We have settled thousands of car accident injury claims for clients throughout Indiana, and one of the first questions usually raised by our clients during their initial consultation is, "Can you help me with my property damage claim?" The quick answer: We will help, but we don't officially represent you for your property damage claim.
Your property damage claim and your personal injury claim are two separate claims; they will be given different claim numbers and in most cases handled by separate insurance adjusters. Your bodily injury claim will have a unique value based on your specific injuries, treatment, and overall experience. Your property damage is different in that it has a specific value based on the market value assigned to your car in its pre-crash condition.
How Much Should I Receive for My Vehicle?
You are entitled to the "Fair Market Value" of the car that was damaged in the accident. Fair Market Value is what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the car in its condition immediately before the accident. Several factors are considered to make this determination, including the following:
- The age of the car
- The make and model of the vehicle
- The vehicle’s mileage
- Any previous damage
- The general condition of the car/truck prior to the accident
It's very important to keep in mind that Fair Market Value is NOT the same as Replacement Cost. The amount of your loan is never a factor when determining Fair Market Value for your property damage. Unfortunately, we have had clients who were left upside down on a vehicle because they owed more than what the automobile was worth.
There are various sources of information to help determine Fair Market Value, such as the following:
- Kelly Blue Book
- NADA Used Car Guide
- Computerized market guides
- Recent sales of similar vehicles in your geographic area
- Classified ads from newspaper or auto trader magazines
- Asking prices from car lots.
Service receipts, repair receipts, and maintenance records are useful when trying to establish the value of your car. It is important to have these available when negotiating your property damage with the insurance company.
Property damage includes damage to your vehicle, its contents, even clothing you were wearing in the accident. To claim compensation for damaged or destroyed property, you must be able to show that the property was actually damaged in the accident. It will also be necessary to prove the fair market value of the destroyed property.
Who Pays to Fix My Car?
You can submit a claim for property damage compensation to the insurance company of the driver who was at fault for the accident. Unless there is a question concerning liability, that company will pay for the damage to your vehicle and other property lost, destroyed, or damaged in the accident. When you do this, be very careful that any release you sign pertains only to property damage, and does not affect any injury claim you may have. It is advisable to have an attorney review ANY release document or settlement check before signing or cashing.
Alternatively, you may submit a claim to your own insurance carrier for the damage to your vehicle. You can do this only if the policy includes "collision" coverage on the vehicle.
The advantage of having your insurance company pay a property damage claim is that it may pay this claim faster than the wrongdoer's insurance company. If your own insurance company pays the claim, it may be reimbursed (or subrogated) at a later time by the at-fault driver's insurance company.
It may be necessary to file a claim with your own insurance company under the following circumstances:
- The accident was with a hit-and-run driver.
- The insurance coverage of the person at fault is not enough to cover your damages.
- The at-fault driver had no insurance coverage.
- The at-fault insurance company is not accepting liability.
Even if you settle with your own insurance company, you can still seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver's insurance for any deductibles or other uncovered equipment or property damaged or destroyed in the accident.
How to Determine If the Car Is Repairable or a Total Loss
The fair market value of a vehicle is its value immediately before the accident. The salvage value is its value immediately after the accident.
A vehicle is considered a total loss if the repair cost PLUS salvage value is more than its fair market value. The estimated cost of a rental car may also be calculated into this equation. If the vehicle is not a total loss by this standard, then the insurance company will generally pay to have your car repaired.
The insurance company usually will obtain bids from auto wrecking companies that want to buy your car for its scrap value. If your car is considered a total loss, you may be able to buy back the salvage. The salvage value of your car will be deducted from the market value of your car. In that event, you may need to apply for a salvage title from your state’s motor vehicle department.
How Is the Cost to Repair a Vehicle Determined?
The at-fault party must pay for all reasonable and necessary repairs to your vehicle, if it is not a total loss. The insurance company may request that you drive your car to their repair shop to obtain an estimate of damage. If your vehicle was badly damaged, the insurance will usually send an adjuster to inspect your vehicle at its location. You must provide any necessary information that they request.
You should not necessarily accept their estimates, but should obtain up to three different estimates on your own. You may get your car repaired at the repair facility of your choice; you cannot be required to have repairs made at any particular shop. However, do not begin repairs until the insurance company has completed its inspection.
Additional Property Damage Questions
We mentioned above that we can't officially represent you for your property damage, but we have always helped our clients work through this part of their claim, often making calls on their behalf, or providing them with helpful information to help get their vehicle replaced. If you have any additional questions, please call us for a FREE consultation. There is never a cost to speak to any of our Indianapolis accident attorneys.