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?
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
Have questions about your accident and the law? Get answers!