Being involved in a car accident is an incredibly stressful experience on its own, but having to also deal with the car insurance after can make it worse. We wrote this guide to help you through all the general steps you'll have to deal with so you can be ready if you ever find yourself dealing with an accident.
Step 1: What to Do in the Immediate Aftermath?
The accident just happened. You've come to a complete stop, turned off your car, and turned on your hazard lights. Here are some basic steps you should absolutely follow:
- Check for Injuries — if you, the other driver(s) involved, or any passengers have even minor injuries as a result of the collision you are legally obligated to call the police
- Check for Damage — check your vehicle and the other vehicle(s) involved for damage, if the total damage for every car involved is more than $2000 worth you must call the police
- Take Pictures — use a camera or your smartphone to take pictures of injuries, visible damage to each vehicle, the license plates of each vehicle, and of all the drivers involved for evidence
- Move to a Safer Spot — after the above steps have been taken, make sure you move your car (if possible) out of the middle of the intersection or road
- Gather Information — exchange names, addresses, license numbers and insurance information with all involved drivers, and get the contact information for any witnesses
- Report to the Police — you can contact a Collision Report Centre that are police facilities that help drivers in accidents, arrange for photos, help with reporting, and recommending a nearby body shop
Never leave the scene of the accident until you have gone through these steps or until the police say you can leave. At best, you will miss the chance to gather evidence and information you will need in the future and at worst you can be charged by the police for fleeing the scene of an accident.
Step 2: What Scams Should I Look Out For?
Unfortunately, not all collisions are accidents. Starting even before you are in a collision, there are some types of scams that con artists try to pull involving car accidents. It's worth noting that these scams are more likely to happen in bigger, more crowded cities like Toronto or the surrounding suburbs than in smaller towns. That's part of the reason why insurance is more expensive in the city. Here is a list of the more common scams, some of which can be combined.
2.1 Staged Accidents
A staged accident is when the con artist deliberately causes a collision in such a way to make you look at fault, and without any evidence to prove your side of the story they get the insurance payout. Here are the common ways it might happen:
Right of Way — the con artist has the right of way at an intersection but indicates that the victim should go ahead, but they then cut in so there is an accident. The con artist will deny that they made any gesture to give up the right of way, and since they had the right of way the victim seems at fault.
Rear-Ending — the con artist is driving in front of the victim and then slams on the breaks suddenly to catch the victim when they are too close or can't react fast enough. Even though the con artist caused it deliberately, it is often assumed that if you rear-end another car you are always the one at fault.
How to spot and avoid these scams? Make sure to keep a safe distance from any car ahead of you and always follow the right of way rules and be very wary if someone tries to give up their right of way. Take lots of photos of both your car and the other car at the scene of the crash, especially the point of impact, so you have it as evidence.
2.2 Referral Scams
Referral scams involve someone acting as a helpful outside from the accident itself, but they try to pressure the victim into either giving up personal information or going to a particular repair shop, collision lawyer, or other service that they have a relationship with. Here are two main variations:
Fake Samaritans — the con artist travels around looking for accidents on the side of the road. When they find one, they approach and act helpful and might even pose as someone else of influence. They will refer the victim to a particular repair shop, doctor, or lawyer, and might also try to get access to the victim's insurance information so they can then start submitting false claims.
Tow Trucks — some tow truck drivers will refer victims to a specific repair and body shops so they can receive a referral fee, but to make up for the referral fees the truck driver and/or repair shop will raise the fees the victim has to pay. If you refuse to pay they could even try to sell your car for their own profit.
How to spot and avoid these scams? Wait to ask your insurance company or the police what tow truck company or repair shop they could recommend; look for municipal license information on the tow truck; be wary of any unsolicited advice from random people who were not in the accident; and do not sign anything except for the police report without consulting your insurance company.
2.3 Fake Injuries & Victims
With these types of scams, the con artist will make up or embellish an insurance claim to get a bigger payout. Here are the two main types:
Fake Injuries — the con artist involved in the accident will immediately act or claim that they suffered a serious injury that is hard to actually detect or diagnose, like whiplash or back pain. They will have your insurance company compensate them for the medical bills they have in the present and future as a result of their "injury".
Fake Victims — after everyone leaves the scene of an accident, the con artist will file an insurance claim that they were injured in the collision even if they were not involved at all. Whether they actually were at the scene but not involved or through some other means, this is more common with online claims.
How to spot and avoid these scams? Take lots of pictures, document everything you can, and get the information of any witnesses willing to state what they saw actually happened. If anyone is reporting injury make sure you call the police to the scene even if they say not to so you have their report as evidence of who was actually present and injured. Most importantly, do not feel pressured by any threats that try to coerce you into paying anyone money outside of your insurance policies.
Step 3: Should I Contact My Insurance Company?
After things have settled, you should contact your insurance company and report the accident to them as soon as possible. It is best to do so within 7 days, or as soon as possible after that. If you wait too long the insurance company might not have to honour your claim. It is also helpful to call them for advice on what to do during and after the scene of the accident.
Here is a list of steps in the process you should expect:
- A claims adjuster will be assigned to your case to determine how much of the accident is covered by your policy and to help guide you through the process
- You will be asked to fill out some forms for your claim, such as a Proof of Loss form, that act as sworn statements of what happened
- You will be asked to provide some basic information about what happened, who and what cars were involved, what the insurance policy information is for everyone involved, and so on
- The insurance company will investigate and speak with the companies of the other people involved to determine who was at fault and for how much (see section #6).
If you have any questions or want advice, your claims representative will help.
Step 4: How Does the Repairs Process Work?
When choosing what repair shop to take your vehicle, you can either ask your insurance company for one of their preferred shops. However, you can also go to a shop you know and trust without asking them - the insurance company will just have to approve the repair estimate.
- If you are worried about the company or their repair shop not doing a good job at repairing your vehicle or charging you too much, there are some things to consider:
- Insurance companies have an obligation to return your vehicle that's been in a collision to the condition it was beforehand so they will ensure the job is well done
- They must replace any damaged parts with brand new replacement parts that must also be the specifications of the vehicle's manufacturer
- When the repairs wind up making the car in better condition than it was the company may ask you to pay for the difference
How much your company covers for the repair payments depends on how much you are determined to be at-fault for the accident (see section #6).
Step 5: What if I Was Injured in the Accident?
If you suffered an injury as a result of the accident, your claims process will involve an application for Accident Benefits to cover any medical costs. Even if you are determined to be at fault, by Ontario law the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS) requires coverage for any injuries you suffered in the accident.
Here are some of the main things covered by the standard Accident Benefits policy in Ontario:
- Lost Income — if you missed work as a result of your injury whether it is temporary or permanent
- Medical Fees — covers any costs to treat and rehabilitate your injuries
- Aide Costs — covers some of the cost to have an attendant care for you as you recover
- Family Travel — pays for some of family visiting during your recovery
- Related Expenses — covers some of the cost to replace or repair damaged or lost items that were in the car
There are other types of coverage that cover different costs and expenses you might incur as a result of your accident. When you apply for Accident Benefits you can ask your claims adjuster to run you through the process so you know what's ahead. They will send you the application package that should contain the necessary forms and paperwork.
Step 6: How is Fault Determined?
How much your insurance company pays out and how much you have to pay out of your own pocket depends on how much you are determined to have been at fault for the accident. Insurance companies in Ontario are bound by the Insurance Act to use the detailed guidelines of the Fault Determination Rules to determine fault in accidents. These guidelines contain detailed scenarios and visualizations to cover the vast majority of collisions and how to determine fault.
Here is how determining fault will impact you:
- 0% at Fault — your premiums are unaffected and your record remains clean
- 1-24% at Fault — your premiums are unaffected but it is put on your record
- 25%+ at Fault — your premiums are affected when you renew your policy and it is put on your record
In general, the determination relies heavily on whatever evidence is provided to them. If you and the other drivers involved give conflicting accounts of what happened then the fault is usually divided evenly.
If you have had a clean record for a number of years some insurance companies will have a policy to forgive your first accident or speeding ticket without it affecting your rates. You can ask your claims adjuster for more details about fault is determined and how it will affect you.
Step 7: What If I Have a Complaint?
If you do not agree with the determination of fault, first speak to your claims adjuster in case any evidence was missed. If you are still unsatisfied you can ask to speak with the company's Complaint Officer. They will review the case to see if anything was overlooked or mishandled, but you will need to have further evidence to present that they did not consider or a complaint that the case was not handled properly.
If you have any other complaints about how your claim is being handled, you should follow those same steps: first speak with your claim adjuster and then contact the Complaint Officer. If you have further complaints that you feel they did not properly address, you still have some options:
- Contact the insurance company's CEO directly
- Call the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) who are responsible for governing insurance companies for advice
- Contact the independent Ombudsman organization provided by the Complaint Officer
It is rare for you to have to use the above measures, and there is no guarantee that the insurance company's decision will be overturned so make sure you can provide a thorough documentation of your complaint with as much evidence as you can.
Being in a car accident is an incredibly stressful event, but there is a well-established process to follow that is very segmented and organized. It can help to have a checklist of every step and tip to follow somewhere in your car in case you need it, and be sure to ask a police officer or your insurance company for advice on what to do for additional assurance. Hopefully you will never need to do any of this!
You might also be interested in these guides:
Guide to Car Insurance in Ontario?
How to Get Lower Insurance Rates?
How to Buy a Car with Bad or No Credit?
Buying a Used Car vs a New Car?