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How to Resolve Your Own Property Damage Claim

After an auto accident, your injuries may be your primary concern.  But you still have other issues to deal with, such as getting your car fixed, or even worse, totaling it out.  Where do you start, who should you talk to, and how do you even get the ball rolling?  Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction and hopefully make settling your own property damage claim simple and straightforward.

  • What Am I Entitled to Recover?

The key to settling your own property damage claim is knowing what you are actually fighting for.  Wisconsin law requires the at-fault driver to pay both property damage and loss-of-use, as well as any towing charges and storage fees.

The property damage claim is valued at the cost of repairs or the fair market value of the vehicle, whichever is less.  The insurer for the at-fault driver will more than likely set up an inspection to look over the damage and evaluate the value of the vehicle.  They may ask to send the vehicle to a repair shop for an evaluation, or the damage may be extensive enough that they will simply conclude the vehicle is a total loss.

You have a right to secure an opinion from a professional of your choosing.  If you plan to argue about either the repairs or the value of your vehicle, it is very important to be armed with evidence.  Make sure your mechanic or body shop puts their estimate in writing.  Know the value of your vehicle by using an online value service like Kelly Blue Book or NADA Guides.  You can also search for similar vehicles for sale and provide the listing to the property adjuster.  Keep in mind that customizations or recently replaced standard equipment does little to increase the value.  Also remember that if your car is totaled, you are entitled to be reimbursed for tax and title fees for the replacement vehicle.

Your loss-of-use claim is generally valued at the standard rate for a replacement rental vehicle.  You are entitled to collect loss-of-use damages until your car is repaired, or the insurer makes a reasonable and fair offer to total your car.  Most insurers will offer you a rental car in order to avoid the claim.  If they do not provide you with a car for the entire time, you may assert your loss-of-use claim.  Find the going daily rate for a local rental, and multiply that number by the days you are without a replacement vehicle.

  • How Does Fault Come into Play?

Just like your injury claim, the at-fault insurer’s exposure is reduced by the percentage of fault you contributed to causing the accident.  Although fault can only be assigned by a jury, insurers will often make a guess as to what a jury might say.  For example, if two vehicles meet at an unmarked intersection, there may be fault on both you and the other driver.  If that fault is 50/50, you are only entitled to recover half the value of the damages.  But there must be some actual fault on your part.

The old wives’ tale that “you are 10% at fault just for being there” is just that; an old wives’ tale.  If the adjuster cannot articulate what you have done wrong, don’t stand for it.  But keep in mind, settling your property damage claim is merely a negotiation.  Neither side is required to accept the other’s position.  If you both don’t agree, your only option is to sue and let the court make the determination.  But when you are arguing about a few percentage points of fault, you may be looking at spending a lot of money to collect a little.  Compromise is usually a good option.

  • Whose Insurer Pays the Claim?

Depending on the age and value of your car, you may carry collision coverage.  If you purchased collision coverage, you may be better off handling the property damage through your own insurer.  Your insurer is contractually obligated to treat you fairly and pay all claims promptly.  When dealing with your own insurer, your fault does not impact the value.  You will receive 100% of your claimed damages and your insurer will seek reimbursement from the at-fault insurer.

Your insurer, however, will not pay loss-of-use claims.  That aspect of damages is exclusive to the at-fault party.  That means your insurer will not assist with a rental vehicle unless you have purchased that separate coverage.  That coverage is well worth the nominal fee.

  • What About My Car Loan?

Although a terrible driver may have ruined your car, they had nothing to do with getting you into a bad loan.  If you owe more on your car than its value, you remain obligated to pay off that loan.  Neither the at-fault driver, nor their insurer has any obligation to pay you more than the fair market value of your vehicle.  If there is any chance your vehicle is worth less than you owe, you should always purchase “gap coverage”!

Settling property damage claims are usually very straightforward with only occasional speed bumps.  If Brian Hodgkiss Injury Lawyers is handling your injury claim, our Fox Cities auto accident attorneys are always happy to step in and provide you the necessary guidance to make the process go smoothly and get you back on the road.

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