After you are in an auto accident you will likely be faced with navigating a property damage claim to get your car repaired. These claims can be straightforward or very distressing.
What can I do if I’m hit by an uninsured driver and my car is damaged?
Hopefully, you had Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)! If you do, your own insurance company will step up and pay for the car repair.
If you do not have uninsured motorist coverage, things are a bit trickier. It’s possible to sue an uninsured driver, but it’s rare that an uninsured driver will be worth pursuing, since they are unlikely to have any assets, and they would probably be able to discharge your claim in bankruptcy.
However, you do have one other avenue to try to get your money back, as long as the damage is more than $1,000. If you fill out an accident report, you may report your accident to the State Department of Licensing (DOL). If they conclude the driver was in fact uninsured, they will suspend the other driver’s license until they pay you back. This can be a powerful incentive for someone to pay up!
To do this you must complete a Motor Vehicle Claim for Damages (https://www.dol.wa.gov/forms/500027.pdf) within 180 days of the collision.
What if the insurance company is offering me below my auto loan amount for my totaled car?
Insurance companies are required to reimburse the current value of the car, not the amount of the loan you hold. Unfortunately, cars sometimes depreciate in value faster than a loan is paid off, especially if the car was purchased fairly recently. So it can happen that the value of the car is less than the amount of your loan. In this case, you are still legally obligated to make your monthly loan payments to the bank or financial lender until the loan is paid off. However, make absolutely sure the insurance company is truly offering you full value on your vehicle. You can
consult online blue books or consult with auto dealers to establish a fair value. (See below.)
If you have “gap” insurance, this type of insurance coverage might pay the difference between the amount of the insurance company’s check and the amount you still owe on the car loan. To determine if you have gap coverage, consult your insurance policy declarations or speak with your insurance agent.
Is there anything I can do if I disagree with the amount the insurance company wants to give me for my totaled car?
Your adjuster will make note of your mileage, the condition of the body, interior and tires, and any additional parts or equipment you’ve added. (Receipts are always helpful.) Based on the pre-accident condition of your car, your adjuster will find similar models that are for sale in your area and will base the total loss estimate on these comparable cars. This is called the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of your car. You can also collect the cost of sales tax, title and registration.
Sometimes we find that adjusters are valuing your car based on prices in other states. If this happens, we suggest running your own comparisons for your area using websites like KBB.com and presenting those to your adjuster. You can even do your own research to see what cars are selling for locally, or consult with an auto dealership. You can then insist the insurance company revalues your car based on comparisons from your home area.
The insurance company paid for repairs, but my car is worth much less now since it’s been in an accident. Shouldn’t I get compensated for that?
Yes! If your car has declined in value due to the accident, even after being repaired, you may be entitled to additional compensation. This is called “diminution of value” and is definitely a type of damage that car owners are entitled to recover.
This most commonly applies with newer, high value vehicles. A car that is only a year or two old, and had a high initial value, may be worth much less after an accident than would a similar car that had never been damaged. In such cases, pursuing a diminution of value claim is definitely worthwhile. Older, less valuable cars may suffer diminution of value as well, but often the amount isn’t enough to justify the time and trouble to document the loss.
Can an attorney help me with my property damage claim?
Lehmbecker Law assists our auto injury claim clients with their property damage claims if they are running into hurdles with tow yards, repairs, or rental car coverage. This is an added service and not something for which we charge, so if you suffered an injury as well, rest assured that when you hire us we will sort out all the issues for you.
Lehmbecker Law can also help with diminution of value claims, so whether or not you were injured, if you feel your newer car’s value has declined substantially due to an accident, you should give us a call to discuss it.
In other situations we can often provide general advice to help you resolve things, or point you to other resources that might help you, such as the insurance commissioner or even the Better Business Bureau.
Please call us to if you would like to discuss a diminished value claim.