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Winter weather and auto insurance claims

November 22, 2010

Winter weather and auto insurance claims

For Immediate Release:  November 22, 2010

Winter driving in Minnesota has its hazards, and even the most careful drivers can end up with a crumpled fender or other auto damage requiring a trip to the repair shop. Combine icy, snowy roads with motorists who aren't used to these conditions and the risk of car crashes increases. 

You can reduce the risks by making sure your vehicle is ready for winter weather with good tire treads, snow tires, good brakes, working windshield wipers and windshield wiper fluid that contains antifreeze. Also, it's important to decide whether to drive and how fast to drive based on road conditions. Finally, winter is a good time to review your insurance.

Don't wait until your car slides through an icy intersection or a tree falls on your truck to find out whether you are covered for any losses. For example, motorists with collision insurance may be reimbursed for damage to their vehicle in a crash. However, drivers with comprehensive coverage may be reimbursed for damage other than a collision (such as running into a deer).  Minnesota law doesn't require comprehensive coverage and some people with older vehicles don't purchase this coverage. It's up to you to decide what insurance you need.

When drivers file an insurance claim to help pay for repairs, they often have questions about what is required of them and the insurance company. The Minnesota Department of Commerce, which regulates the state's insurance industry, responds to requests for information or assistance through the Department's Consumer Response Team (CRT).  Here are some typical questions motorists ask the department this time of year:

Q: What should I do if I have an accident involving another driver?
A. Before an accident, understand your insurance policy. To find out what is covered, call your insurance agent or company; find your last renewal billing; or look on the "Declaration" page at the front of your insurance policy. This page lists each vehicle and the type of coverage you have.
In an accident:

  • You must stop. If the crash results only in property damage, move to a safe location.  Pull out of the driving lane, if possible, onto the shoulder. Do not step out of your vehicle until you have moved to a safe location away from traffic. 

  • If someone in the crash is injured or killed, you must call the nearest law enforcement agency or 911 as quickly as possible.  If you are qualified, administer first aid. Otherwise, do what you can to make injured persons comfortable. You are required by law to provide a reasonable degree of assistance to crash victims.

  • If a crash results only in property damage, it is not necessary to notify law enforcement. If your vehicle is disabled, have it towed as soon as possible.  If you damage property other than a vehicle, you must inform the property owner.

  • Exchange information with the other parties. Get the other driver's name, address, phone, vehicle license number, vehicle identification number, driver license number, insurance company name and insurer's phone number. Ask witnesses for their names and phone numbers.

  • If you have a camera or a camera cell phone, take pictures of the accident scene and damage to all vehicles involved, even if it is a one-car accident. If you don't have a camera, sketch how the accident occurred.

  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Most policies require prompt notification of a claim. It's important that you review and follow any instructions from your company as to the steps to take following an accident

  • The insurance company has up to 30 business days to investigate the accident to determine the extent of liability and coverage.

Q: I slid into another car and damaged my car and the other vehicle. Am I covered?
A: If you have collision coverage, your insurance will cover damage to your vehicle after you pay the deductible. If you don't have collision coverage, damage to your vehicle won't be covered. If you are determined to be responsible, your required liability insurance will cover property damage and/or injuries to the other vehicle and its occupants up to the limits of your policy.

Q: What if I slide through an icy intersection? Is that my fault?
A: You may be responsible any time your vehicle is out of control. Key issues will be whether your actions were reasonable and prudent.

Q: What if someone in my car is injured?
A: Minnesota law requires your insurance policy to provide a minimum of $40,000 personal injury protection coverage ($20,000 for hospital/medical expenses and $20,000 for non-medical expenses such as lost wages, replacement services, etc.) This coverage is available regardless of who is at fault in a crash.

Q: What is the difference between comprehensive and collision coverage?
Collision covers damage to your auto when you are involved in an accident with another vehicle or object.  Comprehensive insurance covers you for physical damage other than collision. This includes losses from fire, theft, hail, falling objects, vandalism, animal collisions and floods. Neither type of insurance is required in Minnesota.  Most often there is a deductible to be satisfied before payment is made under collision or comprehensive coverage.

Q: Will my car insurance cover a rental vehicle while my car is being repaired?
A: Your auto insurance does not automatically cover the cost of a rental car. However, you may purchase rental reimbursement coverage; it is relatively inexpensive. If you have this coverage at the time of an accident, it will pay for a vehicle while yours is being repaired.

Q: I have lots of relatives visiting. What if one of them drives my car and we get into an accident?
A: Auto insurance coverage follows the vehicle, so your car will generally be covered while your relative is driving, the same as if you were driving. For example, if your family member slides off an icy road and you don't have collision coverage, there would not be coverage for any damage to the car itself, no matter who was driving. In addition, keep in mind that your premiums might increase due to the accident.

Q: What if I take someone else's car (with their permission) to the store because it was the last one in the driveway, and I accidentally back it into the neighbor's car parked across the street?
A: The existing auto insurance policy on the borrowed vehicle would provide primary coverage. If no coverage exists, your auto insurance policy might provide coverage. Talk with your insurance agent or company to find out if your auto coverage will extend to a friend or family member's car you plan on operating.

Q: What if I loan my car to a family member who does not live in my house and they get pulled over for driving while intoxicated?
A: Your automobile coverage will not be affected if another driver is simply ticketed for a driving violation. However, if the person has an accident while intoxicated, the company might non-renew your policy or charge a higher premium.

Q: During the recent cold weather, a tree fell on my daughter's car. The insurance company told her that her claim is not covered. How is this possible?
A: Comprehensive insurance covers this type of damage and she apparently does not have this type of insurance. While we are required to carry liability insurance to pay for damage we cause to others, Minnesota law doesn't require us to buy insurance to protect our own property.

Q: The tree that fell and damaged my daughter's car belonged to a neighbor. Do they have to pay?
A: Only if they were negligent. You would have to prove that there was something wrong with the tree and that the neighbor knew about the problem and failed to act.

Q:  Can I take my car to the repair shop of my choice and must I obtain more than one estimate?
A:  Your insurance company cannot require you to have your vehicle repaired at a specific shop, but it may require you to obtain more than one estimate. Therefore you can take the car to a shop of your choice, but if you are required to get more than one estimate and the shop of your choice is not the low bidder, you may be responsible for paying the difference.
If the insurance company requires more than two estimates, it must reimburse you for the cost of any additional estimates (if any).

Q:  Can the repair shop I select adjust its estimates and charges to absorb the deductible payment required by my insurance company?
A:  No. Misrepresenting the cost of repairs would constitute fraud.

Q: Where can I get help understanding my insurance?
A: Your insurance agent or company can explain your policy and what to do following an accident.
If you have a dispute with your insurer, Speak first to the adjuster assigned to your claim, or his or her supervisor. If you still can't resolve the issue, contact the Department of Commerce CRT. Call 651-539-1600 in the Twin Cities area, or toll free 800-657-3602 from elsewhere in Minnesota.  The CRT can explain the claims handling process and how to file a complaint if you feel your insurance company isn't handling your claim correctly. Their help is free.