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Car Accident Property Damage Claims FAQ

Car accidents can cause damage and uncertainty. Once you have dealt with the initial accident, you may wonder what to do next.

Read on to learn the answers to FAQs about the steps involved with filing car accident property damage claims.

Q: What Should I Do First?

The first thing you should do during the claims process is to contact your insurance company. You should also contact the at-fault driver's insurance company to inform them of the accident. You will want to arrange an assessment of the cost of repairs. You should also ask about a rental car if you need one.

If the at-fault driver has not yet reported the motor vehicle accident and accepted fault, their insurance company may want to collect more information. This might include a police report if one was filed, witness accounts from the accident scene, statements, and photos. You may be able to speed up the process by getting a copy of the report yourself (if one exists) and furnishing it to them.

Q: What Am I Entitled To Recover?

Although there are some caveats based on your location and the specifics of your insurance policy, the basic rule is that you are entitled to recover the difference between the value of the car immediately before the accident and the value of your vehicle immediately after the accident. This value is determined by either the cost of repairing the damaged property or by the fair market value of the vehicle, which is usually determined by its Blue Book value. You may also be able to file a diminished value claim in addition to your personal injury case.

Q: Who Chooses Which Assessment Method Is Used?

The car insurance company will make this decision based largely on the estimated cost of repairing your vehicle. In most states, the insurance company will likely declare your vehicle totaled if the vehicle damage repair costs are more than 75% of your car's Blue Book value. If this is the case, the company will reimburse you for that value. This means the vehicle is a "total loss" and subject to a salvage title.

Q: How Many Estimates Should I Get?

The number of estimates you should get depends on the state in which you live and who insures your vehicle. If your insurer can provide a list of reputable collision shops where a professional adjuster can make an accurate determination, one estimate may suffice. If your insurer can't provide such a list, it's wise to get three estimates.

The common practice today is for the auto insurance adjuster to make an estimate of the repair costs. If the insurance company determines the vehicle can be repaired, you can then arrange with the repair shop of your choice to have the work done. Sometimes, a body shop will have to remove the outer shell of the car to find all the damage from the accident. If a shop finds damage that the adjuster overlooked or underestimated, the shop will contact the adjuster to work out additional payment, known as a supplement.

Q: Am I Entitled to a Rental Car?

You are entitled to recover for the loss of use of your vehicle. This is usually determined by the cost of renting a reasonable replacement, but the insurance company is not required to arrange a rental car for you as long as they cover the associated expenses. In that case, if you rent one yourself, you are entitled to recover that cost. Even if you don't rent a car, you are still entitled to be compensated for loss of use.

Q: If My Car Is Totaled but I Want To Keep It, Can I?

Usually. But the insurance company may reduce what they pay by the car's salvage value. Also, the title will almost certainly need to be sent to the DMV so that the fact that the car was totaled can be officially noted. The salvage status may affect the car's future resale or trade-in value.

Q: If My Car Is Totaled, Which Blue Book Value Should Be Used?

Usually, three values are given:

  • The manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP)
  • Invoice price (the price the dealer pays for the vehicle)
  • The Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price (what people are actually paying for a given vehicle based on national transaction data)

As you will have to pay retail for a replacement, that's the value you should ask for.

Additionally, you are entitled to compensation for new stereos and other non-stock, aftermarket items you installed. The amount to which you are entitled is the difference in the values of the non-stock and stock items.

Q: What if They Total My Car and I Owe More Than It's Worth?

If you don't have gap insurance to cover the difference in your vehicle's value, you should discuss the substitution of collateral with your lender. If the lender agrees, you can use the insurance money to purchase a replacement and have that vehicle stand as security for the loan.

Q: What if the Other Person's Insurance Refuses To Pay for the Damage?

This sometimes happens because of questions about liability or because of a dispute regarding the value of the damage. If you have collision insurance, contact your own company about getting the repairs done, and let them deal with the other company about payment. You may have to pay a deductible, but if the other company eventually pays, you will be reimbursed. If you don't have collision coverage, you will have to sue the other person.

Q: What if the Other Person Doesn't Have Insurance?

Talk with your insurer about using your uninsured motorist coverage. The coverage you have may not cover the property damage in your situation. If it does, your insurance will step in to cover the other driver's liability to you, minus a deductible.

Q: What Should I Do in a Hit-and-Run Situation?

If you find yourself in a hit-and-run accident, the first thing you should do is contact the police and file a report. This report will be helpful if you need to file a claim with your own insurance company under the uninsured motorist section of your policy. Try to provide as much information as possible about the other vehicle. Leaving the scene of an accident is illegal. Any information you provide may assist in locating the responsible party.

Q: What Happens if the Other Driver Is Underinsured?

If the other driver is at fault and underinsured, you can make a claim under your own policy's underinsured motorist coverage if you have it. Underinsured motorist coverage can help cover the difference between the other driver's insurance limits and the amount of your damages up to the limit of your own policy. If you do not have underinsured motorist coverage, you may need to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Q: What Kind of Insurance Information Should I Collect After an Accident?

You should try to collect as much information as possible at the scene of the accident. This includes the other driver's full name, contact information, insurance company name and policy number, driver's license number, license plate number, and the make, model, and color of their vehicle. Also note the location, time, and conditions of the accident, and take photos if possible.

Q: What Do Policy Limits Mean in Relation to My Claim?

Policy limits are the maximum amount an insurance policy will pay for a covered loss. In the context of auto insurance, policy limits can apply to both liability coverage (which pays for damages to another person's property or injuries you cause) and first-party coverage (which pays for your own property damage or injuries). If the cost of the damage or injuries exceeds the policy limit, the policyholder may be personally responsible for the difference.

Q: How Does Liability Insurance Factor Into a Car Accident Claim?

Liability insurance is the part of a car insurance policy that pays for injuries and damage you cause to others in an accident. It's required by law in most states. If you're at fault in an accident, your liability insurance will cover the cost of repairing any damaged property, medical bills for injuries you've caused, and possibly even legal fees.

Q: How Are Medical Bills Covered After an Accident?

Medical bills incurred as a result of an auto accident could be paid by a few sources. They can come from your health insurance, the other driver's auto insurance if they were at fault, or your own car insurance if you were at fault or if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured. This largely depends on the insurance laws in your state. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or MedPay coverage can help cover medical expenses regardless of who is at fault. Consult with your insurance provider to determine how your medical bills will be covered.

Q: Should I Get Legal Advice From a Car Accident Lawyer?

Dealing with an auto accident can sometimes be quite simple. Occasionally, however, you'll need the help of an experienced car accident attorney. They will know how to deal with insurance companies and other parties involved in the personal injury litigation process. If you're confused and need some advice, contact a car accident attorney for a case evaluation.

Remember, there are strict time limits called statutes of limitations for bringing personal injury claims. If you've suffered bodily injury or personal property damage, contact an injury lawyer from a reputable law office.

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