That smartphone you're carrying could come in handy in more ways
than one if you get into a car accident.
While your first inclination may be to call for medical help or
report an accident to the police, your Blackberry, iPhone or
Android also can be used to contact your
company and electronically file an auto insurance claim right at
the scene of a crash.
Submitting an insurance claim is a lot faster, easier and more
convenient these days, thanks to the recent emergence of mobile
phone applications. But it also holds potential pitfalls for
consumers, say legal experts.
Appetite for apps
Over the past year or so, almost every major insurance company
has rolled out its own mobile claims app, capitalizing on
Americans' growing use of smartphones. For example, Travelers
Insurance recently reported that insurance claims filed using
mobile devices more than tripled in the first four months of 2011
compared to 2010.
A full 70 percent of the mobile insurance claims filed with
Travelers were related to
. Another 28 percent concerned personal insurance property claims,
while just 2 percent involved business-related insurance claims,
according to company data.
"The faster our customers report claims to Travelers, the faster
we can help them," says Jay Gauthier, vice president, Travelers
personal insurance marketing.
Travelers isn't alone in seeing a huge increase in mobile
Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston unveiled its mobile claims
app in October 2010. Spokesperson Glenn Greenberg says that in 2011
there's been "a big uptick in the use of the app."
"We're seeing rapid adoption of the technology and people are
certainly enjoying the convenience that the mobile app offers,"
says Greenberg. "Our customers are pleased with it, they're
subscribing to it, downloading it, and if necessary they're filing
claims with it."
The app is designed to walk Liberty Mutual customers through
every part of the claims process as clearly and easily as
"It can be a nerve-wracking time to be in an accident, and
you're not always mindful to remember all the information you
should collect," says Greenberg. So the app gives you reminders and
a checklist to help you through the process. For instance, it will
prompt you to collect contact information from all parties
involved, it lets you take photos of damage, and it even allows you
to record a voice note so you can recall important details from an
At any time during the process, if a customer using the mobile
claims app wants to deal directly with a claims representative, the
customer can simply click on a "call Liberty Mutual now" button and
get a live person on the phone, Greenberg added.
Meanwhile, other big auto insurance firms, including Allstate,
Progressive, and State Farm each have their own mobile claims apps
too. Every company's free mobile claims app is different. But
they generally allow you to:
- Map your location using GPS
- Document the details of an accident
- Record witness statements
- Take photographs of a crash
More sophisticated apps from insurers also let you find nearby
tow truck companies or rental cars, get
car insurance quotes
and view your policy details directly from your
Even though mobile apps can be handy at the scene of a
crash, legal experts say you should think twice about
electronically conveying certain accident information --
practically in real-time -- to an insurance company. In a
worst-case scenario, lawyers suggest, discussing issues concerning
fault could wind up raising your car insurance rates or hurting
your efforts to receive adequate financial compensation from an
That's why the Virginia law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen &
Allen advises consumers initially to only give
car insurance companies
the facts: that an accident occurred, the date and time of the
incident, its location, and names and addresses of everyone
involved. The firm cautions people against telling insurance
companies, in the immediate aftermath of a crash, how and why an
accident happened. It advises people to avoid discussing issues
"The general rule is that you should not give a recorded
statement about the accident to anyone including your own insurance
company representatives without first discussing this with your
lawyer," the firm advises on its website.
Not surprisingly, Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen has developed
a free mobile app of its own, called "My Lawyer Accident App." It
has the same features -- minus the claims submission tools -- that
many insurers' apps contain. Plus it offers information about your
legal rights, highlights of relevant state laws, and a free phone
consultation if you think you may need a lawyer.