Automobile Property Damage Claims — Representing Yourself

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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 due to the fact that property damage claims force attorneys to make a choice 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 is doing several hours or more of work for free.

We’ve chosen option B, if our clients need and want the help. But, property damages claims are usually straight forward. Is the car totaled? If so, what is the fair market value? If it can be repaired, what does it cost, and is there a diminished value claim?

Most of the time, our clients have already settled their property damage claim, so I assume a lot of other people handle the claim on their own 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 will 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 seeking reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurer and will recover your deductible for you, 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, be sure to 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 both 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 of their presence. In those rare cases, you need to work out with your attorney how to handle the property damage claim. In all other cases, you’re ready to negotiate!

When you’re ready to negotiate with the collision adjuster (from your own 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 actually mentions using the NADA Guide.

This gives you the fair market value of your vehicle. Note that you should also recover for the tag, title, and tax. The other road block is whether or not you have a diminished value claim for any repairs needed to your vehicle. If it’s a total loss, just concentrate on the fair market value of your vehicle.


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