Navigating the aftermath of a car accident?

 Let AutoMate guide you through the claims process hassle-free.

Welcome to AutoMate

AutoMate was developed to help those who have been in an auto accident navigate the claims process by providing a comprehensive step-by-step guide. AutoMate will equip you with essential information, useful tools and valuable resources which will empower you to confidently handle your auto claim and maximize your settlement.

AutoMate is independent, ad free, and is not affiliated with any insurance company. Using AutoMate can save you hours of time searching the internet for answers, and following just one tip could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars!

Quick Links

Step by Step Guide

Step-by-Step Guide

This comprehensive guide will equip you with knowledge and resources which will empower you to confidently navigate every stage of the claims process and maximize your settlement.

Tools and Tips

Tips & Tools

Here you will find links to auto appraisers, resources to help you with a diminished value or total loss claim, help understanding CCC One reports, links to insurance commissioners and more.

Maximize Settlement

Maximize Your Settlement

Here you will find resources which will help you understand how diminished value, loss of use and other methods can be used to maximize your settlement and get what you deserve.

Insurance Insights

Insurance Insights

Learn how to choose the best insurance company for you, factors that affect your rates, how to read your auto policy, how an accident can affect your rates, insurance definitions, and more.

Body Shops

Body Shops

Learn what factors to consider when selecting a body shop for your car repairs. Locate reputable body shops near you to ensure your vehicle receives high-quality service.

State Laws

State Laws

Be informed about the laws governing auto claims in your state. Here you will find state-by-state references to the statute of limitations, diminished value, loss of use, total loss, the use of OEM parts, and more.

Step-by-Step Guide

As soon as possible after the accident, document, gather, and preserve all information about your accident.

Document the Accident

One of the first things to do after an accident is take photos and/or video of every car involved. If possible, take photos of the accident scene to document the type, condition and location of all cars after the collision. Some cameras can electronically date stamp the pictures which confirms the date, time, and location they were taken.

Keep in mind that photos do not always show the extent of the damage. For example, a dent in a bumper may not accurately reflect underlying damage to the frame. Not until the body shop inspects the car will the full extent of the damage be confirmed.

Here are some tips for taking quality photos.

  • Take pictures from multiple angles. You want to capture all sides of the cars involved. Make sure your photos capture all four corners of each car. Pay particular attention to the damaged areas and any leaking fluids.
  • Give the picture a sense of scale. For example, photographing a dent or scrape marks on your fender can help use an object like a coin or a key to give a sense of scale.
  • Take pictures from more than one distance. If possible and safe, stand at least 10 feet away from the car or any other object you may have collided with, like a street sign. Gradually move toward the point of collision, taking more photos as you get closer.
  • Take pictures of the surrounding area. Take photos of the street. If the accident happened at an intersection, it’s a good idea to capture any street signs or traffic signals. Take photos of any skid marks or gouge marks left on the pavement or dirt.
  • Take pictures of damage to the car’s interior. This might include deployed airbags and shattered glass.
  • Take pictures of your injuries. If you are able, take pictures of any scrapes, cuts, or bruises. This might come in handy if you need to file an injury claim.
  • Take pictures of any other items that will help tell the story. For example, photograph any objects on the road that may have contributed to the accident, including potholes, road construction, or debris that caused a driver to swerve.
  • License plates. Get pictures of the license plates of every car involved in the accident. If there are any witnesses, it’s a good idea to get a photo of their license plate, which may be useful for the police or your insurance company if the witness leaves the scene early.
  • Insurance documents. When you exchange insurance information, it’s a good idea to ask to take a photo of the other driver’s insurance card. Make sure you capture the company and policy number.
  • Police report. If the police respond to the scene and write an initial report, often called an Exchange of Information, take a picture of it. While your insurance company may need a certified copy of the full report that’s prepared by the investigating agency, a photo of the initial report may help speed up the claims process.

Additional items to document include -

  • Weather, road conditions, time of day, and any other relevant factors.
  • Correspondence with adjusters via text, email, or phone.
  • Obtain witness names and contact information.
  • Document or record comments from witnesses.
  • Document names and contact information of those who may know about the history of the location which may have contributed to the accident. Such situations may include, a lack of maintenance of signs, foliage obstructing oncoming traffic, lack of road maintenance, and a history of the number of accidents.
  • Conversations with tow truck drivers and body shop personnel.
  • Document damage to personal property such as phones, car seats, eyeglasses, etc. Keep receipts so you can claim reimbursement.
  • If you are claiming that your car includes upgrades or add-ons, receipts or other documents should substantiate your claim.
  • A sketch of the scene with the locations of cars and other objects will help someone understand the accident scene at a glance. Adding street names, directions, and other important items to the sketch will help establish the facts.

What not to document

Do not admit fault or say things that may suggest fault to the adverse driver or others as such statements could be used against you. The insurance company may use such statements to deny or reduce the value of your claim. While you may believe you are not at fault for the accident, you may not be aware of all the facts and circumstances that were at play. You should cooperate with the police, but you are not required to admit fault. State the facts as you know them. A fault will be decided after all the facts are gathered.

Social media can hurt your case. Here are some tips -

  • What you say on social media may be obtained by the insurance company and used against you.
  • Don’t post photos or information that may be considered inconsistent with your claim.
  • Ensure your personal information and posts are private in your settings.
  • Only accept friend requests from people you know.
  • Remove your Facebook profile from Google search.
  • Make sure only your friends and family can see your posts.
  • Don’t message or communicate with anyone you don’t know.
  • Ask others not to post anything on your behalf.

 

Gather Information

Police reports are a critical part of your claim for damages. The police may provide you an Exchange of Information form at the scene but the full police report may not be completed for a couple weeks. Police often do not respond to the scene of an accident unless traffic is being blocked or there are serious injuries. It’s helpful to report the collision to 911 so they can provide you with a report number. Even having a case number to confirm that you reported it to the police dispatcher is helpful as some drivers fail to report accidents to their insurance company. Without a police case number, you may have nothing to confirm that the accident even happened.

Note that police reports can be wrong. Verify all information for accuracy and inform the police agency or your attorney of errors.

In the event police are not involved, gather the following information from the other driver:

  • Names of all drivers.
  • Contact information including addresses, telephone numbers, etc..
  • Insurance information.
  • License plate numbers.
  • Each vehicle's make, model, year, and color.
  • Each vehicle's registration number.

If you have a dash cam, you should upload the video to a memory stick for safekeeping. Obtain any video that may have been recorded by local businesses or homes. Many homes have doorbells or security systems that may have recorded the collision. In some instances, an attorney may be needed to obtain this information.

Keep all documents, evidence, photos, etc. in one secure place. All too often, important information is not well preserved and is lost.

Collect photos or documents that others may have. Family or friends may have taken photos of the cars or accident scene.

Memorialize all conversations with insurance adjusters and others who are involved.

If the accident happened in a company vehicle or while “on the clock”, work-related reports may need to be obtained.

Gather receipts for upgrades or add-ons to your car. For example, you purchased new tires and wheels or just installed a new engine. Receipts can substantiate your claim for the increased value of your car.

Photos that show the condition of your car just before the accident. This may help resolve questions about whether there was prior damage which could lessen the value of your claim.

Newspapers may have photos or articles about your accident.

Social media sites and other online sources may provide information about your accident. However, do not create potential problems by communicating with others on these sites as insurance companies also monitor these, and what you say may be used against you.

Preserve the Evidence

You may want to keep a hard copy of documents, reports, and photos in a file as well as a separate electronic copy.

In addition to keeping photos and video on your phone/camera, back them up on a separate memory device. This can then be given to someone else if requested without risking losing your only copy.

If you can date stamp, label, and provide descriptions of photos, it will preserve the facts for future reference. If it’s not obvious, a short description of a picture will help you recall the significance of that picture.

When you file a claim, insurance companies are legally required to respond within 30 days. Each state has a time limitation for which you can make a claim. This is called the statute of limitations.

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The typical auto collision involves two vehicles. Assuming both parties have insurance, the question often arises as to whether it is better to handle your claim using your own company or the at-fault driver’s company. There are pros and cons to both so there is no clear answer to all situations. However, there are a few things to remember which may help you make that decision.

Which Insurance Company to Use

Filing a claim with your own company. Making an auto claim with your own company can be advantageous because they have a contractual obligation to you, and as their customer, you may receive better service. However, just because they are your own company, or that you’ve been with them for many years is no guarantee that you’re going to receive quality service. The cons of going through your own company are that you will likely have a deductible to pay and that you will be bound by contractual limits, such as whether you have roadside assistance or the length of rental car coverage.

Filing a claim with the at-fault company. Working with the at-fault driver insurance company has its pros and cons. The benefits may be that there are fewer restrictions on rental car use and no deductibles to worry about. The cons are that it is an adversarial relationship and working with the adjusters may be more difficult. In some situations, the at-fault insurance company may not be willing to assist you until they can complete their investigation, thus your only option may be to use your own company to get things moving along.

Adjuster Insights

Working with insurance companies and their adjusters can be a challenging experience. For the insurance adjuster, resolving an auto claim involves the coordination of multiple and sometimes competing components which can include; the auto damage estimator, the body shop, the rental car company, and of course, the claimant.

Insurance companies have different approaches and methodologies to handling claims. You may encounter multiple adjusters responsible for different aspects of your claim, such as property damage, and medical or personal injury.

There are various types of insurance claims adjusters. These include:

Company Adjusters: Employed by the insurance company, they handle claims internally.

Independent Adjusters: Independent contractors hired by the insurance company on a case-by-case basis to assess and negotiate claims.

Public Adjusters: Work on behalf of policyholders, advocating for their interests during the claims process. They are typically hired by individuals seeking to maximize their settlement.

Effective Communication with Adjusters

Insurance companies have years of experience working in this complex environment whereas you are at a disadvantage because you are likely unfamiliar with the process and your rights. It's essential to be well-prepared and knowledgeable about the process to level the playing field. Here are some tips for working with adjusters.

  1. Understand the Adjuster’s role is to:
  • Investigate accidents
  • Determine the fault for the accident
  • Calculate your claim’s value according to company protocol
  • Negotiate and settle claims with accident victims

Claims adjusters are not your enemy and should not be treated as such, but in the effort to resolve your auto claim, their responsibility is to their employer, not you. Whether the adjuster is courteous or rude, inexperienced or a seasoned veteran, their objective is the same; to settle your claim as quickly and cheaply as possible.

  1. Tell the Adjuster You Will Fill Out a Positive Survey

Most adjusters have a high caseload and their employer keeps track of their performance metrics. Their salary and promotions may be based on how they resolve claims. When beginning your insurance claim and contacting the adjuster for the first time, let the adjuster know that you will provide a positive survey if they handle your claim well. This may be enough motivation for them to pay special attention to your claim.

  1. Never Confide in an Insurance Adjuster

Anything you say to the insurance adjuster can be used against you, and the adjuster is trained to probe for things that can be harmful to your case. Telling an adjuster of your financial or other difficulties can signal that you’ll settle for less out of desperation.

  1. Be Prepared and Organized

Before talking with the adjuster, gather all relevant documents such as police reports, medical records, repair estimates, and any evidence of damages or losses. Being organized demonstrates you are serious and helps you present your case. The adjuster may request your recorded statement and ask you to sign a release to access your medical records. You are not legally required to give a statement or sign the insurance company’s medical release form.

  1. Communicate Clearly and Professionally

Use clear, concise language when discussing your claim. Stick to the facts and avoid unnecessary details or emotional narratives. Maintain a polite and professional tone in all your interactions and avoid emotional or confrontational language.

  1. Be Honest and Consistent

Always provide factual and consistent information about the event that caused the damage to your vehicle. Exaggerating or misrepresenting facts can jeopardize your claim.

  1. Understand Your Policy

Familiarize yourself with the terms and coverage limits of your insurance policy. How much is your deductible? If you know what is covered and what is not, it can help you negotiate much more effectively.

  1. Don’t Accept the First Offer

Don’t rush into a settlement. First offers are often starting points for negotiation. If you feel the offer is too low, it’s acceptable to make a counteroffer. Justify why you believe your claim is worth more.

  1. Use Emotional Intelligence

Be empathetic and try to understand the adjuster’s position while also expressing how the situation has impacted you. This can create a more cooperative environment. Being argumentative only damages your position.

  1. Document Everything

Keep records of all communications, including dates, times, and summaries of conversations. Written correspondence, estimates, and adjuster reports are valuable in maintaining a record of the negotiation process.

  1. Know When to Escalate

If your adjuster does not respond to your demands, is being adversarial, or if negotiations are not progressing, escalating the issue to their supervisor, or manager may help move your claim along.

A complaint to your state’s Department of Insurance alleging an unfair claims practice may also provide sufficient motivation to change their offer. This is why you must have everything documented to build a strong case against the insurance company.  Some states even publish how many complaints insurance companies receive, which is another metric the insurance companies want to avoid increasing.

Post to the insurance company’s social media accounts. Some claimants were able to have their issues resolved quickly by contacting their insurance company via social media.  Many companies have a policy to respond to these messages if they can identify you.

Filing a suit through small claims court for monetary damages is a powerful tactic that can make the insurance company quickly change its mind regarding your demands. Small claims courts do not require an attorney and filing fees can be minimal. Claim limits vary depending on your state. This may be the only way to receive satisfactory compensation in cases involving diminished value.

  1. Stay Calm and Patient

Insurance negotiations can be lengthy and frustrating. Staying calm and patient can help maintain a constructive dialogue and prevent unnecessary conflicts.

  1. Seek Professional Advice

If the negotiation becomes complex or at an impasse, consider hiring a professional appraiser, an attorney, or a professional claims adjuster. They can provide expert guidance and representation.

  1. Understand the Settlement Process

Be clear about how the settlement will be paid, and any actions you need to take, and make sure the final agreement is in writing.

Tips for Effective Negotiations

In many cases, the initial offer from the adjuster may not meet your expectations. Don’t settle too quickly.  Rushing into a settlement can be detrimental. Negotiations can be emotionally charged so remain calm and patient and avoid becoming confrontational. A composed approach can lead to more productive negotiations. Take your time to evaluate offers and consider seeking professional advice if needed. Follow these tips to make your negotiations effective:

  • Express Appreciation: Thank the adjuster for their offer to maintain a professional tone.
  • Request Clarification: If you receive an offer that is unclear or insufficient, ask for clarification and justification.
  • State Your Position: Politely but firmly explain why you believe the initial offer is inadequate. Provide specific reasons and evidence.
  • Propose a New Settlement Amount: Offer a reasonable counteroffer based on your research and the evidence you’ve gathered.
  • Justify Your Counteroffer: Clearly explain why your proposed amount is fair and appropriate, referencing the evidence you’ve presented.
  • Request a Response: Encourage the adjuster to respond promptly to your counteroffer and engage in further negotiations.
  • Maintain Professionalism: Throughout the counteroffer, maintain professionalism and avoid confrontational language.
  • Be Flexible: While it’s important to advocate for a fair settlement, be open to reasonable compromises that can help expedite the process. Being inflexible may cost you more in the long run.

Remember, negotiation is a process, and effective communication is key. Being prepared, patient, and professional can significantly impact the outcome of your insurance claim negotiation. Dealing with insurance adjusters requires a balance of assertiveness, knowledge, and effective communication.

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Police

When a collision occurs, it’s important to have the police involved because it’s necessary to establish fault. At the scene, the other driver may have admitted fault to you, but when they get home and think about it, they may change their mind and tell their insurance company that you were responsible for the collision. The other driver may also provide false personal and insurance information which leaves you with no recourse other than to go through your own insurance company. Hit-and-run accidents are difficult to prove and making a claim against your uninsured motorist policy may be problematic without a police report.

Insurance companies need proof of fault before they will provide any assistance or pay for repairs. Insurance adjusters will obtain the police report and will use it in their investigation. Having an accurate police report can be essential in making a claim for damages.

Police respond to accidents depending on many factors including jurisdiction, distance to the scene, available resources, whether there are injuries or not, and whether or not the accident is blocking traffic. Usually, police will also not respond to accidents that occur on private property such as parking lots.

Each law enforcement agency has its procedures and forms for creating collision reports. Often the responding agency will give you an Exchange of Information at the scene which provides each party with basic information about the other driver and their insurance company. Note that police reports can contain errors so review them carefully and notify the reporting agency of any errors. The full police report will not be available until they have finished their investigation which could take several days to weeks. Most police reports are now available online for a small fee.

Towing

Police who respond to a collision will call for a tow truck if one or more of the cars cannot be safely driven. Police have a list of approved towing companies and if done properly, the dispatcher will rotate through the list to determine who will get the job. If you know someone who can tow your car from the scene and the police officer approves, you have this option if they can respond quickly and safely.

If your car is clearly a total loss, it will likely be taken to a tow yard. If it is unclear whether your car is repairable or totaled, it will be taken to the tow yard unless otherwise directed by you. Your car will stay there until you or the insurance company tells the towing service where to take it.

Tip - If you are able, tell the tow truck driver to take your car directly from the scene to the repair shop. This eliminates the trip to the tow yard, and then to the body shop, which saves an extra tow, storage, and other fees.

How much the tow company can charge varies but they can charge an hourly charge, an administrative fee, and daily storage fees.

Towing costs are determined by:

  • Type of vehicle. The type of vehicle you drive will be a key factor in how much your tow costs. Because of the strain that standard wheel lift tow trucks can place on a vehicle, weightier models like trucks and SUVs generally require a flatbed truck that offers better protection.
  • Type of tow. Is your car out of gas or have you been involved in an accident? Collisions may involve glass cleanup on the road, a non-standard hookup, and other case-by-case needs, depending on the severity of the damage. If the car is totaled, storage fees will also begin to accrue.
  • Distance. Distance is another factor in determining cost, not just because of added gas required for the additional mileage, but also because traveling long distances isn’t recommended for wheel lift tow trucks. If you need a tow up to 100 miles, it may be advisable to use a flatbed to protect your vehicle’s infrastructure.
  • Time of day. With basic supply-and-demand principles in mind, a tow required during working hours is generally less expensive than a tow required in the middle of the night. If you break down at 3 a.m. when fewer tow truck drivers are available, it will likely add to your overall cost. 

 

Storage

What they pay -

The insurance company for the at-fault driver is usually responsible for all towing and storage costs associated with the accident once liability is accepted. Storage fees should be paid until the insurance company decides to repair or total the car. At that time, the insurance company will move it to the repair shop, their storage area, or salvage yard if totaled. You should be contacted before your car is moved from the storage area.

What you pay -

You have a responsibility to “mitigate damages” – which means, to reduce the amount that the insurance company will have to pay if it is within your control. For example, if you leave the car in a storage lot for two weeks before you notify the insurance company, or if you take several days to decide whether to accept their total loss offer, you may have to pay those additional storage fees. If you cause delays or refuse to act, you could be stuck with unnecessary storage charges. If you want to keep the car, you are responsible for towing it to the location of your choice.

To minimize storage fees, contact the at-fault insurance company and make a claim so they will be responsible for any further fees. You may also want to contact your company if the at-fault company refuses to accept liability.

If your car is declared a total loss, give the repair shop or towing service authorization to release your car, so they can move it to a secure storage facility. This can help you avoid paying daily storage fees that companies might charge.

If there’s a possibility that your car is totaled, you should gather all personal items and valuable documents from your car as soon as possible. If it’s taken to the tow yard, then the insurance company gives the tow company permission to transport it to a salvage yard, you may not have the opportunity to remove your valuables from the car.

Generally tow yards restrict who has access to the cars. You may not be able to get items out of it without their permission and/or paying all tow and storage fees upfront.

If you can’t afford to pay the towing fees, the towing company is legally not allowed to release the vehicle to you.

Tow companies usually have limits on how long they will store your car. After several months, unclaimed cars with outstanding towing and storage fees may be impounded and auctioned off.

Generally, insurance companies cannot deduct towing and storage fees from your total loss settlement, but this policy may vary from state to state. If the insurance adjuster tried to deduct storage and towing fees from your total loss settlement, contact your insurance agent, customer service representative, or state insurance commissioner.

Conclusion

To ensure you have a solid claim and to minimize towing and other fees, remember to:

  • Review the police report’s accuracy.
  • Keep the proper insurance coverage.
  • Have your car towed directly to a repair shop to avoid multiple towing and storage charges.
  • Report the accident quickly to both insurance companies and respond quickly to their instructions.

 

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Arranging for a rental car through the at-fault driver's insurance company can present challenges, but understanding the procedures and pitfalls can empower you in rental negotiations.

First, liability must be determined following your accident. Who was at fault for the accident is the driving factor for determining who will pay for your rental car. This investigation could take as little as a few hours or up to 30 days.

Rental Car Options

You have at least three options when it comes to getting a rental car.

  1. Get a rental car by initiating a claim with the responsible party's insurance company. If they accept liability for the accident, they will either arrange for a rental car through an agency such as Enterprise or you can go to another agency and use the claim number given to you by the adjuster. You generally are entitled to a comparable vehicle while your car is being repaired or until the adjuster has made an offer to replace your car if it was totaled. They may delay or deny your claim when liability is disputed or the at-fault driver is unavailable. For example, if the at-fault driver was arrested and in jail for DUI, and cannot communicate with their insurance company, the adjuster may delay agreeing to pay for anything until they can finish their investigation.
  2. If you have rental coverage on your own policy, you may get a car quicker going through your own carrier. You are entitled to compare up to the policy limits. How long you can keep the car depends on the provisions and restrictions of your own policy, but it is generally up to 30 days. Contact your agent if you have questions.
  3. The final option is to pay for it yourself and seek reimbursement. Make sure you save all receipts and submit them to the at-fault adjuster. Borrowing a vehicle from a friend or family member is also reimbursable with proper documentation. Occasionally, the repair shop may have loaner cars.

If you suspect your car is a total loss, be proactive and look for a replacement car. Suppose your vehicle is declared a total loss. In that case, the insurance adjuster will make an offer for your car based on their valuation and will give you a deadline, typically a few days, to accept their offer and return the rental car. If you dispute their offer, they may refuse to cover any further rental expenses.

You have the right to have a comparable rental car to the one you were driving at the time of the accident. If you were driving a minivan, you are entitled to a minivan. The problem arises as such vehicles are not always available. This can be especially important if you were driving a work vehicle such as a pick-up truck at the time of the accident. If your vehicle was used for employment and you cannot get a comparable replacement, keep track of all expenses, and wage loss, and present that to the at-fault adjuster for reimbursement.

Loss of Use

Loss of Use is the inability to use your car due to damage caused by the negligence of another. A loss of use claim is essentially meant to cover the cost of a comparable rental car or other alternative transportation like cabs or ride-share services that you used when your car was not available. For example, the cost to rent a Tesla, Ferrari, Bentley, or Porsche can cost $350.00 to $500.00 per day. Sometimes car repairs take sixty or more days. A Loss of Use claim could add up!

Steps to make a Loss of Use claim:

  1. Gather your evidence. This may include receipts for alternative transportation, evidence supporting the rental value of a substitute car, and repair or settlement timelines to establish the length of time you were deprived of using your vehicle. 
  2. Write a demand letter to the at-fault adjuster for your damages.
  3. Getting help from a professional adjuster may be worthwhile.
  4. If your demand is denied, file a complaint with your state’s Department of Insurance.
  5. If it makes economic sense, consult with an attorney to get the help you need to document your loss for small claims court.

If the insurance carrier denies your loss of use claim, ask them to put their denial in writing including their reasons and case law supporting their position. Here is a state-by-state guide to Loss-of-use claims

Rental Roadblocks

Rental agencies will often ask if you want to purchase additional insurance. You don’t want to pay for coverage that you may already have through your own policy so contact your agent to get the best answer for your situation.

Problems may arise if you are under the age of 26 as most rental agencies will not rent you a car. You also may be denied a rental car if you don’t have a valid driver’s license or credit card or can make a deposit.

Your only options may include using ride-share services like Uber or borrowing a car from someone else. Keep good records of all expenses and present them to the at-fault company for reimbursement.

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How to Choose a Body Shop

When looking for a body shop to repair your car, many people assume they must have their car repaired at the shop the insurance company recommends. By law, insurance companies are not allowed to force you to go to a Direct Repair Program (DRP) body shop. A DRP is a network of approved repair facilities and body shops that meet a set of standards or guidelines set by the insurance company. While insurance companies may suggest a particular body shop as part of their DRP, consumers have the right to choose where they take their vehicle for repairs.

The benefit of working with a DRP shop is, that you might save time and have the workmanship guaranteed. On the flip side, your insurer’s preferred body shop might use aftermarket parts or other methods to save on costs. Being a Direct Repair Program (DRP) shop should not disqualify them from repairing your car but there are other ways to identify a quality shop.

To identify a quality body shop, consider the following tips from experts and professionals in the industry:

  • Ask if the shop is affiliated with AAA since the company vets repair shops for trustworthiness.
  • Consult your car dealer’s auto shop since the mechanics will know your car best and won’t void your warranty.
  • Ask about warranties on repairs in case the initial repairs don’t fix your car’s damage.
  • Read online reviews from previous customers, looking for an overall high rating.
  • Ask friends, neighbors, and relatives who they use and recommend.
  • Compare price estimates with several repair shops, asking about the repair process to see if the mechanic is cutting corners.
  • See whether the shop will use OEM parts or aftermarket parts, and explain whether you need original parts to keep your car’s warranty active.
  • Ask the mechanic to show you what’s wrong with your car before making repairs.
  • Ask what certifications they have. The following certifications establish credibility and quality workmanship.
    • AAA
    • OEM Certification
    • ASE (Automotive Service Excellence)
    • Better Business Bureau
    • I-CAR Certified. Click here to find an I-Car-certified body shop near you.
    • PPG Certification

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and choose a body shop that provides high-quality and reliable service for your car.

Total Loss Valuation & Resolving Disputes

If your vehicle is declared a total loss, determining its actual cash value (ACV) becomes critical to getting a fair settlement. What are the processes insurers employ to assess total loss valuations, common pitfalls in their methodologies, and the options available to car owners facing valuation disputes?

Understanding Total Loss

States set different total loss thresholds, which is the point at which insurance companies are required to declare a car a total loss. Some states use a total loss formula while others use a percentage (typically 70-75%) of its pre-accident ACV rendering it economically impractical to repair. The state where you live affects which method the insurer will use. See here for total loss thresholds in all 50 states.

If your car is a total loss, you have the right to be reimbursed for the ACV of your car, plus applicable sales tax, cost of tag transfer, and prorated annual tax and/or registration fees. Factors influencing your car’s ACV include make, model, age, mileage, condition, and salvage potential.

If your car has add-ons, new parts, or repairs such as a new transmission, these will only marginally increase the value of your car. If you make a claim for these items, be prepared to supply receipts to the adjuster to justify your position. You may be allowed to replace new tires and wheels with older ones if time permits but be aware it may affect the settlement offer.

Insurer Valuation Process

In valuing a totaled vehicle, insurers often utilize external vendors like CCC Total Loss Report to provide a figure on which to base their settlement. Comparable vehicle sales or auction results serve as a primary benchmark, but issues arise when insurers utilize inaccurate comparable vehicles that lead to skewed results. Some may use outdated and discredited formulas such as 17c.

Insurance adjusters or their vendors may get incorrect results by using “comparables” with higher mileage, limiting the geographical search area, or disregarding specialty vehicles' unique value. Adjusters may also have the discretion of choosing which “comparables” to use and can make adjustments to the factors that determine your vehicle’s value. Such practices can result in inaccurate representations of a car's pre-accident value.

Options for Car Owners

  1. Accept their offer: Insurance companies may make an offer for your totaled car which you consider fair. If so, you can accept their offer and they will instruct you in the process of handling all the paperwork.
  2. Negotiate: If you believe the offer is too low, you can make a counteroffer. Some tips for negotiating a settlement include;
    • Ask the insurance company how they define Actual Cash Value. Part of the problem in negotiating a good actual cash value for a vehicle is that the insurer may use their own proprietary method to determine your ACV. To provide your own counter-estimate, you'll want to know how they came up with their settlement offer.
    • Get the insurance company’s offer in writing and ask for their “total loss valuation report.” Review the insurer's report, noting the areas where their evaluation of your car may be flawed, and correct any errors. They can be selective about which cars they choose to include in their report. To submit a counteroffer with your own valuation, you need to demonstrate where their evaluation is in error and produce valid comparable vehicles so you are in a position to negotiate a better settlement. Professional appraisers can provide a credible report to assist you in verifying an accurate value. This may save you time and effort in negotiations. Hiring an attorney and filing a complaint with the state's insurance department is an option if disputes persist.
    • To provide solid evidence for your position, research what the ACV of your car was the day before the accident by searching for comparable vehicles selling in your market. Start with your local area and expand farther out until you locate two or more comparable cars. If you find more than two, choose the most expensive ones to send to the insurance adjuster. This produces a higher average value. Online car valuation sites such as Edmunds, NADA, and other sites offering cars for sale can help verify the car’s book value at the time of the crash. The most effective method is to get a written appraisal from a professional appraiser. Many appraisers offer preliminary appraisals at no cost but will charge for a formal report. If the appraiser’s estimate is higher than what the insurance company offers, you can use it to negotiate a better offer.
    • If you’re not happy with the offer of the at-fault insurer, you may be able to make a claim under your own company’s policy if you have collision coverage. The Appraisal Clause can be used when making a claim against your own insurance company, but it can be an expensive process with the risk that you may lose. In cases where agreement cannot be reached, appraisers representing both sides may negotiate and if needed, appoint an umpire, with associated costs shared by both parties. Professional appraisers may also be able to help with this.
  3. Keeping a Totaled Car: You will also need to consider whether you want to retain the damaged car or purchase a new one. Your car may be still drivable even if it has been totaled. Some opt to keep the car and repair it themselves. If you decide to keep your car and it’s permitted by state law, the insurer deducts the salvage value from the total amount of the settlement. The insurance company expects to receive the salvage value for selling your vehicle in its damaged condition. Keeping a totaled car can affect the vehicle's insurability and resale value.

 

Understanding Diminished Value

Diminished Value (DV) refers to the reduction in the value of a car after collision repairs. This decrease in value is due to a vehicle's accident history negatively impacting its desirability in the used car market. Naturally, consumers prefer buying used cars that weren’t previously wrecked. Regardless of how well the repairs were done, used car buyers would rather purchase an automobile with no accident history, thereby making the previously repaired vehicle worth less than its undamaged counterpart.

Most states have laws that require the seller to disclose known defects in the car such as a previous accident history. A Carfax history report is regularly used to fully disclose such defects. The car can no longer be sold as a “certified pre-owned vehicle” because of the damage from the collision. This diminishes the car’s resale value and is a monetary loss to the seller.

Diminished value claims are only applicable to repaired cars and not totaled cars. DV claims are typically filed against the insurance company of the party at fault. Cars that had structural damage or air bag deployment can’t be certified and banks will not finance them. The majority of dealers can’t retail these vehicles and usually send them straight to auction.

Inherent Diminished Value vs. Parts and Repair-Related Diminished Value

Inherent Diminished Value means the vehicle is worth less due to its accident history, regardless of proper repairs. Public perception, not physical inspection, determines this value reduction in the marketplace. When making a DV claim using an appraiser, an in-person inspection is not needed.

Parts and Repair-Related DV is when the reduced value is due to inferior parts or poor workmanship. This type of DV requires a physical inspection to identify deficiencies.

The Diminished Value Claim Process

Insurance companies do not willingly pay diminished value claims or make this known to the public. It is not the responsibility of the insurance company to inform and educate you on DV and how it works. If you don’t ask for it, they will not offer it. It is crucial for car owners to be proactive in pursuing compensation for the diminished value of their repaired vehicles. Each state has its own laws governing DV. You can find here a summary of how first-party and third-party inherent diminished value claims are treated in all 50 states. Here is another list of Diminished Value Claims By State.

The steps for making a DV claim include:

  • Determine the diminished value amount of your car before and after the accident by finding comparable vehicles that are the same make, model, year, condition, mileage, etc. Start searching locally and enlarge the geographical area until you find at least 3-4 comparable cars. Online resources such as Edmunds, NADA, and Carfax estimators are just two of the many sites that will help identify your car value.
  • There are several methods insurance companies and appraisers use to calculate a car's DV. Some include formulas, estimators, algorithms, the use of auction results, and letters from dealerships. Using NADA or other online services to find comparable cars as yours will help you determine if the insurance company’s offer is fair, but these results may not be sufficient if the insurance company denies your claim and you have to go to court.
  • Hiring a professional appraiser will provide accurate figures of your car’s value, enhance the credibility of your position, and increase the likelihood of the insurance company making or increasing their offer. Hiring a professional appraiser to produce a DV appraisal report may cost up to $500 but can be a good investment, especially if you need to go to small claims court. Some appraisers will provide a free initial estimate to help you determine if your DV claim is worth pursuing. In addition to professional appraisal, they can also provide expert testimony in court. Below is a list of professional DV appraisers -

Harber Appraisal (253 474-0967) Website

Petty Details (214 227-2154) Website

VECO Experts (888 362-2511) Website

  • Once you have determined the DV or your vehicle, you need to evaluate if pursuing the claim against the insurance company makes economic sense. The insurance company will likely deny your claim or make a lowball offer so you need to consider the time expense and probability of winning. Not all cars are eligible for diminished value. The more expensive, newer, and unique your car is, the greater the likelihood your DV claim will be worth pursuing. As your car gets older, increases in mileage, and the condition deteriorates, the less likely a DV claim will succeed or make economic sense.
  • Send a demand letter to the insurance company requesting payment for your car’s DV. Your claim must be supported by evidence and facts; and preferably a formal report from a professional appraiser. A sample demand letter is provided here.

In making a claim against the insurance company, you can utilize any one of the three options below or escalate and use all three as needed.

  1. Self-Initiated Claim:
  • Car owners can undertake the claim process independently, gathering comparable figures and presenting them to the insurance company.
  • Time and effort expended should be considered as part of the cost.
  1. Professional Appraiser:
  • Hiring a licensed appraiser (costing somewhere between $275 and $500) can provide an expert evaluation, enhancing the claim's credibility. The appraiser will be crucial if you want to go to small claims court.
  1. Legal Representation:
  • For higher-value claims, engaging an attorney may be necessary, although this is the costliest option. You will need to find an attorney specializing in this work.

Tips for Successful Claims

Stay objective: Maintain a composed and professional demeanor when interacting with insurance representatives. Assertively insist on a fair settlement.

Document Your Claim: Collect evidence supporting diminished value, including an appraisal from a licensed independent appraiser.

Escalate When Necessary: If initial discussions with the adjuster prove unproductive, escalate the matter to higher levels within the insurance company.

Report and Legal Action: Report unfair practices to the state insurance commissioner and consider legal action if necessary. There have been class action lawsuits for diminished value that provide legal support for your DV claim, and there may be ongoing class action suits against various insurance companies that you can join.

Be prepared to take them to court: Courts have awarded the claimant’s appraiser, expert witness, and attorney fees to be paid by the insurance companies in addition to the amount of diminished value. Hiring an attorney with experience in diminished value cases and going armed with a comprehensive appraisal are important and can make the difference between winning and losing the case. Small claim court thresholds differ from state to state. Attorneys generally cannot attend small claims court cases. Make sure your attorney advises you whether your small claims action for property damage claim will affect your personal injury claim.

Understanding Diminished Value Calculation Methods

Dealership Letter: A letter from a dealership may be cost-effective but is often challenged by insurance companies as lacking objectivity.

Algorithm-Based Reports: Formulas like Rule 17-C, though subjective, are commonly used, despite criticism for oversimplification.

Auction Results and Carfax Ads: Reliance on auction results and Carfax ads may lack specificity, making them less reliable for accurate value assessments.

Professional Appraiser's Report: Comprehensive reports prepared by professional appraisers provide a detailed and accurate assessment. Even appraisers use different methods. Cookie-cutter formulas may not provide the most accurate DV figure. Ask if your appraiser follows or belongs to organizations such as the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) which is the generally recognized ethical and performance standards for the appraisal profession.  

Why Insurance Adjusters Deny Diminished Value Claims

Many inexperienced insurance adjusters follow their company's training without considering the unique circumstances of each claim. Despite convincing evidence, they often rely on common excuses to deny diminished value claims. Here are some typical arguments used by insurance companies and why they lack validity:

  • "We aren’t responsible for that."
    • While this response is becoming less common, some inexperienced adjusters still use it. Request written confirmation and justification for their position via email or mail.
  • "The vehicle was repaired properly, so no diminished value is owed."
    • Regardless of the quality of repairs, a recorded accident on Autocheck or Carfax history typically leads to inherent diminished value.
  • "The vehicle has a prior accident in its history."
    • The impact of a prior accident depends on its severity. An appraisal by a professional may be needed to determine each accident's contribution to overall depreciation.
  • "We don’t recognize your methodology.”
    • Many adjusters only know the 17C formula, but relying solely on formulas doesn't consider the unique market conditions of each vehicle. The Bureau of Certified Auto Appraisers emphasizes the need for local market insights as formulas may not accurately reflect individual supply and demand dynamics.
  • "Diminished value cannot be determined until the vehicle is sold."
    • Contrary to this claim, you don't need to sell the vehicle to pursue a diminished value claim. If you can provide documented proof that the vehicle has depreciated due to the accident, you are entitled to diminished value from the date of the incident.

Understanding the diminished value, its calculation methods, and the claim process is vital for car owners seeking fair compensation. Whether pursuing an inherent diminished value claim or addressing issues related to repairs, thorough documentation and expert assessments are key to successful claims.

Appraisal Clause

An appraisal clause is a provision commonly found in insurance policies, though not universally included. It is applicable when disputes arise between the policyholder and their own insurance carrier and serves as a mechanism for reaching a resolution when there is a dispute in evaluating the amount of a claim. Either party involved can initiate the appraisal clause. Typically found in the "Damage to Your Auto" section of the policy, it becomes relevant in cases where disagreements arise over the repair costs or diminished value of a vehicle, especially in states allowing first-party claims for diminished value.

Steps to Invoke the Appraisal Clause

  • Ensure that your insurance policy incorporates the appraisal clause.
  • Draft a certified letter, requesting a return receipt, addressed to your insurance company. This letter should state that due to the inability to arrive at a mutually acceptable settlement, you are invoking the appraisal clause outlined in your policy.

Selection of Appraisers

  • Each party involved in the appraisal process selects a qualified appraiser to assess the loss. Both sides are responsible for covering the fees of their chosen appraisers.
  • Opt for an appraiser well-versed in the specific area of dispute and familiar with the appraisal clause procedure. Your chosen appraiser must have no affiliations with the insurance company involved in the dispute.

Dispute Resolution

  • The appraisers chosen by each party independently assess the loss.
  • The appointed appraisers engage in discussions to attempt to reach a mutually agreeable figure based on their findings.
  • If a consensus is not reached, the two appraisers jointly select a neutral third-party Umpire appraiser. This individual reviews the positions and documentation presented by the primary appraisers and may conduct an independent inspection and assessment.
  • In cases requiring an Umpire appraiser, both you and the insurance company share the costs equally.
  • The final and binding resolution is determined by an agreed-upon amount decided by any two of the three appraisers involved. This decision is binding on all parties.

 

Conclusion

Experiencing a total loss is challenging, but informed decision-making can empower car owners to navigate the insurance claims process effectively. Understanding valuation methods, knowing your rights, and being prepared to negotiate are essential to achieving a fair settlement.

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In this article and on other areas of this site, the main focus is on handling and resolving your auto claim. If you have suffered personal injuries, seek advice from a legal professional who is familiar with the laws in your area.

Settling an auto claim can be very stressful because you are likely unfamiliar with how to negotiate and settle a claim, whereas the insurance adjuster does this every day. This article is intended to help you effectively negotiate a fair settlement and familiarize you with the settlement process.

Settlement Overview

Step 1: Identify the Responsible Party

Determining who is at fault is necessary for a successful claim. It will help determine which insurance company you will work with. Depending on the situation, multiple parties may share responsibility.

Step 2: File a Claim

Whether represented by an attorney or handling the claim yourself, putting the at-fault insurer on notice is essential. This initiates the claims process, and the insurance company assigns a claims adjuster to manage the case.

Step 3: Gather Supporting Evidence

Building a strong case begins by collecting evidence at the scene. This includes police reports, pictures, videos, and eyewitness statements. For complex cases, involving a personal injury lawyer may be necessary to obtain evidence through subpoenas and court orders.

Step 4: Make a Compensation Demand

Prepare a demand packet, including a detailed demand letter and supporting documents, and send it to the insurance company.

Step 5: Negotiate the Settlement

Expect the initial offer from the adjuster to be low. Be prepared to negotiate, maintaining a firm stance on the validity of your claim. The negotiation process involves offers and counteroffers until both parties reach an agreeable settlement amount.

Step 6: Sign the Settlement Agreement/Release

Before signing the settlement agreement, confirm that it aligns with the negotiated terms. Be aware of potential liens on the settlement offer, review the release carefully, and consider consulting an attorney if needed.

In cases where negotiations fail, alternative options like arbitration or small claims court may be pursued. Be aware of the statute of limitations, as missing the deadline forfeits your right to compensation. Seeking legal advice becomes crucial when settlement negotiations face challenges.

What’s Included in Your Auto Claim?

  1. All costs to fix your car
  2. Towing and storage fees
  3. Actual cash value of your car if totaled, plus fees, taxes, and licensing
  4. Diminished Value
  5. Loss of Use
  6. Miscellaneous costs such as rental car fees, replacement of damaged child car seats, eyeglasses, cell phones,
  7. Lost income if not included in a personal injury claim

Which Company Should You Work With?

Assuming you have insurance coverage, you have the option of working with your own company or the at-fault driver’s insurance company. There are pros and cons to both.

Working with your own company may offer you quicker and better service. They have a contractual relationship with you which may simplify the process but in return, you will have a deductible to pay and be bound by your policy limits.

If the other driver is at fault for the accident but doesn't have insurance or not enough insurance, your insurance company may cover the damages, after the deductible, if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. It also pays for hit-and-run accidents if the other driver drove away and you didn’t get their information. Collision coverage will pay to repair or replace your car in an accident, no matter who was at fault. 

Your insurance company will try to recover what they paid you (subrogation) from the other driver’s insurance. If they are successful, you may be reimbursed for the deductible you paid. This may take the process of negotiating a settlement out of your hands and make it your insurance company’s job.

Working with the at-fault driver’s company has some pros and cons as well. The at-fault driver may have better coverage than your own policy. They may have much better rental car benefits than what your own policy offers and no deductible to pay. The downside is that they will not offer any assistance until they have confirmed they are liable. In some cases, such as when they cannot contact their insured, it may take weeks before they will offer any assistance.

Coverage Limits

If the damages exceed the at-fault party insurance coverage limits, you will be on the hook for additional costs unless you have your own collision coverage. For example, your car costs $15,000 to repair but the at-fault driver only has $10,000 in property damage coverage. If you have collision coverage on your own policy, it may pay the balance. Check with your agent to confirm your own policy provisions.

Adjusters have authority limits. If the adjuster tells you he can’t settle for what you asked, maybe it means he just hasn’t been given the authority. Tell him to have his supervisor review it and get additional settlement authority if necessary. You both have the same objective, which is to settle your claim; it’s the amount that needs to be agreed upon.

Proper Valuation of Your Car

It's crucial to gather sufficient evidence and documentation to substantiate your position on your car accident claim for success. Without doing the research you may not know the true cash value of your car. In the last few years and in several regions of the country, some used vehicles have retained and even increased in value.

Emotional attachment or sentimental value does not translate into economic value. The fact that your grandmother gave you her car before she passed away may be important to you but that has no value to others on the open market.

Do your homework by obtaining your own comparable cars to counter their offer. Find two or three comparable cars in your area. Expand your search if necessary. Choose the highest 2 or 3 cars and use them in negotiations. You may want to average out the highest of them to produce one figure.

If the adjuster has used an outside vendor such as Certified Collateral Corporation (CCC) to determine the value of your car, ask for a copy of the report. Review it to ensure they are using the correct make, model, year, mileage, trim level, etc. as your car. Go through it line by line and correct it to ensure accuracy. The adjuster may have no objection to such corrections which can increase the value of their offer so long as they can justify it. Some cars are unique or rare and have extra market value. The adjuster may not be aware of its’ unique nature and may make an offer thinking it is a typical car.

Use online tools: Take advantage of online tools to get the ballpark value of your vehicle and print out the results. Carmax.com, edmunds.com, and other sites have online car estimators.

If you are claiming upgrades such as new tires, or you had a new transmission installed just before the accident, be prepared to provide supporting receipts and documents. The adjuster may not have any problem with paying more but they will need evidence to justify the additional money. The bad news is it’s likely you will receive pennies on the dollar. If you are able, you may want to replace these new tires with old ones if you have access to the car.

Hire an attorney or get a professional appraiser to help with your loss of use or diminished value claim. Adjusters are trained to reject claims that don’t have sufficient evidence to support your position or those that have incomplete or questionable sources. Getting a professional involved may improve your chances due to increased credibility. A list of approved appraisers can be found here.

Avoid Common Mistakes in Settlement Negotiations

Claims adjusters are trained to minimize payouts and are experienced negotiators. Here are some mistakes to avoid when negotiating your settlement.

Mistake 1: Resist settling for the initial offer. Ask the adjuster to justify their offer. Accepting the first offer from the adjuster, even if you think it’s a good one, maybe undervaluing your car.

Mistake 2: Trusting the Insurance Adjuster

The adjuster is not your ally. Insurance claims adjusters employ techniques to relax claimants and extract potentially damaging information. Maintain a cautious demeanor, remaining polite but firm.

Mistake 3: Speaking Without Thinking

Exercise caution during conversations with the adjuster. Refrain from making admissions that may damage your case, such as apologizing for the accident or disclosing potential distractions. Stick to essential facts to prevent inadvertently compromising your claim.

Mistake 4: Overlooking Important Evidence

Compile strong evidence to establish the other driver's liability. This includes the police report and documentation of lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses.

Mistake 5: Revealing Family Issues

Guard against divulging personal information like divorce proceedings or financial difficulties as it will suggest a sense of urgency or financial need to settle quickly.

Mistake 6: Negotiating Against Yourself

During negotiations, avoid attempting to negotiate upward from the adjuster's last offer. Counter low offers judiciously and be patient if the adjuster takes time to respond.

Mistake 7: Jumping the Gun

Exercise patience during negotiations and avoid appearing desperate. Refrain from rushing to accept or counter offers immediately.

Mistake 8: Losing Your Temper

Maintain your composure, even when working with adversarial adjusters. A calm demeanor strengthens your negotiating position and reflects positively if the case goes to court.

Mistake 9: Refusing to Compromise

Recognize the need for compromise in negotiations. Recognize your bottom line but be prepared to consult a lawyer, auto appraiser, or other professional if a fair agreement seems unattainable.

Mistake 10: Signing Agreements You Don’t Understand

Thoroughly review settlement agreements, ensuring they align with your negotiated terms. Avoid signing without full comprehension, as these agreements are legally binding.

Understand the Settlement Agreement/Release

The vast majority of car accident cases between the injured party and an insurance company settle out of court. Once the case is settled you will be asked to sign a release form or settlement agreement form.

You can settle your auto claim and it should not affect your ability to separately bring a personal injury claim. Just make clear to the adjuster that the settlement is for your auto claim only and not for your personal injury claim if you have one. Then read and clarify if necessary, the settlement agreement and release to ensure you are not releasing any personal injury claim. You may want to consult an attorney in your area.

There are two types of releases:

1) General release.

2) Limited liability release.

A general release releases the responsible party (including your own insurance company) and their insurance company from any further liability related to the accident.

A limited liability release will keep your options open to pursue other insurance available, including your own uninsured motorist coverage.

The agreement should include the following information to make it valid:

  • Details of the accident: The agreement should contain the date and location of the accident.
  • Claims: The form should contain the insurance claims. It should identify whether the form is releasing the party of all claims or only certain claims. In some cases, insurance companies will make separate agreement forms for bodily injury and property damages.
  • Parties: The form should specify the identities of the parties, including the at-fault driver.
  • Payment: The form should state the settlement amount the insurance company is paying in exchange for the release of your car accident claim.

A settlement agreement becomes enforceable upon signing by both parties. You do not have to immediately settle your case if there’s an impasse or you need to think about it. Keep in mind the statute of limitations, which is the time limit within which you must file a lawsuit or forfeit your claim.

Paying Off the Car

If you own the car the insurance adjuster will send you a release. Once they receive the signed release and the other needed documents and title, they will send you the check for the agreed amount.

If your car is financed, they will work with the lender to pay off the loan and pay you the rest. If your car is leased, they will deal with the leasing company.

If you are underwater in the car, check to see if you have GAP insurance which will pay the difference so you are not out of pocket any money.

Settle or Small Claims Court

Once the insurance company makes its highest offer, it is up to you to accept or reject it. Here are a few things to consider before you sign that release or file a small claims action.

  • How far apart the offer and the demand are.
  • The additional amount of money you are likely to receive in court.
  • The expense of taking your claim to court.
  • The additional time and uncertainty of a court resolution.

Small claims court serves as an option for individuals seeking relatively modest amounts of money when settlement attempts have failed. Tailored for those who prefer a self-representation approach, these courts have monetary limits.

Filing a lawsuit may become a necessary step if negotiations with the at-fault driver's insurer stall, and the statute of limitations is imminent. Although you shouldn’t relinquish your right to compensation without a fight, you should consider the cost of your time and money versus the financial benefits of pursuing a small claims suit. You also need to factor in the probability of winning your case, and then actually collect money from the defendant if you win.

It is also critical to understand that if you file a lawsuit in small claims court for your car, you may be barred from making any other claims for that accident, including one for personal injury. You may have several claims against many defendants but only one lawsuit per accident and that would eliminate any further claims against all other defendants.

There are several advantages to settling a claim directly with the adjuster.

  • It involves fewer costs because you can avoid any litigation and court fees.
  • If you take the case to court, the defense counsel may notice weaknesses in your case that the claims adjuster of an insurance company is less likely to be aware of.
  • You can avoid the stress of litigation, which often involves a longer time frame than settling a case.

 

Initiating a Small Claims Lawsuit:

To initiate your lawsuit, you need to file an official complaint form with the court, pay a filing fee, and adhere to specific procedures. The filing location depends on the defendant's residence or where the auto accident occurred.

The petition form typically includes essential details such as both parties’ information, accident specifics, and the compensation amount sought. Attention to accuracy is vital to avoid delays or dismissal, as errors in names, addresses, or dates can lead to legal complications.

After filing, the defendant must be formally served with court documents, a process usually handled by the court clerk or a designated official. Serving through certified mail or a local sheriff may incur additional fees but can prompt a settlement due to the defendant's reaction.

The defendant must respond within the legal time limit. Potential scenarios include payment, filing a counterclaim, or non-response, leading to a default judgment. The court notifies both parties of the verdict, typically within two weeks.

Presenting Your Case in Court:

As the plaintiff, make a concise opening statement, present evidence chronologically, and offer copies to the judge and defendant. Practice courtroom etiquette by addressing the judge respectfully and maintaining professionalism.

After both sides are present, you may deliver a closing statement, emphasizing key points and addressing any counterclaims made by the defendant. Verdicts may not be immediate, and written notifications follow within a few weeks.

Even if you win, you may have a difficult time collecting the money as the defendant has to write the check. This may also require getting officials involved to collect the funds.

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Frequently Asked Questions?

Yes. You are allowed to have your car repaired by the shop of your choice.

Yes, you have the right to request your insurance company use original equipment manufactured parts rather than aftermarket parts to repair your vehicle. If the insurance company deems these costs unreasonable, you may have to pay the extra cost.

That depends on your situation. If going through the at-fault driver’s insurance company they will need to finish their investigation before accepting liability. You may get better and quicker service going through your own company but you will have a deductible to pay and policy limitations on items such as rental car coverage.

If you have Uninsured Motorist (UM) property damage coverage on your policy, your insurance company will cover the costs of the repairs of your car or replacement if totaled. You will be responsible for the deductible.

Agreeing to pay each other out of pocket and not involve insurance could open you up to major issues later on if it turns out there was more damage than it seemed at the time, or if either of you realize later that you’re injured. But if there was no one else involved in the incident and the cost of the damage is close to your deductible amount, it may not be worth filing a claim. That's because insurance companies check your claims history in order to set rates, and drivers with more claims pay more for insurance.

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The information provided by AutoMate on this site is for general information and is not intended as legal advice for your specific situation. AutoMate makes every attempt to give accurate information regarding local laws, however, laws change periodically and your state laws may vary. Consult an attorney in your state if you have questions about your specific situation.