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This is a hypothetical scenario but I'm thinking of it since I am going on a long trip within the United States.

I currently have a car insurance that covers up to 15000$ damage to other cars. In general, the insurance coverage I have chosen is minimal since I am a new driver in the US and have a low income.

Assume that I am involved in an accident with another car and the damage is 15000$ or less. Also, suppose that either I am fully responsible for the accident or that we are equally responsible.

I have never caused an accident neither in my home country nor here so I have no prior experience with the claim process. The following questions come to my mind:

  • What can I do to prevent the other person from claiming a damage cost higher than the actual one and how can I dispute the cost if it's unreasonably high?
  • Are there any laws that protect me in these cases?
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    Do yourself a favour and increase the cover. You are a new and inexperienced driver. It’s easy to total a Mercedes that costs $100,000. You’ll be immediately bankrupt. – gnasher729 Mar 5 '18 at 8:28
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The exact process will differ from state to state, but the basic idea is as follows:

  1. You tell the other party (e.g. the driver of the other vehicle) who your insurer is and what your name is. Do not admit fault, even if you are at fault. If you feel an apology makes sense, do so without explicitly admitting fault. E.g. "I'm sorry that I hit you" rather than "I'm so sorry, this was entirely my fault."

  2. Answer any police questions honestly but briefly. Stick to facts and avoid opinion. Again, don't admit fault. Do point out how the other party was at fault if you have such information, if you can do so outside their hearing.

  3. You report the accident to your insurer. They will generally record this and share the recording with the other insurer. The recording could be used in court later.

  4. Your insurer and the other party's insurer will confer, examine the facts (the police report, your stories, and the condition of the vehicles), and make a settlement offer.

Usually that's it. It would be odd for the other party to go after someone with minimal income for additional damages. If you want to protect yourself further, take pictures (e.g. with your phone) at the scene of the accident of both cars and any other relevant information from the area (speed limit, curves, billboard that blocks the view, etc.).

If they do want to collect further money, they will either have to get you to agree to pay it or they will have to take you to court. At court, you can challenge their claims as to cost or culpability. This is where the pictures come in handy.

Do not sign anything saying that you owe money without having a lawyer review it.

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The risk is not vehicle damage being inflated. The risk is injuries being inflated.

Money will not be paid for vehicle damage until your insurance company is satisfied that the estimate for the repairs is legitimate. They may even require that the other driver take their vehicle to a special office to get the estimate done. At that office they will make sure the damage isn't old, or unrelated to the accident.

The injuries to the other driver and passengers is harder to limit if they want to try and get additional money. It is easy to x-ray for broken bones, it is harder to know how much physical therapy is needed or how much pain is involved from being shaken in the accident.

Make sure you have at least the minimum amount that the state requires for insurance. Each state is different. Make sure you have coverage for uninsured motorists. In some states insurances is mandatory, in other states it isn't. But even if it is mandatory not all drivers have it.

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