task, and you could accidentally give the impression that you are at fault when legislation or common practice might indicate otherwise.  

During this initial call, make sure to write down who you're speaking with and to request confirmation that they have everything they need to begin processing your claim. Within a few days, you should receive a letter documenting your claim. If you don't receive this letter within 14 days, contact the claims office directly.

After you notify your insurer, a few things may happen. Your insurer:

  • may inform you that you are not covered for the loss,  
  • may ask for more information,  
  • may move forward with compensating you for your losses or seek to compensate you from the policy of another person (usually the person responsible for the incident).  

Once  a claim is filed, you need to co-operate with the investigation, which might involve inspections of your property, medical records, or other private materials related to your claim.  

How to notify another person’s insurance carrier

In most cases your insurance company will notify the other driver’s insurance company, and they will handle the coverage decisions among themselves – after which you will receive the payment you are owed from the appropriate insurance company. In other cases, you may not have an insurance company, and you may need to contact another person’s insurance company (usually someone responsible for or related to the incident). In these cases, insurance companies are generally notified by writing (via email/mail) or telephone.  

What happens after all the insurance companies know about the accident?

Depending on the complexity of the claim or severity of the injuries, you may be compensated in a matter of weeks by the appropriate insurance company, or you may end up waiting months while your injuries heal.  

It takes time for most injuries to heal. It could be a few days for minor injuries, months for more significant injuries, years for highly impactful injuries, and some injuries will never fully recover. In most cases, the insurers will want to wait until the injured party is completely recovered, or the timeline to recovery is well understood, before beginning negotiations. Do not be alarmed if, during this period, the insurer does not seem interested in settling the claim or beginning negotiations. It just takes time to understand the short-term and long-term effects of injuries on your life and livelihood.  

If you’re injured, the most important thing is your recovery and taking steps to heal (known legally as mitigation). Once you accept a final settlement number, your claim is over, and you cannot ‘go back and ask for more’ later. Most settlements usually happen after a doctor can confidently determine your ‘long term prognosis’ and safely say which injuries have completely healed with no other effects.

In some cases, the defending insurer may try to offer an immediate settlement. Unless you are absolutely certain that you have recovered from your injuries, you should not agree to this. Some injuries take days to become known, and some seemingly minor injuries can take very long periods to fully recover, even becoming worse over time.

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