After an accident, some damage or injuries may not become apparent until days or weeks later. If you think this may be the case for you, it may be a good idea to wait to file a claim, but most insurance professionals recommend consulting your insurance company about the proper timeline for your claim. Your insurer will likely require you to report accidents soon after they occur, often within 30 days. In addition, when it comes to filing claims (which is different from reporting an accident), your provider may not give you a time limit or may set specific limits for types of coverage.
Some insurers, for example, may give you three years to file personal injury claims. The insurance company generally has approximately 30 days to investigate your car insurance claim, although the number of days varies by state. Most state laws require that claims be processed promptly and without unnecessary delay, but processing and resolving them can take longer, especially if the accident was serious or if a coverage investigation is necessary. Drivers typically have 30 days to report a car accident to their insurance provider.
However, policies don't always give a specific time frame and could simply state that the driver must report the accident “immediately”. Review your policy to find out when your insurance company wants you to file a claim after a car accident. If you file a claim with an insurance company, you have time for your car insurance company or policy to say that you have to start the claim process after an accident, that is, when the accident occurs or within 24 hours. States may also require you to report an accident to the police if the damages exceed a certain amount, but that doesn't mean you have to file a claim with your insurance company.
If you're at fault for a car accident, your liability insurance pays for repairs to the other driver's car and will likely cover the doctor's bills if you're injured. Taking photographs of the accident scene and obtaining the contact information of any witnesses can help support your claim. Your provider will assign you a claims adjuster who will help you complete the process, as well as investigate your accident and any follow-up to it, including repairs and medical care. Auto insurance policies often stipulate that you must report accidents “promptly,” which is vague, but it basically means that you should report an accident as soon as possible, sometimes even while you're still at the scene of the accident.
Whether you file a claim hours, days, or weeks after an accident, you'll need to quickly show all relevant documents, such as bills or medical records. For example, if you don't report initially, but later on you realize that you have to file a claim, the insurance company has no way of knowing if the damage is the result of the accident or of something else that happened later. No-fault states are the exception, requiring each driver to use their own insurance to pay for medical expenses after an accident. If you have damage to your car that appears months after an accident or injuries that become evident over time, you can still file a claim, but keep in mind that the claims adjuster will carefully examine it to ensure that the damages or injuries you are reporting actually came from the accident in question and did not occur later on.
Keep in mind that car accident investigations can take months to complete if there are serious injuries, multiple drivers and cars involved, and if it is unknown who was at fault. Your liability insurance never covers your own expenses, so you'll need collision insurance, personal injury protection (PIP), or MedPay to avoid paying out of pocket for an accident where you were at fault. Even if you think you weren't at fault for the accident and plan to file a claim with a third party or the other person's insurance, you should notify your own provider. In accidents with more injuries and damages, the investigation may take longer, which may delay receiving payment or payments of your claim.