How to Handle Property Damage Claims Without Getting Ripped Off
If you have been involved in a car accident, one of the first things you have to manage is your car. You often can handle this on your own without an attorney. When you hire an attorney for your property damage claim they will either charge you hourly or on a contingency basis. Neither of these arrangements is cost effective when it comes to property damage. Our firm regularly handles property damage for free for our injury clients.
Getting Your Damaged Property Towed
It is always important to call the police when you are involved in a crash. They will document the crash and the insurance companies will want a copy of their report. The police will call a tow truck if your vehicle is not drivable or you have to go to seek medical treatment. You may get a chance to pick your towing company. Sometimes you will not. Regardless, it is okay to pay the tow truck driver, but make sure to keep a receipt. It is important to remove any personal items from your car as soon as possible. This may not be possible at the scene, but this is the best place to get your possessions.
Storing Your Damaged Vehicle
Tow yards charge for your vehicle to be stored on their property. In northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin that is often $40 or more a day. If you leave your vehicle, this rate can add up quick. It is important to have your car moved to an insurance lot or your own property as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you may have to negotiate with the tow lot. This can be difficult and may result in you losing your scrap value of your car.
Renting a Replacement Car
Rental is a specific item on most insurance policies. There are usually limits on length and daily amount. You will likely need auto insurance and a credit card to get a rental car. This is not a requirement of the insurance companies, but rather the rental car company. Our firm has worked with a few companies that may rent a car without a credit card. If there is no rental coverage on the policy of insurance we usually attempt to get that paid when we resolve the personal injury case.
Filing a Property Damage Claim
It is important to notify your own insurance company as soon as possible. All insurance policies require that insureds notify them of a claim as soon as reasonably possible. Your own insurance company is required to work with their insureds with “good faith.” This means they cannot use guerilla tactics or take advantage of you. If you handle the claim through you own insurance company you will be responsible for the deductible. However, your insurance company will seek reimbursement from the at fault driver. You will receive your deductible back once your insurance company settles with the at fault company.
Repairing the Damaged Property
Repair shops are in the business of repairing cars. That means they deal with insurance companies daily. When an insurance company challenges the repair costs, they are really challenging the repair shop. We suggest you take your car to a shop which you trust and ask them to deal with your insurance company. You can find good shops through referrals. We are very experienced with the local repair shops if you have questions. You will be responsible for the deductible but nothing else. This will ensure the repairs are done correctly and fairly.
What if My Property is Totaled
If the value of your car is less than the repairs, it will be deemed a total loss. Under Illinois law, the at fault driver is responsible for the “fair market value” of your vehicle. Most people look at Kelly’s Blue Book or NADA for a price on their car. These are great quick references, but this may not be the correct value. Like all things, car values are determined by supply and demand. This can change often because of factors like seasonal weather.
Insurance companies use proprietary software to value your car. Recently, insurance companies have been sued for using this program. We recommend that you look at car buying sites for comparable cars in your area. Sites such as AutoTrader and Car Gurus will give you a good idea of value. You need to be honest about the condition of your vehicle. Everyone loves their vehicle. Look for cars that fit the following:
- Within 100 miles
- Same Year
- Same Trim
- Within 5000 miles
- Same condition
- Aftermarket Accessories including depreciation
- Recent Repairs to Wear Items such as brake, tire or shocks
Insurance companies are offering new apps to resolve property damage. These are being offered so labor can be sent off shore. It is our experience that adjustments are regularly made when our clients use these apps. In other words, the apps rarely get the estimate correct.
Auto loans do not necessary coincide with the value of the car. We regularly see people upside down on an auto loan. This means that they owe more than the value of the car. The at fault driver is only responsible for the “fair market value” of the vehicle. There is a specific type of insurance available to help with this situation called GAP insurance. The GAP policy pays for any amounts owed beyond the vehicle’s value. It important to ask your insurance company or bank if you have this insurance as both may offer it.
Title, Release and Documents
Be careful on what documents you sign with the insurance company. Some adjusters will attempt to sneak your personal injury settlement into a property damage release. Others will offer a small amount with “open medical” when settling a property damage case. “Open medical” usually results in bills going unpaid and injury victims getting ripped off. You also need to be careful about language on any check that you receive. Language on a check can be legally binding.
You can settle the property damage and personal injury separately. We recommend you do just that. You will need to sign standard title documents and provide keys when you settle a total loss. You do not need to settle the personal injury case to receive a check for your property damage.
If you are concerned about your property damage settlement or the documents you are asked to sign, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury lawyer. There are time limits in all stated with regards to claims.
More information can be found on the Illinois Department of Insurance Website: https://insurance.illinois.gov/AutoInsurance/ConsumerAuto.html