Yep! Accidents Happen. (Then What?)

You pride yourself on being a good driver. You drive defensively, avoid texting and other distractions, take safety precautions, and keep your car in good shape.

Still, accidents can happen. And when they do, you’re faced with the question: What now? For Erie Insurance customers, the best first step is to seek the advice of an expert: your ERIE agent.

See also: 6 Reasons You’ll Love Having an Insurance Agent

Even if it’s minor, there may be considerations that you’re not thinking about regarding your deductible or certain features in your auto insurance policy. This is where your agent can coach you and offer guidance about filing a claim.

We’ve enlisted the help of longtime ERIE agent Jill Yaekel of Yaekel & Associates in Belleville, Illinois, to walk us through some common scenarios in which customers often call to seek guidance from their agent. Come along for the ride to see what some of your options might be if something similar happens to you.

THREE COMMON ACCIDENT SCENARIOS: WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

 

Scenario 1: It’s been a crazy morning. As you’re backing out of the garage, you hear the heart-dropping crunch of your mirror hitting the door frame. Now you’re not only late, but dealing with this situation.

If you’ve been driving long enough, you’ve probably had an experience similar to the one described above. Or maybe you hit your mailbox or backed into your kid’s basketball pole. When it happens, what should you do?

First and foremost, assess the situation. Make sure no one was hurt and get a close look at any damage to your car or the house.

“If you just rough up the moulding around the garage door, you may say, ‘I can live with that,’” Yaekel says. “But if the mirror snaps off and it takes the moulding strip off, and the garage door gets damaged, then that’s probably enough damage that it makes sense to talk through your options with your agent. Your agent can offer guidance about what type of claim to file, considering the accident damaged two things you insure—your car and your home.

A silver lining: ERIE offers a coverage option that applies if there is damage to both your house and car. In this situation, only the home deductible will apply. Your auto deductible will be waived so you don’t end up paying two deductible payments. Learn more about homeowners insurance from ERIE.

Scenario 2: You and another driver backed into each other in a parking lot. There is minor damage to the other vehicle, but not so much as a scratch on yours. Do you just let the other driver file a claim? And what if the other driver says, “Hey, it’s not that bad, why don’t we leave the insurance companies out of this and you can just pay me for the scratch?”

Situations like this happen all the time. Yet what may seem like a simple and reasonable agreement between you and another driver might end up getting complicated.

Related: Can You Guess the Real Cost of the Average Fender Bender?

There may be instances when working out a financial agreement to pay for minor damage makes sense, but that is typically only in situations in which you know and fully trust the other party involved.

“If you backed into your neighbor’s car, and have a great relationship, you’re probably OK just settling and giving him some money out-of-pocket,” says Yaekel. “Keep in mind, policy conditions still require that you let ERIE or your agent know about the incident.”

But how about if you backed into someone you didn’t know at the mall? You definitely want to report this circumstance to ERIE or your agent, because there’s a possibility that someone could escalate or exaggerate what happened.

Another reason to call your agent? There could be hidden damage to either vehicle that could create larger problems later on. Worse, someone may start experiencing pain or other issues related to the accident days later.

Coming to an agreement with another driver without reporting it opens the door for fraud. Consider this possibility: You and the other driver look at the damage and agree it’s only a minor scrape on his bumper. You agree to pay $100 on the spot for cosmetic repair. You shake hands, but before the other driver leaves he asks for your insurance information “just in case.”

You might think everything’s done and then three weeks later your insurance company calls and says, “Hey, there’s a report that claims you struck another vehicle.” You could tell your insurance company that’s accurate and inform them that you paid the other driver $100, however, there won’t be a record of your payment. Even worse, the other driver might be experiencing whiplash pain or other ailments. Since you didn’t report the incident to ERIE or your agent, it’s considered a late claim report and that could cause additional problems.

A conversation with your agent can help make sure that none of these after-the-fact issues grow into major headaches. It’s better to be safe than sorry and call for guidance.

Scenario 3: You’re leaving a friend’s house, but the fun stops when you are backing out and hit the mailbox of one of the neighbors. It looks like the sturdy mailbox didn’t suffer any damage, but there is a pretty good dent in your bumper and potentially some other problems. What should you do next?

“If your car is not that old, you have to determine whether it’s worth filing a collision claim or not,” Yaekel says. “And that’s when a call to your agent will help. Your agent will verify what your deductible is, what your out-of-pocket responsibility would be, and whether your coverage includes Diminishing Deductible, First Accident Forgiveness, or other features that could limit the amount you pay out or any possible impact on your premium costs moving forward. Don’t forget to let the mailbox owner know about the incident, just in case there may be damage you cannot see.”

Related: What Is Collision Insurance and How Does it Work?

Will filing a claim impact your insurance rates or eligibility moving forward? It depends on a range of factors that your ERIE agent can walk you through. Your past driving history, length of time with ERIE, the circumstances of the accident and other issues can impact whether your rates will remain flat or increase. Also, it depends on the features included in your insurance policy, such as First Accident Forgiveness or the ERIE Rate Lock® feature.

See also: What Determines the Price of My Auto Insurance?

This accident scenario raises other risks as well, particularly if you backed into someone’s vehicle instead of a mailbox. Even if there is absolutely no damage to the other vehicle, if you leave without notifying anyone, that could put you in a tough spot from a legal perspective.

If you drive away without telling anyone, that’s considered a hit-and-run. And if the neighbors get your license plate on a security camera, then suddenly the police are knocking on your door and you’re dealing with another set of issues.

To avoid this, be up front. If there is potential for property damage, do the right thing: identify yourself, let the other party know what happened, and provide your contact information, including insurance.

WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT

You never know what life will throw your way, and when it comes to your insurance, it’s good to know you have an agent ready to answer your call. “We encourage our customers to call and talk about any possible claim, and I think they appreciate the guidance we provide,” Yaekel says. “It’s one of the key benefits of having an ERIE agent. We can advise our customers about their options so they can make informed decisions.”

To get the most out of the conversation, Yaekel offers these three tips:

  1. Know the details: To provide the best guidance, your agent needs to know exactly what happened. Even small details might end up having an impact on the decision to file a claim. Have the specifics of the incident: date, time, and location; other drivers involved; and damage incurred.
  2. List your questions: Have a list of questions ready to make the best use of time.
  3. Get an estimate if possible: Typically, customers get an estimate after they call the agency, but Yaekel says getting one prior can help narrow the options when making a decision about a claim.

Yes, unfortunately, accidents happen. But when you’re with ERIE, you have your own personal advisor when they do. There is no disadvantage to talking to your agent. Your agent will discuss the details and provide enough information so you can make an informed decision. You never have to go it alone.

Accidents happen to all of us, and when they do, your agent is there.

Learn more about auto insurance from ERIE or contact your local agent today.

November 30th, -0001 by Thomas E. Michael Agency