Since Personal injury lawyers get paid for compensatory damages recovered on injury settlements, they will not accept a client who has a property damage claim only (and was not injured in the accident). As a result, the insurance company sometimes tries to take advantage of the victim in property damage car accident cases. Therefore, this article is for informational purposes for the benefit of anyone who was not injured in an accident but is experiencing difficulties in getting their car fixed or settled for a total loss.
1. The accident was their fault. Why can’t I get a rental car?
Once the other driver’s insurance company has accepted liability, they will set you up with a rental car. The problem is in some situations, the insurance may take a bit longer than normal to investigate the claim prior to accepting that their driver was at fault. In that situation, if you have rental coverage through your insurance, have your insurance handle the property damage, including rental car (will cost you the deductible charge) and your insurance will go after the other driver’s policy for reimbursement and to collect and refund you your deductible.
2. How Long Can I hold onto the rental car? It depends on whether your car can be repaired or whether it is declared as a total loss. If your car can be repaired, you will hold onto the rental car until your car is fixed. On the other hand, if your car is a total loss, once the insurance company has extended you a settlement offer, generally, you will have less than a week (in some cases 3 to 4 days) remaining to return the rental car.
3. How is Property Damage Settlement valued? You will either get the cost of repairing the vehicle or the fair market value of the car if it is a total loss. To get to this point, the insurance company has to see and appraise your car for damage valuation before making any payments. If you fix your car before giving the insurance company an opportunity to examine your car, they likely could refuse to reimburse you for any payments you made to repair your car (plus cost of rental car during repairs). If the cost to repair your car is higher than the fair market value (FMV) of your car, the insurance will declare it as a total loss and pay out the FMV of your car to you or to your bank if you have a car loan (the balance to you if the FMV of the car is higher than the remaining car loan value). The Fair market value is determined by the average of about 3 to 6 of your type of car on sale within around 50 miles of your home – discounted for mileage and normal wear and tear. The insurance company documents this in a “CCC Market Valuation” report which they should provide you or your attorney in addition to your property damage settlement offer letter. You want to review the report for reasonableness before signing on the dotted line. Based on our experience, there is usually little negotiation room in terms of the FMV total loss offer but we have been able to get the insurance to increase their offers every now and then.
4. Am I required to use the insurance’s repair shop?
No, you can repair your car at your preferred dealer or auto body shop. Nevertheless, the key is to ensure that the insurance has reviewed the damages on your car and assessed a value before you commence work. If the insurance estimate is lower than your mechanic’s cost, your mechanic will need to contact the insurance to obtain approval for supplemental [additional] payments in excess of the previously approved amount.
5. Can I be be responsible for storage charges?
It is possible. In Maryland, since there is a duty to mitigate damages in property damage claims, the insurance may request you to move the car to a body shop or your home in order to limit the storage costs. If you refuse, without justification, they may pay for storage costs through the date they requested you to mitigate storage damages. This means you could be liable for any extra costs after their mitigation damage request date or shortly thereafter. Notwithstanding, in some rare situations, the insurance company may take an extraordinarily longer time than is reasonable to assess your car which may cause greater than usual storage fees or other hardship on the victim. In this situation, the victim may consider informing the adjuster of their intention to exercise the option of contacting the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) for further assistance or to file a complaint. The threat works better coming from an Attorney but it's worth a try nonetheless.
We have also successfully settled hundreds of cases for clients injured in automobile accidents, recovering millions of dollars in compensation for car accident victims by settlement or trial. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, feel free to reach us via out or contact information located on our website.