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My Car Was Totaled and I'm Not at Fault: Now What?

You drive reasonably: You come to a full stop at intersections, always use your blinker, and obey speed limits scrupulously. Despite your caution, you may still find yourself in an accident on account of another driver's actions. What happens if someone else's negligence results in a car accident that totals your motor vehicle? The following article provides an overview of the process and potential issues following just such an auto accident.

Determining a Total Loss

After exchanging phone numbers and other contact information, the first step following an accident is to file an auto insurance claim with the at-faultdriver's insurance company. You should also file a claim under your own insurance policy and ascertain whether you have collision coverage subject to any deductible. The documentation included in your insurance claim—which should ideally include your out of pocket expenses, an appraiser's report, and any medical bills—should be carefully assembled to ensure that you are fully compensated. For example, there are situations in which the Kelley Blue Book value of your vehicle alone may not account for the full value of the vehicle and property damage. Modifications, such as an improved stereo system or recently-installed new tires, might impact the actual cash value of your car. By using an array of different information to support your claim for reimbursement against the liability insurance company, you can increase your chances of maximizing your payout from liability coverage.

Alongside a police report (if one is available), the insurance adjuster will use this information to determine the value of the vehicle before your accident. Your own insurance company will assist you during the claim process, including by communicating with the at-fault party or their adjuster to determine the dollar value of the insurance claim. This number is then compared to the cost of repair. A total loss is declared by the car insurance company when the cost of repair would amount to a percentage of the total value that is set by the insurer. This percentage is constrained and varies by state laws, which frequently require a declaration of complete loss when damages are about 70 percent or more of the total value of the vehicle. The insurer may set a higher percentage than the state (but not a lower one) in reaching this determination.

After a Total Loss is Determined

When a car has been totaled the insurer must then compensate you for the determined value of the vehicle prior to the accident. They won't replace your car, or guarantee that the vehicle's pre-accident value will be enough to purchase a replacement. You cannot, in most situations, keep the wreck to sell or use for parts. By accepting a settlement payment you are agreeing that the insurer will take possession of the totaled car, which they will then sell to a scrap yard or repair and put back on the market as a salvage titled vehicle. Sometimes, however, you may be able to negotiate with the adjuster to allow you to keep the totaled vehicle. Ultimately, the results of your claim depends on whether you and/or the at-fault driver have comprehensive coverage or whether insurance covers the nature of the damages relevant to your particular situation.

Potential Issues

There are a number of potential issues that can arise when a car is totaled and you are not at fault. One issue involves an insurer's value estimate of the wrecked vehicle that is too low. Following an offer by an insurance adjuster, you may send a reply that includes arguments and evidence for a higher estimate of the vehicle's value. This may result in an adjustment, but if the insurer is unwilling to properly value the vehicle you may need to sue them in civil court.

A second issue arises when the car that was totaled was purchased with a car loan and the amount outstanding on the debt is greater than the insurer's estimated value of the car. In this circumstance, unless you have gap insurance coverage, you may find yourself paying for the car that was totaled through no fault of your own. Unfortunately, the car's destruction doesn't alter the loan agreement in any way. As such, your only other recourse may be to argue for a higher value on the vehicle.

If Your Car was Totaled, Get Help From an Attorney

When a car is totaled and you're not at fault, it may feel like you shouldn't have to do much to get compensated. However, insurers are crafty and they employ an army of professionals to help them protect their rights and avoid payouts wherever possible. Contact a local attorney to discuss how you might be helped by having professional assistance of your own.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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