How to file a property damage claim after a car accident
A common question we get at Matt Dion and Associates is how to file a property damage claim after a car accident. The legal standard is a responsible party, or his insurance company must pay the fair market value of your car or the cost of repair, whichever is less. This can cause a dilemma when the amount you owe for the car exceeds the value. Here is what you need to know when filing a claim with the responsible party’s insurance company.
As the victim of a car accident you are entitled to file a property damage claim for any or all of the following:
The fair market value of your vehicle if it is a total loss – A total loss claim can be complicated and disheartening. Fair market value is the resale value of the car not the amount you owe on your loan. When buying a new car you may want to consider purchasing gap insurance which helps to bridge the gap between your loan and the fair market value of your car.
Compensation for car repairs if the vehicle is repairable – Cosmetic and mechanical damage should be covered by the responsible party’s insurance company. You are entitled to go to the repair shop of your choice, it’s the law. Insurance companies may pressure you to take your car to a shop that works closely with the insurance company. Often though shops have agreed to rates negotiated with insurance companies. Though shops will often try to convince you to accept aftermarket parts.
If you have custom upgrades to your car such as custom rims or a stereo system those items may or may not add value. If they do it the increase value is insignificant.
While your car is in the shop, a rental car should be provided for your use while your cars being repaired. If your car is drivable you may want to consider waiting until your car enters the shop for repair. Most insurance companies will only pay for a rental car while your car is in the repair shop.
In addition to repairs to your car you are entitled to compensation for the loss or destruction of personal property in the car. For example, if you had your cousin’s wedding present in the trunk of the car and it was destroyed in a rear end accident or if you had a personal items or groceries, the cost of those are items are recoverable.
Record Property Damage at the Scene of the Accident
Documenting your property damage claim starts at the scene of the accident. If you are injured, call 911 and file a police report with the responding agency. If you are not seriously injured and do not need transport to a hospital and it is safe, take pictures of the accident scene the surrounding traffic and the damage to your car and other personal property. Take pictures of the at-fault driver’s car as well. Sometimes your car may not sustain much visible damage while the car that caused the crash may be severely damaged. Take notes at the scene of the accident and make sure to get all the at-fault driver’s information such as insurance information and contact information. If you can, take a picture of the at-fault party’s drivers license. If there are witnesses, try to get a statement from all witnesses and make sure to have their contact information in case there is a need for you or your attorney to contact them later.
Notifying Your Insurance Company
When you were involved in a car accident you are required to notify your insurance company of the accident even if you do not plan to file a claim with your own insurance company. Nearly every insurance policy has a clause called the notification clause that requires you to notify the insurance company and cooperate with any ensuing investigation. Failure to notify your own company could jeopardize your coverage. Be careful when discussing your version of the accident and any injuries you may have sustained in the accident with your insurance company. Most times your insurance company will request a recorded statement which could compromise your claim. If you have the proper coverages, the damage to your car and the cost of a rental car will be paid by your insurance company. You may be subjected to paying a deductible for the repair of your car.
If you decide to present a claim for your property damage to the at fault driver’s insurance company remember that they owe a duty to their insured, not to you. Before they will agree to pay for your property damage, they may request a recorded statement and ask about your injuries. If you are injured it is recommended that you consult with an attorney before providing any statement to an insurance company, yours or theirs.
If your car has been rendered a total loss and you have gap insurance, you should immediately contact your gap insurance carrier. Remember that the at fault party’s insurance company is only responsible for the fair market value of your car which may pay you less than you owe on your car loan. Gap insurance is meant to pay the difference between the fair market value of your car and the outstanding balance of your loan.
Notifying the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company
Do not assume that the outfall driver will notify his insurance company. You may have to contact them to report the accident and initiated a claim. When you notify the other driver’s insurance company you will be given a claims adjuster to who will be assigned to your case. Make sure to get a claim number. When speaking to the insurance company provide only information necessary for them to initiate a claim. Insurance companies will request a recorded statement which could compromise your injury claim. It is recommended that you contact an attorney before providing any statements to any insurance company. Property damage claims are handled separately from a personal injury claim and can be settled once the extent of the damage to your car is ascertained. Settlement of your property damage claim may consist of repairing your car or paying for the total loss of your car.
If you are injured because of the accident you should immediately consider hiring a lawyer. Lawyers can help you navigate both the property damage and personal injury claims and will abdicate on your behalf to ensure fair and equitable compensation.