Consumers Car Accident Claim – Things You Should Know
When you are involved in a car accident, the other driver may dispute who is at fault. Texas is an at fault insurance state, meaning that by law, when there is a motor vehicle wreck, someone is held responsible for compensating the occupants of the other vehicle for bodily injury and/or property damage.
Texas Requirements – Consumers Car Accident Claim
Texas has a combination of no-fault and tort law systems. In Texas, to drive legally, you are required to have minimum liability insurance which includes bodily injury as well as property damage liability. If you are involved in a car wreck that is determined to be your fault, you are responsible for paying for medical care for injuries to the people in the other vehicle and any property damage to cars or structures.
Remember, in many cases, state requirements are not adequate for providing the protection you need to cover you in the event of a serious accident. Texas requires a minimum of $30,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, $60,00 total bodily injury, and $25,000 in property damage coverage. This basic coverage is called 30/60/25 coverage. To avoid paying out-of-pocket expenses and enduring what could potentially become a financially crippling situation, ALWAYS purchase auto insurance above these minimum requirements.
Proof of Financial Responsibility
When you buy an auto policy, your insurance company will send you a proof-of-insurance card. You must show your current card when you:
are asked for it by a police officer,
have an accident,
register your car or renew its registration,
get or renew your driver’s license, and
have your car inspected.
Know Your Rights
Texas has a Consumer Bill of Rights for auto insurance. Your insurance company must send you a copy with your policy. Read it to understand your rights under Texas law.
Auto Insurance Coverages – Consumers Car Accident Claim
Depending on the types of coverage you have, auto insurance pays for car repair or replacement, medical expenses, rental cars, towing, court costs, and other expenses.
Read your policy carefully because coverages vary. Pay special attention to who is covered under your policy and to the exclusions, which are the things your policy doesn’t cover. The following are common limitations or exclusions you might find on your policy:
Named driver. Some policies only cover household residents who are specifically named on the policy.
Excluded driver. Excludes coverage for people specifically named in an endorsement that may be attached to your policy.
Racing. Excludes coverage if you use your car in a racing event.
Intentional acts. Excludes coverage for losses that were intentional.
The front page of your policy – called the declarations or dec page – shows the exact name of your insurance company, your policy number, and the amount of each of your coverages and deductibles.
Note: The deductible is the amount you must pay before the insurance company will pay. For example, if you have a claim for $1,000 and a deductible of $300, the insurance company will automatically deduct $300 from the amount it will pay you.
Many insurance companies use the Texas Personal Automobile Policy, a standardized policy form that offers eight types of coverages. Companies may sell other policies that the Texas Department of Insurance has approved. Some of these policies have more limited coverage. The following summary can help you understand the eight basic auto coverages (please note that your coverages may be different, depending on the type of policy you buy):
1. Liability Coverage (Basic liability coverage meets the state’s financial responsibility requirement.)
What it pays: The following expenses, up to your policy’s dollar limits, for the people in the other car involved in an accident that you or someone covered by your policy caused:
medical and funeral costs, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering;
car repair or replacement costs; and
car rental while the other driver’s car is being repaired.
Liability insurance also pays your defense costs, including attorney fees if someone sues you because of the accident. If you are arrested following an accident, liability insurance will pay up to $250 for bail.
Who it covers:
you and your family members. (Family members include anyone living in your home related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption. This includes your spouse, children, in-laws, adopted children, and foster children.)
other people driving your car with your permission.
family members attending school away from home.
spouses living elsewhere during a separation are covered.
You and your family members might be covered when driving someone else’s car – including a rental car – but not a car that you don’t own but have regular access to, such as a company car. Some policies provide only liability coverage when you drive a car you don’t own. Physical damage coverage for damage to the unowned vehicle might not transfer. Ask your agent before renting a car or driving a car you don’t own or lease.
Some policies – called named driver policies — won’t cover people who live with you, including family members, unless they’re specifically named in the policy. For these policies, the declarations page must list the names of the people the policy covers.
2. Collision (damage to your car) Coverage
If you still owe money on your car, your lender will require you to have collision coverage.
What it pays: If the company decides your car can be fixed, it will pay you the cost of repairs. If the company totals your car, it will pay you the actual cash value of your car. Actual cash value is the current value of your car, minus depreciation. Whether the company decides to repair your car or total it, you’ll get only up to the dollar limits of your policy. Your policy’s dollar limits are shown on the declaration page of your policy.
Who it covers: You, your family members, and anyone else insured under your policy.
3. Comprehensive (other than collision) Coverage
If you still owe money on your car, your lender will require you to have comprehensive coverage.
What it pays: The cost of replacing or repairing your car if it’s stolen or damaged by fire, vandalism, hail, falling objects, or an event other than a collision. Comprehensive coverage might pay for a rental car. Your policy won’t pay to replace a stolen car unless you report the theft to police.
Payment is limited to your car’s actual cash value, minus your deductible.
4. Medical Payments Coverage
What it pays: Medical and funeral bills resulting from an accident.
Who it covers: You, your family members, passengers in your car, and other injured people, including bicyclists and pedestrians, regardless of who caused the accident.
5. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage
What it pays: Similar to medical payments coverage, plus 80 percent of lost income and the cost of hiring a caregiver for an injured person.
Who it covers: You, your family members, and passengers in your car, and other injured people, regardless of who caused the accident.
Your insurance company will automatically give you PIP coverage, but you may reject it in writing if you don’t want it. The company must offer you $2,500 in PIP, but you can buy more.
6. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) Coverage
What it pays: Your expenses from an accident caused by an uninsured motorist, a motorist who did not have enough insurance, or a hit-and-run driver. Also pays for personal property that was damaged in your car.
There is a mandatory $250 deductible for property damage. This means you must pay the first $250 of the expenses yourself before the company will pay.
There are two types of UM/UIM coverage:
Bodily injury UM/UIM pays for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and permanent or partial disability. There is not a deductible with this type.
Property damage UM/UIM pays for auto repairs, a rental car, and damage to items in your car.
Who it covers: You, your family members, passengers in your car, and others driving your car with your permission.
Insurance companies must offer UM/UIM coverage. If you don’t want it, you must reject it in writing.
7. Towing and Labor Coverage
What it pays: Towing charges when your car can’t be driven. Also pays labor charges, such as changing a flat tire or jump-starting your battery.
8. Rental Reimbursement Coverage
What it pays: A set daily amount for a rental car if your car is stolen or is being repaired. Your company only pays for rental reimbursement if your car was damaged by something – such as fire or theft – that your policy covers.
You can buy other coverages to add or expand coverage.
Your policy might not pay to replace CDs, MP3 players, cell phones, or stereo equipment not installed in your car.
New or Additional Cars – Consumers Car Accident Claim
If you buy another car, your policy will automatically cover it with limitations.
Insurance companies must give additional cars the same amount of coverage as your car with the most coverage. For example, let’s say you have two cars – one with liability coverage only and one with liability, collision, and comprehensive coverages. If you buy a third car, it will automatically have liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage.
Insurance companies must give replacement cars the same coverage as the car it replaced. For example, if you trade in an older car that had only liability coverage, the new car will automatically have only liability coverage.
Be sure to tell your insurance company within 20 days if you buy a new car. You could lose coverage on an additional or replacement car if you wait longer to tell your insurance company.
Rental Cars – Consumers Car Accident Claim
Rental car agencies offer collision damage waivers and liability policies. The collision damage waiver isn’t insurance. It’s an agreement that the rental company won’t, with some exceptions, make you pay for any damage to a car you rent.
If you have auto insurance, your policy might already cover damage to a rental car, but the coverage might be less than the value of a rental car. Read your policy to know what’s covered and the coverage limits. If your coverage limit is too low, consider increasing it. You’ll pay more in premium, but it might be cheaper than buying additional coverage through the rental agency, especially if you rent cars often. If you aren’t sure if your policy covers damage to a rental car, ask your agent before you rent the car.
If you don’t own a car, but borrow a car often, you can buy a nonowner liability policy. A nonowner policy pays for damages and injuries you cause to others when driving a borrowed car, but it doesn’t pay for your injuries or damage to the car you’re driving. Some policies provide only liability coverage on a rental car.
Driving in Other States, Canada, and Mexico
Your insurance should cover you if you drive in other U.S. states and Canada. Your policy won’t cover you in Mexico because Mexico doesn’t recognize U.S. auto liability policies.
Mexican authorities may hold drivers criminally and financially responsible for any auto accidents they cause. If you’re in an accident that results in an injury, police may keep you until they decide who is at fault. You will be asked to show you have insurance the Mexican government will accept or prove that you can pay any judgment against you.
Some U.S. insurance companies provide a free endorsement for your policy that covers occasional trips of up to 10 days and up to 25 miles into Mexico. You can buy coverage for longer stays, but it usually only covers you within 25 miles of the border. These endorsements might not meet Mexican legal requirements.
Some companies sell a Mexico tourist endorsement to attach to your Texas policy. This endorsement extends your liability coverage to pay costs exceeding a Mexican liability policy’s limits. It covers trips of any distance and any length of time. Ask your agent which endorsements your insurance company offers.
You may also buy Mexican liability insurance from authorized Texas agents. Check your phone book for listings of insurance agents who specialize in auto insurance for travel in Mexico. Your local agent might be able to help you find coverage with a Texas-licensed Mexican company.
Auto Insurance for Young Drivers
Parents usually can add their children to their auto policy to meet the state’s financial responsibility requirements. Adding a young driver to your policy can be expensive, but it’s cheaper than buying a separate policy.
Some policies require all covered household drivers to be named on the policy. Call the company to tell them about new drivers as soon as they turn 16. If you don’t have all of the drivers in your family listed on your policy and the company learns about them later, the company may bill you for the extra premium you should have paid, deny a claim, or refuse to renew your policy.
Generally, if a teenager is the main driver of a car, the company will base the teen’s rate on that car. Otherwise, the company will base the teenager’s rate on the car in the family (usually the most expensive) with the highest rate.
Children Away at School or Not Living with You
You might want to take your children off your policy when they move out. You’ll have to prove to the insurance company that your child has moved. You can use documents like a driver’s license, lease agreement, or utility receipts to show that your child has a different address.
It’s not a good idea to remove children from your policy if they’re living in another city to attend school. Many insurance companies will require you to keep students on your policy, even if you’d like to remove them.
If you have children living in another city and going to school, tell your insurance company. Companies base rates on where a car is usually located, and it might need to adjust your premium. If the school is in another state, check on the financial responsibility laws in that state to make sure you have the right coverages.
If your child is away at school without a car, you might be eligible for a premium discount. Ask your agent if the company offers the discount.
Saving Money on Insurance for Young Drivers
Some insurance companies give a discount for teenagers who complete a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)-approved driver education course. Drivers taught by their parents may also get the discount if the parent used a DPS-approved course. Some companies offer discounts to young drivers who make good grades in school or who belong to certain youth groups. Ask your agent about discounts.
Shopping for Auto Insurance
Rates vary among companies, so it pays to shop around. The following tips can help you:
Decide before shopping what coverages you need.
Consider a higher deductible. Higher deductibles will lower your premium, but you’ll have to pay more out of your own pocket if you have a claim.
Get price quotes from several companies. Make sure the quotes are for the same coverages.
When getting a price quote or applying for insurance, answer questions truthfully. Wrong information could result in an incorrect price quote or could lead to a denial or cancellation of coverage.
Ask your agent if you qualify for any discounts the company offers.
Consider factors other than price, including a company’s financial rating, complaint index, and license status. The financial rating indicates a company’s financial strength and stability, and the complaint index is an indication of its customer service. Buy only from licensed companies and agents. It is against the law to sell insurance without a license in Texas. You can also use the Texas Department of Insurance’s Shopping for Auto Insurance Company/Policy Comparison Worksheet to help you gather information about companies and the policies they offer.
Review your credit score. Some companies use your credit score when deciding what rate to charge you. It’s a good idea to look at your credit score each year and to correct any errors. For more information about credit scoring, visit the TDI Credit Scoring and Insurance web page.
You can learn more about a company, including its license status, complaint history, and financial rating from an independent rating organization, by calling TDI’s Consumer Help Line.
Texas law requires insurance rates to be reasonable, adequate, not discriminatory, and not excessive. Auto insurance companies in Texas set their own rates and file them with TDI for review. Companies don’t have to receive prior approval before using their rates but TDI can make a company give refunds if it decides the company’s filed rates are excessive.
Factors that Affect Your Premium
Companies use a process called underwriting to decide whether to sell you a policy and what rate to charge you. Companies must file their underwriting guidelines with TDI and update them each time they make a change. The factors companies typically use to set premiums include:
Your age and, for younger drivers, your marital status. Men under 25 and unmarried women under 21 have the highest rates. Drivers over 50 may get discounts.
Your driving record and claims history. A good driving record can save you money. Insurance companies will charge you more if you have accidents or tickets on your driving record. Companies may also charge more for major convictions, some driving violations, and accidents that damage property. Some surcharges are mandatory and will apply to your premium for three years.
Where you keep your car. Rates are typically higher for people who live in cities because they have more accidents and auto thefts than people who live in rural areas.
Your car’s type. Collision and comprehensive rates are highest for luxury, high-performance, and sports cars. Rates may also be higher for cars that damage easily or cost more to repair.
Your car’s primary use. Your rates will be higher if you drive your car to and from work or for business. Rates are lowest for people who only drive for pleasure.
Your credit score. Companies often use your credit scores to decide if they want to sell you a policy and at what cost. A company can’t refuse to sell you a policy or cancel or nonrenew your policy based only on your credit. Visit the Learning Center on HelpInsure.com, a website maintained by TDI and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, to find out which companies use credit scores and how they use them.
Whether you drove uninsured in Texas. Companies may charge more if you drove without insurance in Texas for more than 30 days in a row in the 12 months before you applied for insurance. If you didn’t, a company can’t charge you more for liability coverage because of your prior lack of coverage.
Discounts can help you save money on your premium. Discounts vary by company. The following is a list of some of the ways you could receive a discount:
defensive driving courses,
driver education courses for young drivers,
students with good grades,
parent or family whose young driver is away at school without a car,
more than one car on a policy,
policy renewal with good claims and driving records, and
a homeowners policy with the same company.
You might also qualify for a discount if your car has:
airbags and automatic seatbelts,
automatic daytime running lights,
antilock brakes, and
Auto Insurance for High-Risk Drivers
Before selling or renewing a policy, insurance companies try to determine whether you’re likely to cause an accident. They’ll check your driving history, insurance claims history, and sometimes your credit score.
If you have accidents or tickets on your driving record, you’ll probably be classified as a high-risk driver and will have to pay more for insurance. Companies may add surcharges to your premium – for the following:
accidents (the more accidents, the higher the surcharge),
tickets for moving violations (speeding, etc.),
driving under the influence,
criminally negligent driving, and
driving without a license or with a suspended license.
Some surcharges are mandatory and will apply to your premium for three years.
Companies may also look at your credit score when deciding whether to sell you a policy and at what cost. A company can’t refuse to sell you a policy or cancel or nonrenew your policy based only on your credit. Visit the Learning Center on TDI’s HelpInsure.com website to find out which companies use credit scores and how they use them.
Many companies use the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) to learn an applicant’s insurance claims history. Federal law allows you to request one free copy of your auto and personal property report every year. You can get your free reports by visiting Lexis Nexis online or by calling 1-866-527-2600.
Keep shopping if you’re having trouble finding insurance because you have tickets, accidents, or poor credit. Each company has its own criteria for deciding whether to insure people. Several insurance companies write coverage for high-risk drivers.
If you can’t find a company willing to sell you a policy, you can get basic coverage through the Texas Automobile Insurance Plan Association (TAIPA). You qualify for TAIPA coverage if two insurance companies refuse to sell you a policy.
TAIPA offers only liability, PIP, and UM/UIM coverages. It doesn’t provide collision or comprehensive coverage or higher liability limits than the law requires. You must reject PIP and UM/UIM coverages in writing if you don’t want them.
TAIPA insurance is more expensive than insurance from most companies. TAIPA also charges surcharges for traffic tickets. Surcharges for accidents are also higher than in the traditional market.
TDI rules encourage insurance companies to take policyholders out of TAIPA and insure them at lower rates after a year without tickets or accidents. The rules also require companies to offer cheaper voluntary policies to their TAIPA policyholders who have gone three years without tickets or accidents.
To get TAIPA coverage, apply with a licensed insurance agent (not TAIPA). Only agents specifically certified by TAIPA may sell insurance through TAIPA. An agent who quotes you a premium higher than TAIPA’s must tell you about TAIPA if you were previously uninsured and had no more than one accident and one ticket in the previous three years.
Losing Your Insurance
Companies may cancel or nonrenew a policy for several reasons.
Cancellation means the company ends your policy before its expiration date.
Nonrenewal means the company doesn’t renew your policy when it expires.
At your request, a company must explain in writing why it declined, canceled, or didn’t renew your policy. It must tell you its sources of information and the incident or risk factor that violated its underwriting guidelines.
Canceling a Policy
An insurance company may not cancel an auto policy that has been in effect for more than 60 days unless:
you don’t pay your premium,
you file a fraudulent claim, or
your driver’s license or car registration are suspended or revoked (this also applies to other drivers who live with you or use your car).
During the first 60 days you have a policy, a company may cancel it for any lawful reason, including a ticket or an accident. If the company cancels your policy because of an accident, it still must pay for covered damages resulting from the accident. The company must send you a written notice at least 10 days before canceling your policy.
If either you or the company cancels your policy, the company must refund you any unearned premium by the 15th day after the effective date of the cancellation. Unearned premium is the amount you paid in advance that didn’t buy coverage. For example, if you paid a six-month premium of $600 and you cancel your policy after one month, the company owes you $500 in unearned premium, minus any applicable agent or policy fees.
Not Renewing a Policy
A company can’t refuse to renew your policy unless it has been in effect for at least 12 months. This means a company must renew a six-month policy to give you a full 12 months of coverage. The company must give you at least 30 days’ notice before refusing to renew your policy.
In Texas, a company can’t refuse to renew your policy because of:
weather-related claims, including damage from hail, floods, tornadoes, high winds, and hurricanes;
damage from hitting animals or birds;
damage from gravel and other flying and falling objects (the company can raise your deductible if you have three of these claims in 36 months);
towing and labor claims (the company can refuse to renew your towing and labor coverage if you have four of these claims in 36 months); and
other claims or accidents that can’t reasonably be blamed on you, unless you have more than one of these claims in 12 months.
If you get a nonrenewal or cancellation notice, start shopping for new insurance immediately. Make sure you buy a new policy before your old policy is canceled to comply with state law.
If you still owe money on your car, your lender will usually require you to have collision and comprehensive coverages. If you cancel or lose these coverages, your lender will buy single-interest auto physical damage coverage and add the cost to your loan payment. This coverage is expensive and only protects the lender.
Your Rights against Unfair Discrimination
An insurance company may not:
deny, refuse to renew, limit, or charge more for coverage because of your race, color, religion, or national origin.
deny, refuse to renew, limit, or charge more for coverage because of your age, gender, marital status, geographic location, disability, or partial disability unless the refusal, limitation, or higher rate is based on sound underwriting or actuarial principles. This means the company would have to show evidence that you present a greater risk for a loss than other people it is willing to insure.
nonrenew your policy because someone in your family has turned 16.
discriminate between individuals of the same rate or risk class in its rates, policy terms, benefits, or in any other manner unless the refusal, limitation, or higher rate is based on sound actuarial principles.