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How to deal with your insurance company after an accident

Insurance companies use the word ‘blame’ to determine the likelihood of them being able to recoup money from a party in an accident. It’s not technically an admission of who is at fault. For example, if your car is parked in your driveway and there is a storm and one of your trees falls on it, you are deemed to be at blame, even though it’s clearly not your fault and you are not culpable.

Blame will be determined after an accident or event that creates a loss for you or another party. For a discussion of the word accident vs the word crash, click here.

If you are driving a company vehicle then it’s important to check their specific guidelines and also ask that incident forms are included in your glovebox.

Apportioning blame and rejecting claims

Insurance companies always try to minimise their payouts therefore they will try to apportion blame to the other parties in the accidents where possible. For example, if another vehicle runs into you but it’s found that your brakes are defective and had they been working you would have been able to avoid the accident completely, you might be apportioned a part of the blame for the accident.

Insurance companies might reject your claim if:

  • You provide false details about the accident or yourself (e.g. who was driving, or the events that happened)
  • Your vehicle is poorly maintained and that contributed to the accident, e.g. brake lights didn’t work therefore someone ran into the back of you
  • You were driving outside of the conditions of your licence, e.g. driving alone on a restricted licence between 10pm and 5am, or driving without a licence at all.
  • You were under the influence of medication.
  • You were under the influence of alcohol (see alcohol limits here).
  • You were under the influence of illegal drugs.
  • You fail to report the accident to the police or your insurance company.
  • You were breaking the law when driving, e.g. excessive speed.
  • You were driving dangerously, e.g. inappropriate speed.

You will also not be able to claim for damage to your car if your insurance is only third party.

If you don’t intend to claim through your insurance company then you don’t need to tell them about the accident. In some cases it is cheaper just to pay for the repairs yourself rather than lose your no claims bonus. If you do tell your insurance company, but you don’t claim, they should not remove your no claims bonus as, technically, you haven’t claimed from them.

What are your rights from your insurance company?

Your insurance company will require as much information as possible about the accident (see below), and they will treat this information confidentially to the extent possible.

Check your insurance policy wording carefully as you may be entitled to a rental car or compensation for transport while your car is being repaired. This won’t apply if you only have third party insurance and you will need a comprehensive policy to take advantage of any consequential loss to you if you caused the accident.

The other person’s insurance company will provide a courtesy car if they are at fault and are fully insured. If they are not insured then it will be your choice whether or not to pay for this yourself then pursue costs through the small claims court.

What information do you need to record if you have a car accident?

Don’t admit liability.

Avoid getting into a confrontation with the other driver – stay calm and take the details down as you see they happened. No one wants to be in an accident, so getting angry won’t help matters and it could prejudice any case against you.

Take as much of the following information down as possible, without endangering yourself, but remember that if you are in an accident with injuries then you must render assistance first.

  • Name, address, phone, licence number and expiry of all drivers
  • Time, date and exact location of the accident, e.g. 3:15pm, intersection of College Hill and Ponsonby Road, 14 August 2015
  • Registration numbers, makes and models of every vehicle involved, e.g. blue Suzuki Swift, registration ABC123
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses. This includes bystanders (the best kind of witnesses) and passengers in other vehicles (the most problematic types of witnesses)
  • Weather and road condition, e.g. sunny, but road was wet causing sun dazzle
  • Sketch the scene.
  • Photograph the scene with your cellphone, but don’t rely on these photos as it can often be difficult to infer what happened. Make sure you get skid marks, damage on each vehicle, the final position on the road (if possible) and different perspectives of the scene.
  • Write down in your words, as soon as possible after the accident, exactly what you think happened.
  • If you can, record any conversations with witnesses.
  • Make a note of any CCTV cameras that might have seen the accident.

Send this information to your insurance company and ensure you get the details of the person managing your claim and an estimated time for your claim to be resolved. You will need to know whether you need to pay for anything up front or whether they will organise everything for you. If your vehicle was towed it will probably have been towed to an approved panel beater where the insurance assessor can come and assess the damage. If damage is minor, ask your insurance company where you should take it. If you are not footing the bill, just make sure you take it to a panel beater with a good reputation. When you collect your vehicle, check it carefully and if the panel beater has not done a good job you will need to tell them immediately and notify your insurer.

If your vehicle is written off your insurance company will pay you as per your policy. This might be an agreed value or a market value.

There is more information here about what to do if you come across a crash or accident with injuries.

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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