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I was injured at work.

I was involved in an accident.

I have a property damage claim.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Disclaimer: The information in this FAQ is provided for general information only. The information presented may not be suited to your personal, specific, or particular legal problem or situation. The information presented in this FAQ should not be construed as formal legal advice. In addition, the Law Offices of William O’Brien Finch, Jr., is a law firm that is located in Maryland and handles matters arising under Maryland law. As such, all of the information presented in this FAQ is tailored to matters arising under Maryland law. Furthermore, none of the information in this FAQ should be construed as forming a lawyer/client relationship.

HOW TO HANDLE THE PROPERTY DAMAGE PORTION OF YOUR AUTO ACCIDENT CASE WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY

If you are involved in an automobile accident, your car will probably have been damaged and may need to be repaired.  Unfortunately, this may be only one of several issues that you will now have to deal with in the wake of an accident.  While an attorney will often be necessary to help handle the bodily injury portion of your claim, handling the property damage portion of your claim is something that you can probably do yourself.  If you have never had to go through something like this before, this guide will walk you through the process of handling the property damage portion of your claim.

1. Report the accident to your insurance company.

You should report the accident to your auto insurance company as soon as possible.  Provide whatever information your claims adjuster asks for to help them process your claim.  Failure to notify your insurance company may void your policy and leave you without coverage.

2. Document the damage to your vehicle.

Take pictures of your vehicle that document the damage to it.  If the claims adjuster asks for them, be prepared to send copies of the pictures.  The purpose of this is two-fold.  One, it shows the extent of the damage and allows the claims adjuster to properly handle the claim.  Two, it preserves the evidence of your damaged vehicle for the bodily injury portion of your claim – which will likely be handled much later after the damage has been repaired, or in the case of a totaled vehicle, after the vehicle has been replaced.  Just make sure to take photos yourself instead of relying on the adjuster or the repair shop to take photos – photos taken by others have a tendency to disappear after the property damage claim has been resolved.

3. Have your vehicle repaired.

Unless your vehicle is declared a total loss, you must take your vehicle to a repair shop to be fixed.  Do not delay and allow your vehicle to incur storage fees.  Your insurance company will have a list of repair shops that they will recommend that you use.  In truth, you may use whatever repair shop you like.  But most insurance companies will only pay an amount that they consider reasonable, and sometimes a repair shop may charge an amount for repairs that exceeds that amount.  If you choose a repair shop other than one of the ones on their list, you may have to pay the difference between what the insurance company considers to be reasonable and what the repair shop charged.

If the insurance company is slow to respond to inquiries or the claim otherwise becomes delayed for some reason, you should take your vehicle to be repaired anyway if it means avoiding storage fees.  You are generally responsible for paying storage fees even if the insurance company is responsible for the delay in the process.  It is better to pay for repairs up front and have them reimbursed later than to pay storage fees for which there is no reimbursement.

4. Obtain a rental vehicle while your vehicle is in the shop.

Talk to your insurance adjuster about obtaining a rental car.  You will likely be advised to communicate directly with a local rental car agency.  When you speak to the rental car agency, make sure you let them know what kind of vehicle you were driving so that they can find a comparable vehicle.  If you need a certain type of vehicle – i.e. a pickup truck because it is necessary for you to haul things around on a regular basis – insist that the rental agency provide that type of vehicle.

When your vehicle has been fully repaired, return your rental car and pick up your regular vehicle as soon as possible.  Most policies only cover rental fees for as long as it is reasonably necessary for your regular vehicle to be repaired.

5. If your vehicle is declared a total loss.

Your car will be declared a total loss if the cost to repair it exceeds its market value.  If this occurs, your insurance company will pay you the fair market value of the vehicle.  Be prepared to negotiate with them as to how much your car is worth.  Use third-party valuation guides such as Kelly’s Blue Book to make your case.  If you have a record of regular maintenance, you can use that to bolster your claim that your vehicle was in good condition at the time of the accident.

6. Obtain reimbursement of your deductible.

After your car has been repaired, or you have been paid the fair market value for it if it was totaled, instruct your insurance company to subrogate against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.  The insurance companies will decide between themselves who was at fault.  If the companies decide that the other driver was at fault, then his or her insurance company will generally reimburse you for your deductible.  Often the reimbursement will be made first to your own insurance company, who will then reimburse you at some later point.

In some cases your deductible may not be reimbursed for one reason or another.  If this occurs, you may include your unreimbursed deductible as damages in a subsequent bodily injury action. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I process my claim directly through the at-fault driver’s insurance company instead of mine?

Yes, but there are several pitfalls with this approach.  One is that the other driver’s insurance company may not immediately accept responsibility for the accident, and therefore may delay the processing of your claim.  Until they have accepted responsibility, they will not pay for your vehicle to be towed or repaired, nor will they pay for a rental car.  By contrast, your own insurance company will pay for these things right away.

Moreover, you must be extremely careful as to what you say to the representatives from the at-fault driver’s insurance company because anything you say can later be used against you when you attempt to resolve your bodily injury claim.  The insurance adjuster may attempt to have you state that you have no personal injury claim or to otherwise minimize your claim.  Or the adjuster may require you to give your description of how the accident occurred.  If it turns out later that your description was in error – perhaps because you did not know all of the facts – your statement made to the at-fault insurance company can be used against you at settlement or trial.

The one significant advantage of processing your claim directly through the at-fault driver’s company is that you do not have to pay any deductible.  If the at-fault driver’s company accepts fault, and you cannot afford to pay the deductible on your own policy, it may be worth it to process your claim directly through the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

2. What if I was at fault in causing the accident?

If your automobile insurance policy provides for collision coverage, you are entitled to the same coverage regardless of whether you were or were not at fault in causing the accident.  The only difference, in terms of your property damage claim, would be that if you are found to be at fault, you will not be able to have your deductible reimbursed.

3. The at-fault driver’s insurance company has accepted liability.  Does that mean that I’ve won my case?

No.  By means of a special law, an auto insurer can accept liability on the property damage portion of your claim, and subsequently deny liability on the bodily injury portion of your claim.  The fact that the insurance company accepted liability for property damage cannot be used against them in the bodily injury portion of the claim.  What this means is that if the other driver’s insurance company accepts liability for property damage, then that part of your case will be resolved in your favor, but the outcome of your bodily injury claim may still be up in the air.

4. If my vehicle is totaled, will the insurance company pay me for the cost of a similar replacement vehicle?

No.  Under Maryland law, a person whose car is totaled in an accident is entitled to the fair market value of the vehicle, NOT the cost to replace the vehicle (i.e. replacement value).  Unfortunately for most consumers, the cost to buy a replacement vehicle of similar quality to the vehicle that was totaled is less than the fair market value of the totaled vehicle.  This is an area where the law is simply unfavorable to many consumers.

5. If my vehicle is totaled, will the insurance company pay off the loan I owe on it?

No.  Again, under Maryland law, a person whose car is totaled in an accident is entitled to the fair market value of the vehicle.  The fair market value is what you could sell the vehicle for, NOT whatever amount is left over on the vehicle loan.  Sometimes the fair market value exceeds the amount left on the loan, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Again, this is an area where the law may be unfavorable to some consumers.

6. Am I liable for storage fees?

Generally speaking, yes.  Maryland law requires a person to mitigate their damages.  This means that you are not permitted to let a vehicle sit and accrue storage fees while you wait for the insurance company to process your claim.  You should have your vehicle towed and repaired as soon as possible so as to avoid incurring storage fees, even it means paying out-of-pocket for these things.  You can always seek reimbursement for these expenses later, but excessive storage fees are generally not reimbursed.

7. How long can I stay in the rental car?

Generally, you can stay as long as your regular vehicle is being repaired, or in the case of a totaled vehicle, once you receive payment for it.  Some policies will cover rental car expenses only for a certain period of time; if your policy is of this type then you may have to seek reimbursement from the at-fault party’s insurance company for any rental expenses beyond that period.  However, once your regular vehicle is repaired or you receive payment for it, you must attempt to mitigate your damages, which means returning your rental car and resuming the use of your regular car.

8. Do I need a lawyer to help me with my property damage claim?

Whether or not you need a lawyer is up to you.  We find that most people are able to competently handle their own property damage claim without the assistance of a lawyer.  Typically property damage claims are straightforward and are resolved within a month or two, sometimes in a matter of weeks.  In fact, for many of our clients, we find that the property damage claim has been resolved before the case even comes through our doors.

Nevertheless, there are times when an attorney’s services may be required.  Finding an attorney to handle a property damage claim, however, is often difficult as most attorneys do not find them economically viable.  At our firm, we help our clients process their property damage claims as part of our services in handling their bodily injury claims.  We generally do not charge for this service.  If you have questions regarding your property damage claim, we may be able to help.  Please contact us to inquire further.


 

 

 
Note: This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed as formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. If contact with the firm is made by email inquiry, any information contained in such email before the firm agrees to represent the party initiating such contact shall remain confidential; however, a lawyer/client relationship is not created by an email inquiry.
197 East Main Street Westminster, MD 21157 (410) 871-1234 contact@finchlawoffice.com