If you’ve been in an auto accident, your vehicle may have suffered serious damage, and may even be inoperable. The top concern of our property damage lawyer is getting your vehicle repaired and getting you back on the road.
At Park Chenaur, we work on personal injury and diminished value claims, which are different from property damage claims. Personal injury involves the injuries suffered by the participants in the accident. Diminished value involves the reduction in a vehicle’s value after a crash, even after it is repaired. We work with Mike Harber, of Harber Appraisal, in determining whether there is diminished value.
Property damage claims, by contrast, involve the costs for repairing a vehicle damaged in a crash, the destruction of valuables within the vehicle, and, in serious accidents, the costs for replacing a vehicle entirely. We do not take on property damage claims directly, but we will help guide you through the process, helping you get your vehicle repaired and back on the road as quickly as possible.
There are a couple reasons that we do not take on property damage issues.
First, if your vehicle is a total loss and the insurance company is offering you money to pay for a new one, we do not want to be in the position of taking part of that money.
Second, it is not fair for us to be a middleman when you are dealing with a repair shop. This can really slow down the process, when you need to get back on the road as quickly as possible.
What to do after the car accident
No matter the severity of the accident, there are a couple basic steps you should take on the scene.
First, flag down any witnesses you can who can credibly speak to what happened. They can help prove what happened, if there are any disputes later.
Second, call the police. They are not obligated to do a formal police report, but if they do, that can further bolster your account. If nothing else, calling will create a record of the accident.
Third, take care of your medical issues before worrying about property damage. Your health is more important and failure to take your injuries seriously could damage a possible personal injury claim with your insurance company later.
Lastly, if your vehicle can not be driven safely, have it towed. If you have the option, store the vehicle at your own residence or a friend’s. If you allow the insurance company to take your vehicle to a tow yard, you may be responsible for additional storage charges later. Make sure to keep any receipts for towing charges, though, as it may be possible to get reimbursed later.
No matter where the vehicle is being towed, make sure to remove your belongings from the car, just in case.
How bad is the car damage?
Immediately following an accident, you’ll need to assess how badly damaged your vehicle is.
If the vehicle is merely damaged and not totaled, you will ultimately work with the insurance company to get it repaired and back on the road. If the vehicle is a “total loss,” and cannot be repaired, or is not worth repairing, the insurance company will offer you compensation for its estimated value.
Whose car insurance pays?
Property damage claims are usually handled by your insurance company, under your collision coverage. You may also be able to recover funds from the third party or their insurance company to pay to repair your vehicle.
While your vehicle is out of commission, you can usually work with the other driver’s insurance company to pay for a rental car. However, note that they will typically only begin paying once your vehicle is not only in a repair shop but actively being worked on with parts on hand.
Also, note that you probably do not need extra insurance on your rental vehicle if you have collision coverage through your auto insurance policy. Your collision coverage will cover damage to the rental car, making the extra insurance unnecessary.
When you get a rental car, make sure to speak with the insurance company covering the charges so that you know how long they will pay for it. If you continue to hang onto the car after your vehicle is repaired, you will be charged for the extra days. Additionally, keep in mind that the insurance company will usually only cover a basic rental car; any upgrades will cost you money out of pocket.
If the vehicle can be repaired…
If your vehicle can be repaired, your insurance company will work to get an estimate of the damage. Then, you will have the choice to have the vehicle repaired at a certified facility of your choice. After the repairs are done, the insurance company will examine the final bill and offer payment in accordance with your collision policy.
If your car can be repaired, your insurance company will work with you to get an estimate of the damage. There are a couple ways the insurance company can do this.
They might send an insurance adjuster to meet you and estimate the damage directly. They also might ask you to take your vehicle to a driving inspection facility, where an expert will examine your vehicle and assess the damage. Lastly, they may ask you to take the vehicle to an auto collision shop that has a contract with the insurance company. If they take this route, they may send an adjuster to confirm the damage and estimate provided by the shop.
Where should you have your vehicle repaired?
Regardless how the estimate is arrived at, you will then have a choice about how to proceed. The insurance company will usually request that you have your vehicle repaired by a “preferred” collision repair facility. This is a facility that has a contract with the insurance company; in exchange for referring them business, the shop gives the insurance company a cheaper rate.
In general, we do not recommend using the insurance company’s preferred facility. There is a potential conflict-of-interest because the facility is working as much for the insurance company as for you. Sometimes, these facilities may use sub-standard parts, fail to match the paint color, or otherwise fail to completely repair your vehicle.
It is your right to have your vehicle repaired at any certified facility of your choice, and we recommend you exercise this right.
The initial estimate done by your insurance company and/or a body shop generally only covers the external damage to the vehicle. When the body shop actually performs the repairs, they may find additional internal damage. The body shop will contact your insurance company and confirm the damage.
Once repairs are complete, the insurance company will pay for all, or more likely, a portion of the cost, in accordance with your collision policy.
Total loss of Vehicle
Sometimes, the damage to your car is so severe that it either cannot be repaired, or the cost of doing so would be greater than the value of the car. These situations are known as a “total loss” because the vehicle’s value is completely lost. The insurance will estimate the value of your vehicle and then compensate you as prescribed by your policy.
Always request the vehicles valuation report
In order to determine the vehicle’s value, your insurer will write a valuation report, which tallies all of the details about the vehicle to arrive at a total estimated value. This includes obvious elements like mileage and the make/model/year of the car, but also includes elements like the stereo system, any upgraded parts, new tires, and any personal property damaged inside the vehicle during the accident.
Normally, your insurance company will not send you this report, and instead will just tell you how much money they are offering under your policy. Never take their first offer.
Instead, request a copy of the valuation report so that you can make sure it is accurate. For instance, your insurer will not know if you recently added brand new tires to the vehicle, or installed an expensive stereo system. Adding these elements to the report will improve the insurance company’s valuation of your vehicle.
Is the offer fair?
The insurance company’s first offer will almost certainly not be fair. Many people take this first offer, thinking they have no choice but to accept what the insurance company is offering.
Never take the first offer. Instead, do some research on comparable vehicles to determine how much it is worth. There are a number of websites like CarFax.com that can help in this. You can also look at the Blue Book value, Craigslist, newspaper ads or local dealerships.
If there is a wide gap between what the insurance company is offering and comparable vehicles you have found for sale, approach the insurance company with that information. Ultimately, they may refuse to cooperate, but it their responsibility to provide a fair offer in accordance with your policy. Do not surrender that right by just taking the insurance company’s first offer at face value. If you are in doubt if the offer is fair you can always consult a property damage lawyer with your free consultation. This way you get another perspective from someone that knows that law and deals with car accident settlement offers everyday.
Retaining vs. releasing offer – should you keep your vehicle?
If your vehicle is a total loss, you will have the choice to keep it or release it to the insurance company. Usually, you will be paid less to keep the vehicle and more to give it up.
Ultimately, it is up to you. Some people keep a totaled vehicle in order to fix it on their own, or because the vehicle has sentimental value.
If you are not sure if you want to keep the vehicle or not, make sure to ask the insurance company for both the retaining offer and the releasing offer. The retaining offer is how much they will pay if you keep the vehicle, and the releasing offer is how much they will pay if you release the vehicle to your insurer.