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Your insurance rates may rise after not-at-fault wrecks

If you are like many drivers in the greater New York City metro area, you may have gotten into a fender-bender caused by a negligent or inattentive driver. Maybe you brushed off some minor injuries because you didn't want to go through the hassle of filing a claim and medically documenting your injuries. You filed a claim against your collision damage policy but chalked up the injuries as just having a bad day.

But wait, there's more

Some people like surprises, but only when they are pleasant. After an accident caused by another at-fault driver, in addition to your dented bumper and chronically sore neck and shoulders, you may discover that a decidedly unpleasant surprise awaits you.

Suddenly, your car insurance premiums are higher than they used to be. A lot higher in some cases. In fact, according to one consumer group that's based in Washington, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), New York City drivers who did nothing to contribute to their accidents can face auto insurance rate hikes of as much as $400 per year.

That's not chump change.

Insurance industry leaders have some of the highest hikes

You might think that the trend to financially penalize drivers for the misfortune of getting hit by another driver would be most prevalent in the companies offering no-frills liability policies for drivers with spotty records.

But you would be wrong, as some of the insurance industry leaders are the worst offenders. Take Progressive, for example. In a detailed analysis, the CFA discovered that they were one of the most aggressive in assessing their customers no-fault accident penalties.

GEICO and Farmer's weren't a great deal better, and Allstate fell somewhere in the middle. State Farm was far more lenient and didn't hike premiums for customers who got into collisions that were not determined to be their fault.

How can they do that?

They can do that because car insurance rates take into consideration many complex factors in addition to a driver's record. Your town and neighborhood, the vehicles you own and drive, your car's or truck's mileage and even your annual income may all affect the rates that you are charged.

As a defense of the industry's policies and practices, the state and policy affairs senior vice president of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) states that there could be additional reasons for the rising premiums besides a driver's single not-at-fault accident.

While it's all perfectly legal to hike premium rates, whether it's fair or not depends on which side of the insurance debate you happen to be — the company's or the consumer's.

One way to cushion the possible financial blow from a post-accident rate hike is to file a claim for all of the damages and injuries which you incur as a result of the accident — regardless of how minor they may at first appear to be.

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