How to file a car accident claim in Maryland
If you have just been in a car accident, especially if this was your first one, you may not know exactly what to do to file your insurance claim for property damage. It is important to recognize that dealing with an insurance company can be complicated, especially if your crash resulted in injuries.
You can file a property damage claim on your own. However, if your case involves any type of injuries, you should speak with a knowledgeable Maryland car accident attorney about a personal injury claim. And if the insurance company offers you any type of car accident settlement for your injuries, do not agree to anything without seeking proper legal advice.
Schedule a free consultation with the team at Jimeno & Gray today to discuss your car accident insurance claim.
What to Do if You Have Been in an Accident
If you have been in an accident, there are several actions you should take to protect your claim and your health:
- Call police. The police will come to the scene, talk to any witnesses, and file a police report. You can ask them for the number of the police report, either then or later, to provide to the insurance company.
- Get medical treatment. You may need emergency treatment for your injuries. However, even if your injuries don’t seem serious, you should still seek medical treatment as soon as possible. You may also have internal injuries that only surface in the hours or days following your accident, so make sure you are checked out by a medical professional no matter what.
- Exchange information. Write down the license plate number, name and contact information, and insurance information of the other drivers and vehicles involved in your accident. Also try to get the names and contact information for any bystanders who can be witnesses for the accident.
- Take pictures. If you have a smartphone or a camera, take pictures of the damage done to the vehicles, of the scene of the accident, and any other details surrounding the scene of the accident that may be relevant (such as road conditions that may have contributed to the accident).
- Notify your insurance company. Call your insurance company and let them know about the accident. Depending on your coverage and the state of your vehicle, they may provide you temporarily with a rental car.
Understanding Your Insurance Coverage
When you have been in an accident, the type of coverage you have and the party at fault will determine who is responsible for paying the damages.
In Maryland, vehicle insurance coverage is required under state law. Your plan may have more coverage than the mandated minimum, but if you have auto insurance, you will have at least this mandated minimum coverage:
- $30,000 per person / $60,000 per accident for bodily injury liability coverage
- $15,000 for property damage liability coverage
- $30,000 per person / $60,000 per accident for uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage
- $2,500 for personal injury protection
Liability coverage will cover the victims of the car accident — the driver of the other vehicle and any passengers — if you are to blame for the accident. On the flip side, the other party’s liability coverage will pay for your injuries and property damage if that person is to blame for the crash.
If you have collision coverage, that will cover damage to your vehicle or property in an accident that you cause. And personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payment insurance can pay for your injuries in an accident caused by you. With the minimum PIP coverage required by Maryland, you have no-fault coverage (meaning it doesn’t matter who was at fault) for medical expenses, hospital bills, and disability up to $2,500.
Your uninsured motorist coverage will cover your injuries (and damages, if you buy uninsured motorist property damage coverage) if you are in an accident with a driver who is at fault but does not have insurance.
Determining Who Is Responsible for a Car Accident
An insurance claims adjuster will make a determination of who is at fault by checking the police report and conducting an investigation — reviewing the damage to your vehicle, possibly visiting the scene of the accident, and talking to those involved. Unfortunately, even if it is clear that the other party is almost entirely to blame, that may not be the end of the story.
Every state has its own system for deciding who is comparatively at fault, and to what degree each party is at fault. Maryland is one of a just a handful of states that follows a theory of “contributory negligence,” which can lead to some harsh results.
Under the theory of contributory negligence, a person is completely barred from recovering compensation if his or her carelessness contributed at all to the accident. That means that in Maryland, if you are deemed to be 1 percent at fault for the accident, you cannot recover damages from the other party.
Relying on this law, the insurance adjuster may deny your claim or pay very little if he or she anticipates that you will not be able to recover if you go to court.
Filing Your Insurance Claim
When you first call your insurance company to report the accident, they will walk you through the steps for filing your claim. They will ask you questions about the accident, let you know what information you should provide to them, and begin your claim process. Remember: Do not discuss your health or injuries with the insurance company. Your lawyer should handle any communications related to your injuries.
The insurance company will ask questions about the time and place of the accident, the circumstances surrounding the accident, the police report, the others involved (and their contact information), any witnesses, and any photos you may have from the scene of the accident.
Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be seeking compensation from your insurance company or from the other driver’s insurance company (known as a third-party car insurance claim).
Talking to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
The other driver’s auto insurance company or a lawyer representing another person involved in the accident may contact you about the accident, wanting to ask questions or requesting a recorded statement.
Be polite but do not speak to them, as anything you say could impact your claim or a future lawsuit. You are under no obligation to provide a recorded statement, and should refer them to your insurance company or to your lawyer. The other insurance company and other parties can get the information they need from the police report.
Giving information to your own insurance company is another story. You have an obligation to provide your own insurance company with the information they need in order to process your claim. However, if your insurance company asks you to give a recorded statement about a crash involving injuries, you should speak with your lawyer first.
What Happens in an Insurance Company Investigation?
Once you file a claim with the insurance company, an adjustor will be assigned to investigate your case. He or she may contact you to ask for more information about the accident.
Some things the adjustor might do during the course of the investigation include:
- Examining the damage done to your vehicle (and taking pictures)
- Talking to the other driver or passengers
- Talking to any accident witnesses
- Asking for a copy of the police report
An insurance adjustor may seek additional information about the accident when investigating reports of injuries. You should talk to a lawyer if an insurance adjustor is:
- Asking you to sign a medical records release form
- Asking for proof of medical expenses or contacting your medical providers for expenses
- Looking for evidence of lost wages
Insurance adjustors will also check social media to see if you are lying about something. So it is best to stay off social media when you are involved in a car accident claim, especially one involving injuries.
Vehicle Repair and Claim Payments
Most insurance companies have a list of approved body shops for getting repair work done on your vehicle. You should check with your insurance company before having repairs done, so that you can be sure that they will be paid for. If you choose your own body shop, you may have to pay the difference between what they charge you and what your insurance company determines is a fair price for the work.
During the initial phase when your car requires repair and the claim has not been settled, your car insurance company may provide you with a rental car and make initial coverage payments for car repairs.
After a determination of fault has been made, your insurance company will negotiate with the other insurance company to determine who will pay in the end. If your insurance company made some payments but you are not found to be at fault, it will seek payment from the other insurance company (which is called “subrogation”).
What to Do if Your Claim Is Disputed
If the insurance company (either yours or that of the other driver) denies your claim, do not give up hope. A skilled car accident lawyer can review your claim and discuss your options for challenging the denial.
Insurance companies often underpay or deny claims when they know that you do not have representation. A lawyer can guide you through your other options of recovering damages for your accident, such as negotiations, mediation, or filing a lawsuit.
What Happens if You Are Uninsured in a Car Accident?
Not being insured in Maryland is a big mistake. It is against the law, and if you are caught not having insurance for your vehicle, you can be assessed fines, lose your driver’s license, and have your vehicle registration suspended, which can lead to other tickets and fines if you continue to drive. If you provide false evidence of insurance, you could face up to a $1,000 fine and/or one year in prison.
If you are fined, or have your driver’s license or registration suspended after being in a car accident, make sure that you pay the necessary fines, obtain the required insurance, and restore you driver’s license and registration to active standing again before driving. Driving on a suspended license or registration is just not worth the risk.
Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit
If your claim is denied or does not fully cover your damages, you need to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. You may have a number of options for causes of action to bring against the other party and their insurance company in order to fully pay for the damages you suffered from the accident.
A lawyer will be able to walk you through your various options and counsel you on your chances for successfully pursuing a claim. Many personal injury attorneys take cases on a contingency basis, so even if you think you are not able to afford an attorney, you can still file a lawsuit. Lawyers who take cases on a contingency basis only get paid if you are awarded damages or reach a settlement.
How Long Do You Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit?
If your claim was denied and you intend to appeal or file a lawsuit, do not put it off for too long. Maryland law provides statutes of limitations on lawsuits for personal injuries or property damages, which outline the time period after an accident that you have to file a lawsuit.
For most car accidents in Maryland, you have three years from the date of the crash to file a lawsuit. The deadline is slightly different for minors — they have until they turn 21. And if your lawsuit is against the government of Maryland (for instance, if you were hit by a city bus), then the statute of limitations is shorter than three years.
If you are filing a breach of contract claim against your insurance company, the statute of limitations is still three years, but it is calculated from the date that you know or should have known that you have a claim against the insurance company, not from the date of the accident.
Schedule a Free Consultation Today
If you have been hurt in a crash, you should speak with our experienced Maryland car accident attorneys as soon as possible. Contact us now to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation on your claim.