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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 more about the steps involved with filing car accident property damage claims.

Q: What should I do first?

The first thing you should do is contact your insurance company and the at-fault driver's insurance company to inform them of the accident. You will want to make arrangements to have the damage to your car assessed. You should also ask about a rental car, if you need one.

If the at-fault driver has not yet reported the accident and accepted fault, their insurance company may want to collect additional information —a police report, if one was filed, witness accounts, statements, photos— before admitting liability. 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 what your car was worth immediately before the accident and what it was worth immediately after the accident. This value is determined by either the cost of repairing the vehicle 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 other claim.

Q: Who chooses which assessment method is used?

The insurance company will make this decision based largely upon the estimated cost of repairing your vehicle. In most states, the insurance company will likely declare your vehicle totaled if the repair costs are more than 75% of your car's Blue Book value. If this is the case, the company will pay you 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 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 of 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 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: manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), invoice price (the price the dealer pays for the vehicle), and 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 be compensated 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 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: Should I contact an attorney?

Dealing with a car accident can sometimes be quite simple, particularly in situations where there is no material dispute about the facts or where the insurance companies sort things out on their own. Occasionally, however, you'll need the help of an experienced car accident attorney who will know how to deal with insurance companies and other parties involved in the process. If you're confused and need some advice, consider contacting a local car accident attorney today.

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