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    Depending on the severity of the accident, many different thoughts race through the minds of the people involved in the collision. Is everyone all right? Where did that other car come from?

    This isn't surprising, considering there are more pressing matters at the scene of an accident than worrying about who's going to pay for what.

    When accidents occur, you usually contact your insurance company to file a claim. If calling your insurance company to inform them of an accident seems awfully similar to the first time you had to tell your parents that the mailbox jumped behind you as you were backing out of the driveway―well, that's because it is.

    No matter who was at fault for the accident, many of us still put off filing a claim with our insurance companies because of dread. We dread the possible increase in premiums. We dread hearing the disappointment in their voices. We dread all the paperwork.

    However, that passenger-side door isn't going to un-smash itself―an insurance claim must be filed as soon as all of the initial thoughts stop racing and we can think clearly about dealing with the damage.

    The good news is that filing an insurance claim actually isn't very difficult, and the process can even be a smooth one if you prepare for the possibility of an accident happening and follow the proper steps once one does.

    Know Your Policy

    You know how much to pay, when to pay it, and where to keep your insurance card in case you get pulled over. That's all you need to know, right? Wrong.

    While you don't have to commit to memory every fine-print detail of your insurance policy, you do need to know things such as time frames for filing auto insurance claims. If you wait too long, your claim could be denied.

    If you don't know the time frame, review your policy when you get home, or call your insurance agent as soon as possible and ask.

    Maintain Control

    In the aftermath of an accident, it's easy to get carried away; however, getting carried away could affect your insurance claim. After you make sure everyone is safe and call for medical help if necessary, you should get the names, contact information, and insurance information of all parties and witnesses involved. Then, call the police to file a report.

    Never assume responsibility for the accident this early in the process. Sure, you may feel liable for the collision, but you may also find out down the road that the little old lady you hit actually hit you because she wasn't wearing her glasses; however, you'll have problems if you've already given a statement admitting the accident was your fault.

    Seek Medical Attention

    You'll hear this advice from anyone who's ever been involved in a motor vehicle-related accident. You may feel fine while you're giving the police a statement―you may even feel fine at work the next day―but it's not uncommon for injuries resulting from a motor vehicle-related accident to surface days, or even weeks, later.

    If you don't have the money to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses for an injury caused by someone else, it will be much more difficult to get the compensation you're entitled to if you wait before seeing a doctor. Not only because all insurance companies need to know about any injuries you may have sustained, but also because you need to take care of yourself and putting off medical treatment isn't ever smart.

    File Your Claim

    The most important thing to remember about filing an insurance claim is to do it as soon as possible. Your insurance agent may take information from you and file the claim themself (aren't you glad you recorded everyone's names?), or they may give you specific instructions on how to file it yourself.

    In any event, be honest―if your insurance company later finds out that you lied to them about any aspect of the accident, it could deny your claim or even cancel your policy.

    Hold off on taking your vehicle to the shop until you find out your insurance company's policy on repairs. Your insurance company may want to send someone to inspect the damages first; some even require you to take your vehicle to a repair shop they've approved. Regardless of what mechanic you see, hang on to all receipts and take note of all repairs made.

    As long as you notify your insurance company shortly after an accident, you'll make sure all your bases are covered.

    For specific insurance requirements in your state, visit our Insurance Center or choose your state below: