Do I need an attorney or lawyer to file my property damage claim with an insurance company?
No, you do not need a lawyer to file a property damage claim. In fact, most accident victims deal with the property damage issues without representation by a lawyer.
We present this information here as an aid to anyone who is attempting to deal with insurance companies regarding property damage claims. I will help you with any questions that you have about your car accident in Vermont for your property damage claim or personal injury claim. My phone number is 802-888-7707 and I am available seven days a week.
It can be very advantageous to have an attorney represent you for the personal injury portion of your claim arising from an accident.
Do I have a choice about which insurance company to file a claim with?
Yes, in certain situations. If the accident was caused by the negligence of the driver of another vehicle, you have two choices: (1) file your property damage claim with your own insurance company; or (2) file your property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company. However you can only file a claim against the other driver’s insurance company unless you have collision coverage.
Which insurance company should I file my property damage claim with?
Your choice here depends on several factors (explained in more detail below):
Payment of a deductible on collision coverage
Payment for a rental car until your car is repaired or a settlement offer is made on a vehicle that is a total loss
The possibility that you may make a claim for personal injury
Your legal relationship with either insurance company
What if I file my property damage claim with my own insurance company?
First, your insurance company will require you to pay the deductible amount on your policy’s collision coverage. If the other driver is at fault, your insurance company can recover that deductible amount from the other driver’s insurance company, and then will repay it to you. The main problem with this situation is that you may have to wait weeks or months to get reimbursed for the deductible amount.
Second, your insurance company is not required to pay for a rental car for you … unless you have that specific coverage on your policy. You can call your insurance agent to find out if you have that coverage.
Finally, a big advantage to filing a claim with your own insurance company is that you already have a contractual relationship with them through your insurance policy. This means that your own insurance company is held to higher legal standards to protect your interests. If they don’t live up to those standards, you have a much stronger case for legal recourse against them than you might have against the other driver’s insurance company. Moreover, because of the enhanced legal duty of “good faith,” it is less likely that your insurance company will place its interests above your interests.
What if I file my property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company?
You don’t have to pay any deductible to the insurance company of the other driver.
The insurance company of the other driver will likely provide you with a rental vehicle while yours is being repaired, or until a settlement offer is made on a vehicle that is a total loss.
Not sure which insurance company to file your claim with?
I can help you with that decision.
Do I have to file my personal injury claim along with my property damage claim?
Absolutely not! In fact, this is a very important point for all victims of motor vehicle accidents to understand. Your property damage claim is handled separately from any personal injury claim. As a rule, the property damage is taken care of first, and then later any personal injury claims are settled.
Because personal injuries may not manifest completely until some time after the accident, it is important that you don’t rush into any settlement for a personal injury claim. If you have injuries or other losses resulting from the accident, it’s a good idea to get some legal advice from a personal injury attorney.
What happens after I file my property damage claim?
An insurance adjuster will examine your vehicle to determine the extent of the damage. At that point, an important decision is made that affects the rest of the process of settling your property damage claim.
Is the vehicle repairable?
If the adjuster determines that your vehicle is repairable, then you are ready to start the repair process.
Is the vehicle a “total loss?”
If the adjuster determines that your vehicle is a total loss, then you need to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. For information on dealing with this process, see Dealing with a “Total Loss” Vehicle.
Getting Your Vehicle Repaired
Once you have filed a property damage claim for your vehicle, an insurance company adjuster (or a team of adjusters) will work with you to process your claim and get your vehicle repaired. (Note: If the insurance company has determined that it is not cost-effective to repair your vehicle, please see Dealing with a “Total Loss” Vehicle.)
What repairs are covered on my property damage claim?
Unless your vehicle is declared a total loss, the insurance company must pay to have your car restored to its pre-accident condition. This includes both mechanical work and body work.
Can I demand that the insurance company pay for new, name-brand parts used in the repair?
Generally not, unless the vehicle itself is new or almost new.
Do I have to use a repair shop approved by the insurance company?
No, you can get your car repaired anywhere you choose. However, there may be several advantages to having it repaired at a facility approved by the insurance company.
First, the insurance company and their approved repair shop will have agreed on the cost to repair your vehicle. This means that you won’t have to pay any extra, other than any deductible amount if you are using your own insurance company.
The insurance company is obligated to pay only the reasonable cost of repairs. If you use a non-approved shop to repair your vehicle, and the repair bill is higher than what the insurance company estimated, you could be responsible for paying the difference to the repair shop.
Second, an approved repair shop may offer a better guarantee on the repairs because of their ongoing relationship with the insurance company. In some cases, you may get a guarantee that lasts as long as you own the vehicle.
Am I liable for towing and storage charges for my vehicle?
It depends on who is at fault for the accident. If you are at fault, then yes, you are liable for those charges. Some insurance policies may cover some of those charges, so check with your agent. If the other driver is 100% at fault, those charges will be the responsibility of the other driver. If there is shared fault for the accident, those charges should be divided according to the percentage of fault of each driver.
NOTE: It is important to keep in mind that you have a duty to minimize your loss. If you delay settlement of the property damage claim or you delay in authorizing repairs, the insurance company may refuse to pay the full amount of the storage charges.
Do I have to get my vehicle fully repaired?
No, you don’t. Insurance companies have differing policies regarding payment procedures. Your company may have policy language regarding whether it is necessary to repair your vehicle, or to make the draft payable to a lien holder or a body shop and the owner. If the other party’s insurance company is paying, they are required to pay either the registered owner or the lien holder, or both. A direct payment to the owner who doesn’t repair the car right away usually will not allow for any supplemental payments for undetected, additional damage.
What if I discover something else is damaged after the repairs are made?
You have every right to make a supplemental claim for damages that were unknown to you or the insurance adjuster at the time of the original repair.
What is “diminished value?”
Vehicles that have suffered substantial damage in accidents often have “diminished value” – that is, people place a lower value on such a vehicle solely because it was damaged in an accident, even if the vehicle has been repaired or is repairable. For example, many used car dealers will not take seriously damaged vehicles in trade, even if they have been repaired. (Records of all vehicles involved in accidents are available to the public.)
Dealing with a Total Loss Vehicle
How is total loss determined?
If the vehicle cannot be structurally repaired, it is considered a total loss.
The law in Vermont does not require the insurance company to pay for repairs that total more than the vehicle’s fair market value before the accident.
How is a vehicle’s fair market value determined?
Fair market value is defined as the amount that a seller (who is not being forced to sell) and a buyer (who is not being forced to buy) would reasonably agree on as the sales price for the vehicle just before the accident occurred. This means that in addition to the year, make, and model of the vehicle, information about the mileage and condition of the vehicle are considered in determining fair market value.
The insurance company is required to rely on data about actual sales of similar vehicles that have taken place in your region or local market. There are several companies (the two largest are CCC and ADP) who survey the market and report this information to insurance companies. The insurance company may not use a so-called “book figure” from consumer guides such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds.com to establish fair market value.
What is included in a total loss settlement offer?
The insurance company must include the following items in a total loss settlement offer:
Fair market value of the vehicle just before the accident occurred.
Sales tax on the fair market value amount.
Pro-rated unused portion of the license tab fees.
Payment for a rental car for you up to the point that the settlement offer is made. (If you don’t use a rental car, you are entitled to receive an amount equivalent to the cost of a rental car for the same period representing your “loss of use.”)
Title transfer fee.
If you agree to the settlement offer, you are required to provide the insurance company with title to the vehicle and possession of the vehicle before you receive the settlement check. You don’t get to keep the vehicle.
Can I negotiate with the insurance company regarding the fair market value of my vehicle?
Yes. If you feel that the total loss settlement offered by the insurance company is inadequate, you have every right to present information to support an increased fair market value. You are required to supply documentation for your claims, which may include any of the following:
Odometer (mileage) reading.
Photos of the vehicle, especially photos of both the damaged and undamaged areas from different angles, as well as photos of the interior.
Receipts for add-on equipment you purchased, such as mag wheels, high-end stereo systems, special paint jobs, etc.
Purchase documents if you have owned the car for less than four months.
Written estimates from two or three local car dealers on what amount they would have paid for your vehicle before it was damaged.
Note: Items that are considered normal vehicle maintenance, such as tune-ups, new tires, etc., are not considered in the determination of fair market value.
What if the total loss settlement offer is less than the amount I owe on the vehicle loan?
Under the terms of most auto loan agreements, you are responsible for paying the difference to the holder of the loan. It’s a fact of the market that some cars, especially new cars, lose fair market value faster than loan balance decreases as you pay off the loan.
To deal with this problem, most auto loan providers offer “gap” insurance, which covers this difference, or gap, in the event your vehicle is declared a total loss.
What if I want to keep the damaged vehicle that has been declared a total loss?
To keep the vehicle, you must pay the insurance company the “salvage value” of the vehicle. You have the right to match the highest bid from an auto wrecker for your vehicle, and the insurance company will pay you the fair market settlement less the salvage value.
Note: If you vehicle still has an outstanding loan balance, you may have to negotiate an agreement with the holder of the auto loan to keep the salvaged vehicle.
Rental Car Issues
Will the insurance company pay for a rental car while my vehicle is in the repair shop or stored at a towing yard?
If the other driver is at fault and you file your property damage claim with that person’s insurance company, then the answer is yes.
If you file your property damage claim with your own insurance company, they are required to pay for a rental car only if your policy includes that specific coverage.
How long will they pay for the rental car?
The insurance company will pay for the rental car until your vehicle repairs are complete, or until a total loss settlement offer is made to you.
Do I have to take a small or compact rental car?
You are entitled to a rental vehicle that is comparable in size and function to your own vehicle. For example, if your damaged vehicle is a small truck, the insurance company must pay for a rental of a similar vehicle for you.
What if I can get by without a rental car?
If the other driver is at fault and you file your property damage claim with that person’s insurance company, you are entitled to use of a rental car. If you choose not to rent a car, then you are entitled to receive payment for the amount equivalent to what a rental car would have cost.
What if the other driver’s insurance company refuses to pay for my rental car?
It may happen that the other driver’s insurance company has not yet been able to contact the other driver to get their version of the accident. If the other driver is later determined to be at fault, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for the cost of renting a car.
Payments and Deductibles
Do I have to pay a deductible for my collision insurance coverage?
If you file your property damage claim with your own insurance company, then, yes, you will normally be required to pay the deductible for your vehicle repairs.
Do I have to pay for a rental car?
If the other driver is at fault and you file your property damage claim with that person’s insurance company, they are required to pay for a rental car for you.
If you file your property damage claim with your own insurance company, they are required to pay for a rental car only if your policy includes that specific coverage. If you don’t have that coverage, then you are responsible for the cost of a rental car.
Why do I have to sign over an insurance check to the auto repair shop?
This is usually the case when you still have an outstanding balance on your auto loan. To protect its interests in the collateral for the loan (your vehicle), the bank or finance company will require that the repairs actually get done. Having you sign over the check to the auto repair shop ensures that the repairs are made.
Insurance Company Fairness
What can I do if I feel like the insurance company is treating me unfairly?
The insurance industry in Vermont is regulated by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation and this office is the best place to start. You can file a complaint with the Office through their Web site.
If you don’t feel that you are getting satisfaction from working this process, our law firm may be able to help.
What rights do I have under Washington State law with respect to an insurance company?
Personal Injury Claims and Other Losses
Do I need a lawyer to file or settle a claim for personal injuries?
No, it is not necessary to be represented by a lawyer for your personal injury claim. However, it may be a very good idea to get legal advice about your rights and how to negotiate the best settlement.
I have extensive experience in helping clients assert their rights with insurance companies to receive fair settlements so please call me today for a free consultation. My phone number is 802-888-7707.
I prefer to be involved in a case as early as possible so that we can prevent mistakes in the handling of our client’s claims. The surest path to achieving a fair settlement is to obtain legal advice promptly. Adjusters are trained by insurance company attorneys to negotiate the lowest settlements possible; it is only “leveling the playing field” to have an experienced attorney in your corner as well.
If you have been injured as the result of an accident, please contact my office so that I can speak with you regarding your potential claim for personal injury.
What types of losses can be covered in personal injury claims?
Depending on the type and severity of the injuries, some of the following losses may be covered by a settlement from an insurance company:
Medical treatment for injuries, including doctor visits, hospitalization, surgery, medications, and more.
Loss of income due to absence from work while recovering from injuries.
Compensation for pain and suffering from the injuries.
Other consequential losses that can be reasonably attributed to the injuries.
What about damage to my personal property in the vehicle?
If your personal property in the vehicle was also damaged, you have the right to recover those losses as well. You will need to document the damage to the property, such as photographs, and you will need to provide evidence of purchase of the property.
Tips for Dealing with Insurance Adjusters
Recognize that you are in a negotiation process.
Insurance adjusters are rated on their performance in closing settlements at the lowest possible cost to the insurance company. Note that there are two factors here: (1) closing settlements; and (2) lowest possible cost. Adjusters don’t want to keep claims unresolved for long periods of time. It reflects on their performance. If you are persistent in pressing a reasonable claim, at some point the adjuster may decide to offer your more just to get the case closed.
Always be civil in your conversations with insurance adjusters.
Angry outbursts or the use of foul language is much more likely to cause the insurance adjuster to develop a negative impression of you and your claim. Remember, adjusters are simply people who have been hired to do a job. The more humanely you treat them, the more likely you are to receive a similar response. That’s just human nature.
By the same token, if an adjuster does not treat you in a courteous and civil manner, you may want to consider legal representation.
Document your facts.
Do a good job in gathering evidence for your claim, such as photographs, written estimates, receipts for any expenses related to your claim, and the like. The more prepared you are with appropriate documentation, the more likely you are to receive fair consideration for your arguments. Remember, the adjuster’s decisions may be reviewed by an insurance company supervisor, and if the adjuster can show that you provided relevant documentation for your arguments, you are more likely to receive a favorable settlement.
Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into accepting a settlement.
If you receive phone calls from an adjuster at times when you might feel rushed – such as first thing in the morning just before you need to leave for work – you may be inclined to accept a settlement offer just to get it over with. Instead, call the adjustor back at a time that is convenient for you, when you won’t feel rushed to accept an offer.