Car crash claims can be costly and confusing. Almost every auto accident involves a trip to the body shop. From a basic busted bumper to total loss requiring a rental car, your property damage claim requires the prompt attention of the responsible insurance company. Unfortunately, what to do and who to talk to in order to get your vehicle repaired or replaced can be confusing. Making matters worse, your situation is probably urgent. Every day we need our cars to travel to and from home, work, school, etc.
As an auto accident personal injury attorney, I have helped countless clients handle their property damage settlements (at absolutely no cost). However, almost all accident victims are able to handle their own car repair claims without a lawyer. Here are seven simple steps to recover for your property damage on your own:
1. Document the Damage
At the scene of the wreck, take as many pictures as possible. Your cell phone probably has a decent camera. Use it. Immediately after the accident is a great time to visually document your property damage before information about the collision is lost. It is also a good idea to record the accident scene and your immediate recollection of what occurred, since details of the accident are often later forgotten or disputed. Your cell phone video camera can be especially helpful as you document the following details:
Date and time of the accident
Location of the accident
Position of the vehicles
Damage to the vehicles
Traffic signs, obstructions, point of collision, etc.
Immediate recollection of the details of the accident
2. Obtain Information & Police Report
In addition to documenting your damages, it is important to gather the following contact information from the people involved in the accident: names, addresses, telephone numbers, driver’s license numbers, insurance companies, insurance policy numbers, and more. Ask to photograph their driver’s licenses and proof of insurance cards. If the owners of any vehicle were not involved in the accident, it is important to gather their information as well.
If a police officer investigated the accident, a police crash report should become available within 5-10 business days. It is typically a good idea to call police to the accident scene because the police report can be extremely helpful to proving your case. It is therefore important to obtain the police report as soon as possible. To that end, be sure to record the name of the investigating police agency and officer. Finally, if your vehicle must be towed, tell the tow company where you would like it to be taken or make sure to collect the information about where they are taking it.
3. Notify Insurance Companies of Claim
The next step is contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company to make a claim for your property damage. This company’s identity should be listed in the police report. The contact information for their claims department should be available online (e.g., Google “State Farm Auto Claims”). Be aware that any conversations with any insurance companies could be recorded and whatever you say can be used against you to deny your claims for property damage and personal injuries. For this reason, it is important to be careful and consistent in your statements. Remember, insurance adjusters are trained professionals who may twist your words against you to minimize your recovery. Therefore, if you have serious injuries, you should probably ask your attorney to participate in any talks with insurance adjusters.
In addition to contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you should consider contacting your own insurance agent to make your claim for property damage. The upside of this path is that your insurer will likely pay you quicker than the other driver’s company; the downside is that you may be required to pay a deductible, although it should later be refunded. Your company can reimburse you for the damage and then seek to recover those costs from the other through a reimbursement process called subrogation.
4. Get a Body Shop Estimate
As soon as possible, get a repair estimate from the body shop of your choosing. Do not wait idly by for the insurance company to give you the cost to repair your vehicle or rely solely on their appraiser’s estimate for the amount of damages. Although many people do not do this, it is always a good idea to get your own independent estimate from an auto shop you trust. It is best to bring it to the shop that you plan to have perform the repairs to receive the most accurate estimate of your costs.
Although it can be more convenient and is perfectly okay to use the insurance company’s approved auto shop, know that it is up to you where you bring your car, not the insurance company. Also, request an estimate for factory replacement parts, not used parts and make sure the estimate is as detailed as possible and includes all costs such as paint, parts, and required labor. The more detailed the estimate, the easier it will be to justify the amount requested.
If the estimated cost to repair your vehicle is greater than the value of the vehicle, then an insurance company may deem the car “totaled.” The insurance company will pay you the value of the vehicle prior to the accident, minus the salvage value, or the cost that it could be sold for as scrap. Although a body shop may not be able to estimate the value of your totaled vehicle, it is still important that a trusted auto shop give you a proper estimate for repair to aid in this determination.
5. Submit Your Claim in Writing
Once you have received the police report, repair estimate, and any other property damage costs, you should provide them to the insurance company by email, fax, and/or certified mail (submitted in writing). It is important to be able to prove when the estimate was actually sent to the insurance company. In order to do this, you should document as to when and how you provided your proof of claim to the insurance company. For example, if mailed, you should request a certified mail return receipt that lets you know when the mail was received. If faxed, then make sure to save the fax confirmation sheet for safekeeping, and if emailed make sure to request and preserve a notice that the email was received and read.
6. Calendar the 30-Day Bad Faith Deadline
The reason for proving the date you submit the repair estimate is Louisiana’s bad-faith law. If an insurance company does not pay your property damage claim within a certain period of time — 30 days — the insurance company may be found to be in bad faith. If they are in bad faith, the insurer may be required to pay additional amounts of money as a penalty for their undue delay. This is why it is extremely important to document when and how your estimate and request for damages was delivered to the insurance company.
In Louisiana, an insurance company can be subject to a bad faith claim if they fail to pay an undisputed claim within 30 days of the proof of property loss. A valid repair estimate can be considered proof of property loss, so this means the insurance company must pay your repair estimate or give a reason why they are disputing the amount within 30 days of receiving it. Although an insurance company is allowed a few exceptions for things such as time to investigate the claim, they are not allowed an unreasonable delay in making payments without cause. Therefore, it is important to document when your estimate was sent and keep the 30-day rule in mind when asking for payment from an insurance company. Although it likely will require hiring a qualified auto accident attorney to recover these additional bad faith damages, it is important to know they are available when an insurance company delays payment in bad faith.
7. Avoid Insurance Adjuster Tricks & Traps
First and foremost, if you suffered any bodily injury as a result of the accident, do not sign anything without legal advice. Allow a Louisiana personal injury lawyer to review any documents first. It is important that you double check accuracy and avoid waiving your bodily injury claims and any other rights unrelated to property damage. Often times when you accept payment on your property damage claim the insurance company may ask that you not only waive your right to further property damage claims, but personal injury claims as well. Always be aware what rights you are waiving. If you have been hurt in an accident, even slightly, it is always a good idea to consult an attorney first. Handling your own property damage claim is not a very complicated process, but asking an attorney when in doubt is never a bad idea, especially when signing documents or waiving rights you do not understand.
Also, insurance companies routinely underestimate the cost of repairs and try to pay less then you ask for, so make sure you are fully compensated for your repairs or at least to your full satisfaction. If you later find additional work that needs to be done, you will not be able to recover for this cost after signing the release form. Remember, you are in a negotiation with the insurance company. Their objective is to pay you the least that they can, so make sure your numbers are well researched and don’t accept less then you should. However, if you follow these seven simple steps, you will be on the right track to fixing your vehicle as soon as possible.
Finally, if you have any questions about handling your property damage or bodily injury claims, call us at 985-467-9525. Our attorneys answer questions like yours every day, and we pride ourselves on helping auto accident victims recover for personal injuries.