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Personal Property Damage in an Auto Accident

Car accidents & property damage: who fixes it?

Your guide to a car accident property damage claim

How do you handle a property damage claim after a car accident? Wondering if you can sue someone for property damage – or if everything happens through insurance? Do you need a personal property damage attorney? We'll answer these questions and more, including how your deductible comes into play, any property damage claim time limits, and personal property damage laws to know.

Sometimes after a car accident, all that needs to be dealt with is the car itself. If so, you're lucky. But for those of us who attach names to their beloved autos it can be a hard experience. Where do you start? What are you supposed to do?

Do you sue the person who caused the damage?

Is it just a matter of submitting a property damage claim to the insurance company? Are you supposed to get multiple estimates? Do you deal with the other driver's insurance company, too?

What about the police report?

What qualifies as property damage?

Property damage is injury or harm to anything other than a person, basically.

This could include a car, tree, home, fence or anything else you could think of. This could also include items inside of an automobile, like technical equipment or things you were carrying with you (e.g., textbooks, a laptop or a car seat for your child).

Property damage boils down to replacement value, cost of repairs, loss of use, sentimental value. Tweet this

Damages are illustrated by their replacement value, the cost of repairs, the loss of use until the items are replaced or repaired, or testimony as to their sentimental value if the item in question is a family heirloom.

When property damage occurs in a car accident, it will usually be handled through insurance companies. Here is the typical path below.

Note that your insurance company may have a time limit on how long they will accept a property damage claim after the accident. Generally it is in your best interest to file the claim sooner rather than later. This allows you some wiggle room to dispute amounts if you disagree on the value your insurance company offers.

Additionally, your state will also have a time limit on when you can bring a lawsuit against someone for property damage. This varies between 2-6 years depending on your state.

State-by-State Car Accident Statutes of Limitations

Time limit for bringing a claim or lawsuit after a car accident

State

Time limit for personal injury
claim

Time limit for property damage claim

Link to State Statute

Alabama

2 years

2 years

Alabama Code 6-2-1, et. seq

Alaska

2 years

2 years

Alaska State. §09.10.070

Arizona

2 years

2 years

Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 12-542 et seq.

Arkansas

3 years

3 years

(PDF) Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-101 et seq.

California

2 years

3 years

Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 312 et seq.

Colorado

3 years

3 years

C.R.S. 13-80-101(1)(n) (2009)

Connecticut

2 years

2 years

Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 52-575 et seq.

Delaware

2 years

2 years

Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 8101 et seq.

DC

3 years

3 years

D.C. Code § 12-301 et seq.

Florida

4 years

4 years

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.011 et seq.

Georgia

2 years

4 years

Ga. Code Ann. § 9-3-32 et seq.

Hawaii

2 years

2 years

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-7 et seq.

Idaho

2 years

3 years

Idaho Code § 5-218 et seq.

Illinois

2 years

5 years

735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/13-201 et seq.

Indiana

2 years

2 years

(PDF) Ind. Code Ann. § 34-11-2-1 et seq.

Iowa

2 years

5 years

Iowa Code Ann. § 614.1 et seq.

Kansas

2 years

2 years

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-501 et seq.

Kentucky

1 years

2 years

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 413.080 et seq.

Louisiana

1 years

1 years

La. civil code § 3492 et seq.

Maine

6 years

6 years

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 752

Maryland

3 years

3 years

Md. Courts & Jud. Proc. Code Ann. § 5-101

Massachusetts

3 years

3 years

Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 260, § 1 et seq.

Michigan

3 years

3 years

Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5801 et seq.

Minnesota

2 years

6 years

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.01 et seq.

Mississippi

3 years

3 years

Miss. Code. Ann. § 15-1-1 et seq.

Missouri

5 years

5 years

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.097 et seq.

Montana

3 years

2 years

Mont. Code Ann. § 27-2-201 et seq.

Nebraska

4 years

4 years

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-201 et seq.

Nevada

2 years

3 years

Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 11.010 et seq.

New Hampshire

3 years

3 years

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508:1 et seq.

New Jersey

6 years

6 years

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2a:14-1 et seq.

New Mexico

3 years

4 years

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 37-1-1 et seq.

New York

3 years

3 years

N.Y. Civ. Prac. Laws & Rules § 201 et seq.

North Carolina

3 years

3 years

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-46 et seq.

North Dakota

6 years

6 years

(PDF) N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-01 et seq.

Ohio

4 years

4 years

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2305.03 et seq.

Oklahoma

2 years

2 years

Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 91 et seq.

Oregon

2 years

6 years

Or. Rev. Stat. § 12.010 et seq.

Pennsylvania

2 years

2 years

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5501 et seq.

Rhode Island

3 years

10 years

R. I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-12 et seq.

South Carolina

3 years

3 years

S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-510 et seq.

South Dakota

3 years

6 years

S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 15-2-1 et seq.

Tennessee

1 years

3 years

Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-101 et seq.

Texas

2 years

2 years

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.001 et seq.

Utah

4 years

3 years

Utah Code Ann. § 78-12-22 et seq.

Vermont

3 years

3 years

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 461 et seq.

Virginia

2 years

5 years

(PDF) Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-228 et seq.

Washington

3 years

3 years

Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.16.005 et seq.

West Virginia

2 years

2 years

W. Va. Code § 55-2-1 et seq.

Wisconsin

3 years

6 years

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 893.01 et seq.

Wyoming

4 years

4 years

Wyo. Stat. § 1-3-102 et seq.

How to start the property damage claim after an accident

The first step in a property-damage-only accident is still like any other: Make sure nobody was hurt. That's the most important thing.

Then, call the police. You will need the record of the accident for the insurance company.

Make your own accident report, too. Write down details like:

  • Damage to your vehicle and the at-fault vehicle;
  • The weather;
  • The area in which the accident occurred;
  • Property that was damaged in the accident;
  • Road conditions; and
  • Any other relevant details. You can use a post-accident report like this one, which we've made for your convenience.

Make sure you collect the other driver's insurance information and license plate details. Also, taking photos of the scene can help your insurance claim later on.

Accident Report Form
Sample post-accident report form to keep in your glove box - fill out at the scene or as soon as you can after a car accident
Download in PDF format

Write down any statements the at-fault driver makes that are against his interest (e.g., “It was my fault,” or “I'm so sorry, a bear jumped in front of my car”).

File a claim with your insurance company. (Read more about steps to an insurance claim settlement.)

You will be filing a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company as well, but having it recorded with your company as well helps if the other driver makes a stink and says it wasn't his doing.

Your insurance contract usually requires you to report accidents to your insurer, regardless of fault. Tweet this

Additionally, the language in your insurance contract generally requires you to report any accident to your insurer, regardless of who is at fault. This also helps if the other insurance company is slow to take action on fixing your car.

Then, call the at-fault driver's insurance company and file a claim. This will be assigned to a claims adjuster, and you will be given a case number. This is called a third-party claim. (The at-fault driver is the first party.)

So the insurance claim is filed. What now?

Now the fun begins!

Bear with me. Meaning, the fun for the claims adjuster begins.

This is where he actually starts doing the things that were listed in his job requirements. It's his duty to coordinate between you and the auto repair shop where your car is located.

You now need to be able to live your life with as little disruption as possible, which falls upon the adjustor to achieve.

Things you can ask your insurance provider for help

You can demand a few things – a rental car (though this might depend on what insurance you have) and original equipment manufactured parts.

OEM parts are something that you shouldn't have to request in a fair and balanced world, but otherwise the auto shop might try to use cheaper replacement parts. You shouldn't have to suffer for having been hit by another driver.

Insurance agents will value items based on the Kelly Blue Book at the time of the accident. If the estimated cost of repairing your vehicle exceeds what the car is actually worth (what's known as “totaling” your vehicle), they'll just write you a check instead.

When do I pay a deductible?

If it was you at the wheel and you hit someone's property with your car, then your standard deductible will likely not apply to repairing the other driver's damages; your insurance company will cover the damage.

However, if your vehicle was damaged as well as theirs, then you will need to pay your collision deductible so that your car can get repaired.

You'll get your deductible back if your insurance company collects from the other driver's insurance company. This process is called “subrogation.” This both reimburses you and wipes the accident off your driving record.

However, if you don't know who hit your car or damaged your property, you will be responsible for the deductible.

Additionally, if you don't have collision coverage, your insurance company won't pay out for the claim.

Do you need a lawyer? Personal injury basics

Do I need a lawyer for a property damage claim?

You shouldn't need an attorney to help you with the insurance claim process. A few back-and-forth phone calls with the insurance agent and the auto shop should be enough to fix everything.

However, if you find that you do need some extra manpower to prod everyone along or you want to review your policy with someone, consider speaking with a car accident lawyer in the Enjuris law firm directory.

If your insurance company refuses to pay you benefits that you're owed or denies your claim without a reasonable basis, this is said to be acting in “bad faith,” and you may actually have grounds for a lawsuit. 

In that case, a lawyer will be necessary, as the scope of your case goes from simply getting your car repaired to taking on a large entity that is supposed to be helping you.

This is one time when you'll want a lawyer on your side.

When would you sue someone for property damage?

There may be a time when you want to sue someone directly for the property damage caused to your car.

For example, you might want to file a lawsuit in small claims court against someone who caused damage to your property to recover the deductible you had to pay to your insurance company.

If you want to pursue the at-fault party for damages to your property, then you could take them to small claims court. You would file a civil suit for property damages.

That is, you can if you don't live in a no-fault state. In a no-fault state, you generally are expected to handle all car accidents through insurance. (Read more about fault in personal injury cases)

Generally small claims court lawsuits do not involve lawyers.

You're certainly entitled to have counsel present to protect your rights in small claims court. The law firm, however, is likely going to expect a fee for their services rather than working on contingency, since the expected recovery would be very small. It depends on the situation.

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