You're stopped at a red light when suddenly the driver behind you slams on the brakes and rams into your car. You fully expect his car insurance company to foot the bill. Only your insurance company somehow ends up paying and your premium increases.
How can that be?
Even though you may not be at fault in an accident (for instance, you're hit from behind), if the person who hits you is aggressive and accuses you of being in the wrong, your perception of how the accident occurred may become distorted, says David Miller, CEO of Florida-based Brightway Insurance. "If you admit the accident was your fault and your insurance company pays for the damages, your premiums go up," Miller says.
Protect yourself from being bullied
It's important to take certain steps to safeguard you from someone who wants to pin the blame on you for an accident when the other driver's at fault, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
"Be vigilant. There are criminals who deliberately cause accidents to collect on an insurance policy," Worters says.
While you want to be concerned about the well-being of the other driver, do not talk to that person about how much car insurance you have or who's at fault, Worters says. "The insurance companies will come to a decision based on the police report and both drivers' testimony," she says.
In any car accident, stress levels can be high, says Elizabeth Lombardo, author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness." Stress and bullying can lead to the desire to want to make things better right now -- even by accepting blame for an accident, Lombardo says.
Verify the facts
If you're involved in an accident, remain calm and follow recommended procedures. In general, the Insurance Information Institute suggests that you:
- Call your insurance agent or insurance company immediately.
- Stay in your car with the doors locked until the police arrive if the other driver is belligerent. Inform the police about the details of the accident and the behavior of the other driver.
- Take note of the time and location, and the position of the vehicles. Be aware of all damage and impact points. Photos can help with verification.
- Take down the names of passengers in the car, where they were sitting and whether they were hurt. Also pay attention to the other driver's demeanor, including any indication of alcohol or drug use.
- Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses to the accident.
- Keep a pad, pen and disposable camera in your glove compartment so you can collect information.
Regardless of how well you document the crash, the louder, more persistent driver often wins when it comes to who's at fault, according to Miller, the Brightway CEO. "In fact, many times the people who end up paying are the victims," he says.
In some instances, you may end up sharing the blame. For example, say you're backing out of a parking spot and see another person backing out at the same time, coming toward you. You stop and blow your car horn, but the other motorist keeps coming and hits you.
"Making sure you clearly explain that you were stopped and the other driver hit you makes all the difference in the world when determining fault," Miller says.
If you wind up being blamed for the wreck, you car insurance premium very well could go up. Although surcharges vary by policy, it wouldn't be uncommon to see a $125 annual surcharge for one accident, Miller says. "The surcharge usually stays on the policy for three years, so one accident could cost $375."
Worse yet, the surcharge for subsequent accidents within the same three-year period goes up exponentially, according to Miller. So while the original accident increases your premium by $125 a year, another accident may cost you an additional $300 a year and so on.
Your carrier also may refuse to renew your policy after several at-fault accidents.