If you are like many out there, you care more about your car than your middle child, wife, husband, or significant other. You are left staring at your damaged precious in the driveway or at the wrecking yard, and wondering what to do next. Someone else was at fault. Now, what do you do?
Your Car is Wrecked. What’s next?
Generally speaking you should have a report made of the incident. For low property damage (less than $1000) without injuries, there is no requirement for an accident report as stated on the DMV-349 Form. If you choose to not make a report, you do so at your own peril. Local law enforcement will typically make an accident report even if not officially required. People don’t always do the right thing once they leave the scene. Just saying.
Dealing with the Insurance companies.
Now you have the insurance information and you report the claim to the other person’s insurance. They will ask you what happened and assign it a claim number and adjuster. Often, the insurance company will move slowly because they want to talk to their insured and, that same nice person you met at the accident scene and seemed so apologetic, may not have that same feeling when they get home or may ignore the calls from their insurance company. This can result in a delay for you to get a rental or your vehicle repaired. Another good reason to file a report so at least you can press the insurance company to make a decision based upon the report.
If your vehicle can be economically repaired, then you have the right to have the vehicle repaired at a body shop of your choosing. Typically, the insurance company will prepare an estimate and ask you to take that estimate to whichever body shop you intend to use. There is usually enough fluff in body repair estimates that most shops will make the repairs for the insurance company’s estimate and, if not, they will contact the adjuster and argue for supplemental payments when appropriate. This haggling between body shop and insurance company does not affect you at all. As long as you trust your body shop to do good work, then everything else gets worked out just fine between them.
A rental car is almost always an issue. If the insurance company is slow to accept liability, then this can be a very stressful moment when you have a nonworking vehicle and no replacement. If you are someone who thought ahead and purchased loss of use/rental coverage on your own policy, then you can involve your own insurance for faster service. The rental car company will often switch the bill once the at-fault insurance company accepts responsibility. If you do not have that coverage, then you really only have two options: 1) wait for the insurance company to accept responsibility or 2) pay for the rental yourself and ask for reimbursement when they do accept responsibility. This second option can be dangerous to your economic well-being. I have seen insurance companies take extended periods of time to make liability decisions and you can easily be on the hook for a large bill without much recourse against the insurance company. At a minimum, you may have just bought yourself a lawsuit if they draw a hard-line and refuse to pay the bill. Your only option is to file a lawsuit and that is not a good place from which to start.
Timing is everything
If your vehicle is drivable, then you are only entitled to a rental for the reasonable amount of time it takes to make the repairs. That is, you can’t just go park your otherwise drivable car at the body shop when they cannot get to your vehicle for months and expect that the insurance company is going to pay that bill. Instead, you are expected to coordinate with the body shop to make sure they have the parts they need before you drop it off so there is no delay from when you drop off and the time when repairs can begin.
If your vehicle is a total loss, then you still have the above concerns about slow liability decisions. In addition, you will experience pressure and a sense of urgency by the insurance company to cut off the rental within a few days of making an offer on the value of your car. So, if you agree with the offer they make or come to a quickly negotiated settlement with the adjuster, then you have to be prepared to get out of the rental about the same time they turn a check over to you.
On track for a lawsuit
If you disagree with the offer for your total loss vehicle then buckle up, it’s going to be a longer ride. You’re on track for a long lawsuit. The law assumes you are independently wealthy and can go buy another car while you fight with the insurance company about value. There is no hard and fast rule about how long the insurance company is responsible for loss of use/rental. Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to determine, but they will be instructed about your duty to mitigate and there are a few old cases that make it harder to argue for large swaths of time in a rental when there is a disagreement on value for your total loss.
5 mins before the wreck
While you are entitled to your own opinion about the value of your vehicle, it should be based on reality if you expect a jury to agree with you. Look for similar vehicles in your area that are similar in condition and mileage and save that documentation. The offer price is not the true fair market value, but you have to approximate what a buyer and seller would theoretically buy and sell a car similar to yours before and after the accident. What was your car worth 5 minutes before the wreck? Then subtract what your car was worth 5 minutes after the wreck (Salvage/scrap value if a total loss).
If your precious is damaged, consider hiring an experienced attorney with the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, P.C. to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.