We get calls all the time from people that were not injured after a car accident, but still need help getting a rental car, their car fixed, or a fair offer for their vehicle if it is a total loss or other property damage.
Unfortunately, most personal injury attorneys do not represent clients for property damage only claims. This is because most – if not all – personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. That means that they don’t get paid for their attorney fees or expenses unless they win the case and that they recover their fees and expenses from the settlement of the claim. That means that after negotiating a fair market value for your vehicle, the attorney fees and costs would come from that number which would leave less than the fair market value in your pocket. That just doesn’t sit right with us.
While we cannot take your property damage only claim, we can certainly help you understand your rights when dealing with the insurance company.
Vehicle ownership is determined by the registered owner of the vehicle. That means that only the registered owner is legally entitled to the property damage payout. If that person is different than who was driving, then the driver will likely be left out in the cold.
If you recently purchased the vehicle and haven’t had an opportunity to register the car, you might be able to collect the property damage claim if you have a bill of sale for the sale of the vehicle or if you can obtain an affidavit from the prior owner confirming that they no longer own the vehicle.
The best thing to do if you purchase a vehicle from a private party is to have a Bill of Sale signed by both parties, record the transfer of title, and register the vehicle as soon as possible. Trying to get someone to jump through hoops after the fact is always a long shot. Unfortunately, we’ve seen prior owners not cooperate with our clients because they have an opportunity to collect money and don’t want to lose that chance. It’s shady, it’s sneaky, and it’s incredibly difficult to straighten out without further time and expense on your part.
You’re entitled to a rental vehicle after a car crash. If the vehicle is repairable, then you are entitled to a rental while your car is in the shop provided that any unreasonable delays are not caused to you. Don’t be surprised if the body shop or the carrier try to blame you for delays, make sure to return calls right away and cooperate with the repair in a timely fashion. If the car is totaled, then you are entitled to a rental car while the total loss offer is repaired and maybe a few days afterwards while you consider your options and hunt for a new car.
Some of the larger carriers will set up the reservation with the rental company – such as Hertz or Enterprise – directly and you simply pick up the vehicle. Other, smaller companies will not set up the reservation for you, but instead require you to pay the expense upfront and they will reimburse you up to a certain amount. Dealing with insurance companies is always a headache, but – in this one instance – a larger company is usually easier to deal with… but with no promises.
If you are dealing with a smaller insurance company, get precise details as to what they will reimburse. It is incredibly common for adjusters to promise reimbursement only to come back later and only pay $25/day for a small window of time and you’re left holding the bag. Similarly, if you need a truck or large vehicle for work or if you have a large family, those needs should be taken into account so be sure to discuss your needs with the carrier right away.
You have the right to have your car repaired at the body shop of your choice. Some of the larger body shops work closely with insurance companies and their systems are connected. If you choose a body shop that’s connected with an insurance company, usually any supplemental repairs and payments are issued faster simply because the systems are tied together than if you go through a local body shop.
Something to consider, if the body shop works closely with the insurance company, there is going to be a relationship there. That means you should not expect the body shop to fight on your behalf. There is added pressure for them to go along to get along.
Keep in mind, they will repair your vehicle with parts that are comparable to the parts that were damaged. That means they will push for used or salvage parts. The parts still need to be quality parts though. You also absolutely have the right to request that original equipment manufactured parts be used in the repair instead of after-market parts, but if the cost is unreasonable then your claim may be denied.
If your vehicle is totaled after the crash, then the insurance company owes you for the fair market value of your car. They will usually prepare a report with other cars in similar conditions in your area and itemize any deductions they made due to any prior damage to your vehicle. Keep in mind, they are not legally obligated to pay off the note on your car! They only need to pay the fair market value. If you owe more than what your car is worth, you will need to pay the difference to the lienholder unless you have a gap insurance.
In addition to the fair market value of the vehicle or your vehicle repaired, you are entitled to recover for the loss of use of your car. Usually this is equivalent to that of a rental vehicle but can also include taxi, Uber, or other transportation expenses.
If your car was significantly damaged, but not totaled then you may be entitled to the diminished value of the vehicle. Simply put, your car is worth less after a big accident and you should be compensated for that.
To support a diminished value claim, you need to have your vehicle appraised after the repairs are completed. Armed with that information, you can compare the fair market value of similar vehicles to see how much value you’ve lost.
Battling any insurance company after a crash can be exhausting, emotionally draining, and infuriating. We know – we do it every day for our clients! The key is to stay focused on what you deem to be a successful outcome and stay persistent. We often call carriers daily until they do what they’re obligated to do. Stay the course!
Contact McKinney Vos to learn more.