If you’ve been in a wreck, many car accident attorneys will not want to deal with the property damage part of your claim (paying to repair your car). This is because property damage claims force attorneys to choose between:
A) charging you their contingency fee (usually at least 33%) for the property damage claim, which will almost always result in you getting less money than if you negotiated it on your own, or
B) not charging you any fee for the property damage claim, in which case the attorney does several hours or more of work for free.
We’ve chosen option B if our clients need and want the help. However, property damages claims are usually straightforward. Is the car totaled? If so, what is the fair market value? What does it cost if it can be repaired, and is there a diminished value claim?
Most of the time, our clients have already settled their property damage claim, so I assume many others handle the claim independently, too.
So, what can you do to get the maximum automobile property damage settlement?
If you are dealing with your own insurance company under your collision coverage, find out if they will be pursuing a recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurance company (this is called a subrogation claim). If they are, see if they will recover your deductible for you as part of their negotiations. If they are not pursuing a subrogation claim (they should be in almost all cases), or if they do not try to recover your deductible for you, make sure you tell your attorney the amount of your deductible so he or she can make that part of the settlement demand. If your insurance company seeks reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurer and will recover your deductible, the process is even easier — and will get you paid faster.
If you have to negotiate directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company on your property damage claim, there won’t be a deductible. However, only speak with the insurance adjuster handling the property damage claim. In most cases (but not all!), this will be a different person from the adjuster handling your injury claim (under the at-fault driver’s “bodily injury” coverage). If the at-fault driver’s insurer tries to use the same adjuster to handle property damage and bodily injury, tell your attorney immediately, as it is unlikely he or she will want you to speak with this person outside their presence. In those rare cases, you must work out how to handle the property damage claim with your attorney. In all other cases, you’re ready to negotiate!
When you’re ready to negotiate with the collision adjuster (from your insurer) or property damage adjuster (from the at-fault driver’s insurer), you may ask yourself: How do I do this? How do I know how much my car is worth or when I’m being offered fair value? Our state statute mentions using the NADA Guide.
This gives you the fair market value of your vehicle. You should also recover for the tag, title, and tax. The other roadblock is whether or not you have a diminished value claim for any repairs needed to your vehicle. If it’s a total loss, concentrate on the fair market value of your vehicle.