Car Accident Claim Guide: What to Do and How to Maximize Your Compensation

See how to get the compensation you deserve after a car accident. Learn how to make a strong claim and deal with the auto insurance company.

More than 2.5 million Americans end up in the emergency room every year because of car accidents. Crash injuries are responsible for $18 billion in lifetime medical costs.¹

Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of personal injury claims in the United States. Injuries can range from minor scrapes and bruises, to permanent disability and death.

When you’re injured in an accident caused by someone else, you have the right to expect fair compensation for your medical costs, lost wages, and your pain and suffering.

What to Do After a Car Accident

Vehicle collisions are abrupt and violent. You might be stunned right after the impact. It helps to think ahead about what you should do after a car accident. Your actions can have long-term effects on your health and financial future.

4 Critical Steps After an Accident:

  1. Check for injuries and call 911. Tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else might be hurt, or if your car is in a dangerous location.
  2. Exchange insurance information. If no one is seriously injured, get the other driver’s insurance and contact information. This includes the license plate and policy number.
  3. Gather evidence. If you’re able, take photos and talk to witnesses at the accident scene. But don’t risk making your injuries worse. If you’re injured, you can rely on the police investigation and accident report.
  4. Get medical treatment. When paramedics arrive, let them treat you. Go to the hospital if they recommend it, and follow up with outpatient treatment. Refusing medical care at the scene and not getting follow-up treatment can sink your injury claim.

More resources on what to do after an accident:

Is it worth it to file a car insurance claim?

Yes. Always file a claim against the other driver’s insurance company if there were injuries, vehicle damage, or if liability is unclear. Be sure to notify your own insurance company as well. Most insurers make notification easy through their website, mobile app, or phone number.

The other driver (or their passengers) might say they feel fine at the scene, only to assert severe injuries later on. Your insurance company has a duty to defend you against lawsuits as long as you promptly notify them of an accident.

How to Calculate Car Accident Compensation

You can calculate an approximate settlement amount by totaling your economic damages (verifiable expenses related to your accident), then adding a multiple of that amount to account for your pain and suffering. The multiple depends on the severity of your injuries, but is commonly between 1-5 times your medical expenses.

How much should I settle for after a car accident?

Ideally, you want to settle your car accident claim for an amount that covers all your damages, including pain and suffering. Your initial settlement demand should be higher than what you expect to receive, as the amount will be reduced through negotiations with the insurance adjuster.

What information is needed to calculate compensation?

Your total economic damages consist of all your medical expenses, out-of-pocket costs, and your lost wages. You’ll use the full amount of your medical costs, even if your health insurance or Medicaid covered most of it.

Do you get paid for pain and suffering from a car accident?

For most claims, it’s fair to ask for one or two times the amount of your economic losses to account for pain and suffering. For severe injuries, you could ask for four or five times your economic losses, or more. You’ll need an attorney to get the maximum settlement amount for severe injuries.

In no-fault insurance states, Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage will not pay for pain and suffering if your injuries aren’t serious. If your injuries meet the serious injury threshold, you can pursue pain and suffering compensation.

In states with traditional fault laws, it’s reasonable to include an amount for pain and suffering in your demand.

5 factors that influence car accident compensation:

  1. Degree of shared fault: In most states, your compensation will be reduced according to your percentage of fault.
  2. State negligence laws: Depending on the state, if you are equally or more at fault than the other driver, you won’t be eligible for any compensation from the other driver’s insurance.
  3. Amount of economic damages: Compensation is largely based on verifiable hard costs, like medical bills and lost wages.
  4. Severity of injuries: Minor injuries have lower payouts, with a nominal amount for pain and suffering. Severe, potentially disabling injuries are high-dollar injury claims.
  5. Auto insurance policy limits: Many drivers only carry the state’s minimum requirement for auto insurance limits. If your injuries are severe, there won’t be enough insurance money to cover your damages. Similarly, if several people are injured in a crash, the at-fault driver may not have adequate coverage to go around.

Who’s At-Fault for Your Car Accident?

Determining another driver’s fault for an accident requires evidence showing they did something wrong, or failed to do what any reasonable driver would do under the circumstances.

Evidence proving fault can include traffic citations, witness statements, accident photos, cell phone records, the other driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and more. The police report can also help establish the other driver’s fault and show that you did nothing to cause the collision. This is one reason why it’s critical to call 911 after an accident.

Does fault matter when getting car accident compensation?

Yes, fault matters in car accident claims. In most states, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for all your damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. But you won’t get a dime unless you can prove their insured caused the crash.

If you live in a no-fault state, your injuries will be covered by your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, up to the policy limits, no matter who caused the crash. Even if you only suffered minor injuries, the at-fault driver’s insurer should still cover your vehicle damage.

Benefits of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer

Hiring a licensed personal injury attorney can help your case in many ways. They have years of experience pursuing car accident claims and dealing with insurance companies. For serious injury claims, an attorney is critical.

Your personal injury attorney will:

  • Handle correspondence with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • Obtain evidence you’d have a hard time gathering on your own
  • Identify additional sources of compensation
  • Likely negotiate a higher settlement than you could on your own
  • File a lawsuit if the insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement
  • Handle your claim so you can focus on recovering from your injuries

What percentage of my accident settlement goes to my lawyer?

Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay anything unless your claim settles or wins at trial. Typical attorney fees are 33.3 percent of an out-of-court settlement, and 40 percent if your case goes to trial. Their expenses are also taken out of the total settlement amount.

Process of Filing a Car Accident Insurance Claim

Each state has different rules, but most auto insurance companies handle claims in similar ways.

Steps of the auto insurance claim process:

  1. Notification: You or your attorney will send a notice of intent to file an injury claim to the other driver’s insurance company. The company will respond with a claim number and the adjuster who will handle your claim.
  2. Recorded Statement: The adjuster may call and ask to take your recorded statement, but beware. The adjuster is trained to get you to say things that can hurt your claim. You are under no obligation to give a statement before consulting an attorney.
  3. Car Repairs: The at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for your car repairs (or payoff for a total loss) and rental car charges while your vehicle is in the shop. If you have collision coverage, you may choose to let your own insurer handle your property damage claim. Your insurer will then seek reimbursement from the other driver’s company.
  4. Early Settlement Offer: You may get an injury claim offer immediately. The insurance adjuster would love to get you to settle for a small amount and go away. It’s better to hold off settlement discussions until you’re finished treating your injuries.
  5. Begin Negotiations: After you’ve finished treatment, it’s time to open negotiations by sending a compensation demand packet to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
  6. Final Settlement: After a few rounds of negotiations, you will hopefully reach a compromised settlement agreement. Once you sign the agreement, you should receive your check within a few weeks.
  7. Failed Negotiations: If negotiations fail, you have other options, including arbitration or filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Negotiating a Car Accident Claim Successfully

If you’ve fully recovered from relatively mild car accident injuries, you might decide to handle your own insurance claim.

Preparation is key to successful negotiations. Gather and organize your evidence so it’s easy to find while talking to the adjuster. Prepare your notes and talking points in advance. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your case. It helps to try thinking like an adjuster to anticipate what their arguments might be.

Experienced negotiators expect both sides to compromise, but know what your “bottom line” is. If settlement discussions break down, you have other options. Remember, you can consult an attorney at any point in the negotiations process.

How long does the claim process usually last?

From initial notification to final settlement, the claims process can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more. It depends on how long it takes for your injuries to heal, and how smoothly negotiations progress with the insurance company.

Each state has a statute of limitations for personal injury claims, usually one to three years after the accident date. If you haven’t settled your claim or filed a lawsuit before the statutory deadline, you’ll forfeit your right to compensation.

How do I know if my injury is covered by insurance?

You can seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s auto insurance coverage for any physical injuries caused by the crash, even if it’s an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

Claims for emotional distress and other mental health injuries may be covered, but are more difficult to win, especially in the absence of a corresponding physical injury.

What if my auto insurance claim is denied?

All is not lost if your claim is denied. The auto insurance company must give a reason for the denial. You may only need to provide additional related evidence to get the adjuster to reconsider your claim.

If the other driver’s insurance company won’t cooperate, you have options, including filing a lawsuit directly against the at-fault driver.

When your own insurance company denies a claim, consider talking to a personal injury attorney. An attorney can often compel your insurer to pay the coverage at issue. The attorney can also determine if you have grounds for a bad-faith lawsuit against your insurance company.

Tips for dealing with the insurance company:

  1. Remember that the insurance company is not on your side.
  2. No matter how sympathetic they might act, the adjuster is not your friend. Don’t confide in them or discuss your money problems, marital woes, or other personal issues they can use against you.
  3. Gather and organize as much evidence and accident-related information as possible.
  4. Don’t give a recorded statement before consulting an attorney.
  5. Don’t sign anything – including a medical release form – that you don’t fully understand. The insurance company only needs medical records directly related to your car accident injuries.
  6. Wait until you’ve fully recovered to discuss settlement. An attorney should handle claims for serious injuries.
  7. If you decide to handle your claim without an attorney, be prepared and stick to the facts during settlement negotiations.
  8. Keep in mind that you have the right to consult an attorney at any point in the claims process, up until you sign a settlement agreement.

Types of Accidents, Common Causes, and Injuries

Common Types of Auto Accidents

While no two accidents are exactly alike, each type of vehicle accident has its own unique factors. A bus accident claim is different from an ATV crash. Learn more about the type of accident that caused your injuries to get a head start on building a strong claim.

To better understand the different case types, review some Car Accident Case Examples.

Common Causes of Accidents

Car Safety Tips:

Common Car Accident Injuries

The cost of your medical care is a major factor in the value of your car accident claim. From soft-tissue injuries to permanent disability, here’s what you need to know about common accident injuries.


State-Specific Car Accident Guides



Car Accident Claim Questions & Answers