When a car accident is severe enough to injure the drivers or passengers, it’s likely property damage has also occurred. As the typical American can expect to be in three or four car accidents in a lifetime, most drivers will be filing a property damage claim at some point.
One significant point to keep in mind, property damage claims are filed separately from personal injury. As you proceed through this process, what should you know?
Personal Injury vs. Property Damage
Should a personal injury claim go to court, a lawyer often looks to win compensation for current and future medical expenses, in addition to lost wages, future earning capacity and pain and suffering. Property damage claims rarely progress to the courtroom. Whether you’re working with the at-fault driver’s carrier or your own insurance policy, your claim seeks to recoup damages related to:
- Your vehicle, including repairs or replacing a totaled vehicle at fair market value
- Personal property inside the car, including electronics, jewelry and even groceries
- Towing expenses
- Rental expenses
- Replacing upgrades made to the car, such as a stereo system
- Car seats and booster seats, which need to be replaced after a car accident
What to Do After a Car Accident
In the event another driver hits you and damages your vehicle, contact the police to report the accident. Also get the other driver’s personal and insurance information, as well as contact information from witnesses.
A police report will be essential later on, as most insurance carriers will not go forward with your claim without one. However, any statement you make that hints fault in the accident could be used against you. As such, avoid making any remarks during your police report or in early contact with your insurance carrier that could be construed in this manner.
As far as your belongings are concerned:
- Take photos and video from several angles to capture the damage done to both vehicles and the surrounding area. See if you can record skid marks, parts that have fallen off the cars, broken glass and weather conditions. Take photos of any personal property damaged inside the vehicle.
- Take inventory of all personal property damaged in the accident, including photos of each item and receipts. If possible, locate photos you had of all items prior to the accident.
- Take your own notes on what happened, including when the accident happened, the conditions, where and how the other driver hit you and what you recall up to the incident.
Notify Your Insurance Carrier
Carriers typically have a notification clause, which requires policyholders to inform them of all accidents. Policyholders who fail to do so won’t be able to begin an investigation and may encounter road blocks when starting a claim with the at-fault driver’s carrier.
Simply calling your carrier won’t result in complete reimbursement of all damages. Rather, a claims adjuster will assess your car to determine how it was damaged, if it’s salvageable and how much you should be reimbursed.
Your carrier is looking to determine who’s at fault and by how much. Insurance companies have been known to delay this step when the claimant is injured; this tactic may be employed to get the claimant to settle for a lesser amount. However, your carrier is not within their rights to do this and you may need legal representation to move the issue along.
Notify the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Carrier
Even in no-fault states, the at-fault driver’s carrier will still pay for the damages associated with the incident. For this reason, it’s recommended you also file a property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s carrier, which will have a claim number separate from the one you started with your insurance company.
In some cases, the other driver may have fled the scene or have no insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), one in seven US drivers does not have car insurance. For this reason, drivers should be ready with uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage to pay for injuries and damage caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
Getting Your Car Repaired
If you started a claim with the at-fault driver’s carrier, their insurance company will pay your deductible for all repairs and the rates needed to secure a rental vehicle.
Meanwhile, your own carrier uses the value of your car to determine if it’s a total loss or they should cover repairs. Age, mileage, condition and your location all play a factor but generally, if your carrier’s estimated repairs cost more than the car’s current Actual Cash Value, it’s considered a total loss. While you can hold onto a totaled car, your carrier may subtract the salvage value from your reimbursement and let the DMV know the car was recently totaled.
In rare instances does a property damage claim go to court. Those strictly involving property damage tend to go straight to small claims, as the incident is considered a minor financial dispute. In this case, you would file your claim against the at-fault driver, rather than their insurance carrier. Their carrier may appoint a lawyer to defend the claim.
If property damage and injury both occurred, the claim can become more complicated. Work with an experienced legal team to recover all damages related to your physical condition and property. Contact Trantolo & Trantolo’s car accident lawyers today.