If you are injured in an accident that is someone else’s fault, you have two different claims: a claim for your injury, called a bodily injury or personal injury claim, and a separate property damage claim. These claims can be settled separately, at different times, as long as the release you sign for property damages is a “Release for Property Damages Only” and not a “General Release” that releases all claims. If you are unsure, always get an attorney to review before you settle and before you sign anything.
If you are injured in an accident that is someone else’s fault and you need medical treatment, it is important to speak with an attorney who can advise you about your bodily injury claim. However, because you know more about your vehicle than anyone else and because property damage claims are fairly simple and straightforward, you should be able to handle the property damage claim on your own, without paying an attorney to help you.
Here are a few easy steps to guide you through handling your own property damage claim when the accident is not your fault:
1. Report the claim. Don’t wait for the responsible driver to do it because he or she may not do so. To report the claim, call the insurance company of the responsible driver and advise them that you need to report a claim. They will gather information from you and then assign an adjuster for your property damage claim, which is usually a separate adjuster from the adjuster for the bodily injury claim.
You should only talk to the property damage adjuster about your car and not about your injuries or how the accident occurred. The property damage adjuster normally inspects and photographs the damage to your car and will either “total loss” your car or estimate the damage to your car.
If your car is drivable, you should get an estimate of the costs of repairs from your own body shop. You are allowed to use your own body shop to repair your car. If the amount the insurance offers to pay to have your car repaired is less than what your body shop estimated, then have your body shop contact the adjuster and work it out with the adjuster on your behalf.
Once the body shop and the adjuster go over the damaged areas and agree what needs to be repaired, they almost always agree on the price. What you want is for your car to be repaired properly at no cost to you and for the insurance company to provide you with a rental car or pay you for “loss of use” of your car while it is being repaired.
2. The value of your car is the actual value, not what you owe on your car or what it costs to replace it. It is often up to you to prove the value of your car and you can do this by using tax values, Kelley Blue Book value, NADA value, or an appraisal if you have one.
If your car is a “total loss,” then you are entitled to the value of the car, plus sales tax and the cost of getting your tags transferred to your replacement car. You are also entitled to the loss of value of your car (called diminution of value) because you now have a car that has been wrecked and it is worth less than the same car that has not been wrecked. The insurance company is required by law to “total loss” your car in the event that the damage is 75 percent of the value or more.
3. Regardless of whether your car is a “total loss” you are entitled to a rental car or to “loss of use” of your car from the responsible driver’s insurance company. If you choose, the responsible driver’s insurance company can provide you with a rental car for a reasonable period (usually 7-14 days) while your car is being repaired. Alternatively, if you have another vehicle to drive while your car is being repaired, you are entitled to “loss of use” of your car, which is usually calculated as $20-$30 a day for a reasonable period (usually 7-14 days) while your car is being repaired or until they agree to pay for your total loss.
Tip: Keep in mind that in order not to be without a car for an extended period of time and to avoid extensive costs and delay involved in the litigation of a property damage claim, it is often better to accept a little less than you may legally be entitled to and settle the property damage claim promptly. This is especially true if you are seriously injured and may not be in a position to settle the injury claim for quite some time.
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