third-party car insurance claims: when the accident wasn’t your fault

The bad news: you were in an accident. The good news: it was the other guy's fault. If the police and your insurers agree, the other driver's policy can help pay for your repairs and, in some cases, your medical expenses. And since the accident wasn't your fault, your premium will typically stay the same.

We'll cover how to file a third-party insurance claim and offer tips on dealing with someone else's car insurance company.

determining fault at the scene of an accident

Call the police to the scene of the accident to make sure there's an official police report. The official police report can help settle any disputes down the road, and it'll come in handy when insurers determine who was more responsible for the crash.

If you live in an at-fault state and the other driver is deemed at-fault, you can file a claim with the other driver's car insurance company for any accident-related property damage and medical expenses. The other driver's liability coverage can kick in to help pay for your expenses.

If you live in a no-fault state, you can file a claim for property damage, but there are limitations to filing claims with the other driver's insurer for medical expenses. These limitations vary widely by state, but in general, your own policy's personal injury protection coverage can kick in to help cover medical expenses for you and your passengers. (That is not the case in Michigan, which plays by its own rules.)

Whenever you file a claim against the other driver, it's called a third-party insurance claim.

filing the claim

In general, you file your claim directly through the at-fault driver's insurer. Your own insurer can help guide you through the process.

When you're ready to initiate the third-party claim, have the following handy:

  • The at-fault driver's name and insurance policy number.
  • A copy of the official accident report. You can request this from the responding police department.
  • The contact info of any injured passengers.
  • Photos of all damages. (Put your smartphone's camera to work at
    the scene.)
  • Your repair shop's contact info.
  • Details of accident-related injuries — including dates of hospital/doctor visits, bills, doctors' findings, X-rays, etc. If you haven't consulted a doctor, talk it through with your claims rep.

If you don't have all of this info, don't worry. Your claims rep will help.

the life of a third-party claim

After the third-party claim is filed, it proceeds like a typical claim with your own insurer. But there are some added complexities that can cause some confusion. We'll explain some causes for concern.

When nothing seems to be happening

Before a third-party settlement is paid, most insurance companies contact their own policyholders for their perspectives. It's typically nothing to worry about, but it can cause a delay.

During this claim initiation stage, a company representative should be in frequent contact to keep you updated.

If you need immediate repairs or payment for medical bills, let the claims rep from your own insurance company know. You may be able to file a claim with your own insurer, who will then start a process called subrogation against the other driver's insurance provider for all expenses. The downside: you'll initially pay your deductible out of pocket, and there's no guarantee that subrogation will work.

When the at-fault driver's coverage limits are too low

If an at-fault driver's insurance can't cover your accident-related expenses, you typically have 2 basic options.

  • File a claim for the excess amount through your policy's underinsured motorist coverage.
    Your claim rep can walk you through this option if you have underinsured coverage on your policy.
  • Take legal action.
    If you don't have underinsured coverage or you'd rather not file a claim with your own insurer, you may be able to seek restitution through legal means.

When you need to pay out-of-pocket expenses

If an accident clearly wasn't your fault, paying for your own repairs or medical bills can be frustrating. But this can happen when the other driver disputes fault or when the investigation takes longer than expected and you'd like to get your car into the shop.

In some cases, initial expenses can be reimbursed through subrogation.

If the other insurer denies your claim for any reason (like an unclear police report), you may need to file a claim through your own insurer. Your claims rep from your own insurance company will help and explain what this means for your personal expenses.

how to handle the other guy’s insurer

If you're in an accident caused by another driver, gather as much info as possible at the scene and afterward before contacting the insurer.

And if you're an Esurance customer, you can give us a call for expert insight into the process. We're standing by at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262), where our agents are available at these times.

Claims info
Find out how to file a claim and what to expect from your Esurance claims experience.

How minor accidents could affect your car insurance
Learn how small accidents like fender-benders could affect your rates.

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