Chattanooga Personal Injury Attorneys

Report: Settling Your Auto Property Damage Claim Without A Lawyer

Report: Settling Your Auto Property Damage Claim Without A Lawyer

If you are the victim of a negligent driver that wrecked your car, you may have two kinds of claims:

  • A claim for damages to your vehicle (also called a property damage claim)
  • If you are injured, a bodily injury claim

If a Tennessee or Georgia car wreck injured you, this report doesn’t apply to you. Instead, you should contact us at Dennis and King so we can help you decide on the next, best steps for your personal injury.

One word of warning if you have both a property damage and a bodily injury claim (meaning the accident hurt you):

We are seeing more and more insurance companies just send injured victims “low-ball” checks out of the blue in an effort to trick injured people into giving up their right to full compensation for their injuries. Don’t fall for this trick, thinking that the insurance company is sending you a check for your property damage when in reality, the insurance company is trying to get you to cash a check and erase your bodily injury rights forever.

Always make sure a check from the insurance company says “property damage” before cashing it, if you also intend to make a claim for bodily injuries.

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So, if you have a property damage claim, do you even need a lawyer?

Actually, no, you don’t need a lawyer to settle your property damage claim.

What does a property damage claim cover?

Three things:

    1. The cost of repairing your vehicle, OR
    2. The replacement cost of your vehicle if the cost to repair exceeds about 60% of the value of your vehicle
    3. Any personal property damage in the collision such as a child car seat or electronics like a phone or computer
    4. A rental car, depending on whose insurance is paying and/or the insurance contract while your car is out of service.

What if the insurance company’s first estimate of the cost of repairing the vehicle is too low?

Don’t worry if the cost of repair is more than the original estimate. Original estimates of repair cost are almost never accurate. Both the adjuster and the body shop are aware of this fact.

We advise clients to try to get the insurance company to pay the body shop directly. Why? Because this puts the ball in the body shop’ court (by the way, always use a body shop that frequently deals with insurance companies). If the body shop discovers the damage is more severe than the insurance adjuster first thought, the body shop will resolve the additional damage with the insurance company. You won’t have to be involved in badgering your insurance company for more payment.

If the body shop estimate is significantly different than the insurance company’s estimate, insist that the body shop call the insurance company adjuster. The body shop is in a better position to explain and defend their estimate than you and they are highly motivated to get the insurance company to pay them.

However, never take your car to a body shop and authorize work until the insurance adjuster agrees the insurance company is responsible for your vehicle’s repair.

Can I take my car to a body shop of my choice to be repaired?

Generally, you can take the car to the body shop of your choice, although it’s best to take it to a shop that does a lot of insurance business. This is because this kind of shop is experienced in dealing efficiently with insurance claims and adjusters.

How do I prevent the insurance company from claiming much of my damage was pre-existing to the wreck?

Obviously, you are going to have a hard time convincing an adjuster that the wreck caused damage to the front end when you only were in a rear-end collision. However, there are times when an adjuster tries to get out of paying for repair of a legitimately damaged area of the car by claiming the car already was damaged.

Having an adjuster or body shop look at the car as soon as possible after the collision is always a good idea so the adjuster can’t claim enough intervening time went by for the car to be damaged after wreck. Additionally, tell the adjuster you want to be present while the adjuster looks at the vehicle so you can address any questions the adjuster has about the damage.

Can the insurance company insist the body shop use second hand or after market parts to repair my car?

Unfortunately, Tennessee and Georgia car wreck law allows the insurance company to require the body shop to use cheaper second hand/after market parts. Why? Because insurance companies have persuaded lawmakers with the excuse that since your car wasn’t new when wrecked, the car parts need not be new. Therefore, insurance companies argue, the law should not require an insurance company to put new parts in your “old” car.

Why did the insurance company total my car instead of pay to fix it?

If an insurance company decides to “total” your car, its because it decided it was cheaper to pay you the actual cash value (ACV) of your car instead of pay to repair it.

Can the insurance company offers me less than I owe on the car?

Yes. If you owe more on the car than the car is worth you are, what is called, “upside down” on your car. The law requires the insurance company to pay only what the car is worth (known as the actual cash value) not what you owe the bank or finance company on the car. The actual cash value usually is based upon Kelly Blue Book values.

What should I do if I owe more than the car is worth?

  1. Verify the insurance company is offering you actual cash value. Some adjusters will try to offer just a little less than Blue Book value, so always check. Make sure the adjuster is giving you credit for all the features on your car so the adjuster is giving you fair value. Make sure the adjuster isn’t trying to reduce the value of the car by claiming the vehicle was in poor to fair condition when it was in good to excellent condition. One reasonable way to determine the actual cash value of your car is to take the amount Blue Book says you would receive in a private sale plus the trade-in value of the car divided by two. Arguing for this method of determining the value of your car could increase your settlement by hundreds of dollars—this will help reduce your loan balance.
  2. Check to see if you purchased GAP insurance. Gap insurance pays the difference between the actual cash value of your car and what you owe on the vehicle so you will ultimately owe nothing.
  3. Continue making car payments. If you don’t have a car you can use, I know its frustrating to hear that you should continue making the payments. You don’t want to default on your loan, since this could affect your ability to get another loan for another car. Many times, the bank or finance company that financed your damaged car will fold the amount you still owe into a new loan for another car.

Can I make the insurance company repair my car instead of “totaling” it?

No. However, often you can keep the damaged vehicle in return for accepting a lower actual cash value for the vehicle. This works for people who have an older damaged vehicle and know someone that can help them repair the vehicle cheap.

Will I get a rental car?

If the negligent driver had insurance, that insurance company should pay for a rental car for you, up to a point, under the theory that you have a claim for loss of use of your vehicle. There is a limit to how long the negligent driver’s insurance pays for a rental car. If a body shop is repairing your car, they will provide a rental car only for as long as it is in the body shop, and even then, only for a set period of time—usually up to 30 days.

If the negligent driver “totaled” your car, the insurance company will provide a rental car until the day they give you a check for your total loss.

If the negligent driver had no insurance, you will have to rely upon your own uninsured motorist insurance to provide a rental car. In some cases, this will depend on whether you opted for rental car coverage, so look at your policy carefully.

Did a negligent driver damage your vehicle?  Did you suffer a personal injury in Tennessee or Georgia car wreck?  Contact the Tennessee and Georgia car wreck lawyers at Dennis and King at (423) 892-5533 or start a chat on our website.

Dennis and King is providing this report for general informational purposes only.  Receipt of this report does not create an attorney–client relationship.  Everyone’s situation is different and no statement contained herein should be interpreted or relied upon as legal advice to your specific situation.
By |2022-03-14T20:01:30+00:00March 3rd, 2022|General Info|0 Comments
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