Whether you’ve sustained a broken windshield, a bent axle, or worse, almost every California motor vehicle accident is likely to result in some form of property damage. Property damage also isn’t confined to just your car. Personal property such as watches, glasses, phones, laptops, sports equipment, and more can all be damaged in the vehicle. When property damage occurs, it’s important to file an insurance claim to receive compensation for the damage sustained.
The process may seem overwhelming if this is your first time filing a claim, but property damage claims are far easier to navigate than personal injury claims and much quicker to resolve. In fact, filing a property damage claim can be broken down into three simple steps.
Steps For Filing A Property Damage Insurance Claim
1) Complete An SR-1 Form
You must complete an SR-1 form for the DMV to report any automobile-related accident in which there was over $1000.00 in property damage and/or injuries. The information on the form must be as complete as possible and submitted to the DMV within 10 days. If you do not provide your complete insurance information on the form, the DMV will attempt to contact you but will suspend your license for a lack of insurance. Please contact our office for a form if you are not provided one by your insurance company or local DMV office.
It is imperative to take photographs of the damage to your vehicle (both inside and out), and write down everything you remember about the accident, including how it happened. Always forward copies of anything related to your accident to our office immediately.
2) Contact Insurance
As you may be aware, your claim against the insurance company consists of two parts: your property damage claim and your personal injury claim. The property damage claim covers your motor vehicle and any personal property items on or inside the vehicle that may have been damaged as a result of the accident. The personal injury portion of your claim covers all the injuries associated with the claim and is the more complicated of the two, which is why it is usually the sole focus of your personal injury attorney.
The property damage portion is generally much more straightforward and easier to resolve, which is why an attorney’s involvement in this part of the claim is not required or customary. Typically the property damage portion is resolved within the first 30 days. We highly recommend that you first attempt to contact the insurance company regarding reimbursement for any damage to your automobile or other personal items.
Contact the property damage adjuster for your own insurance carrier, or from the responsible party’s insurance company, and make arrangements for an adjuster to view the damage and take photos. If your car is drivable, you may be required to present it at the auto body shop of the insurance company’s choice for a damage evaluation.
3) Get Estimates
If you are able, we recommend obtaining multiple written property damage estimates from reputable body shops before deciding on who will be doing the repairs and before settling your property damage claim. With more information, you will be in a better position to discuss property damage settlement with the claims adjuster. The insurance company may also be in a position to negotiate with one of the body shops to complete the repairs for a specified cost.
What If Your Vehicle Is Totaled?
When the cost of repairing a damaged vehicle is more than the value (or a set percentage of the value) of the vehicle if it hadn’t been in the accident, then the vehicle is considered “totaled.” If your car is totaled in the collision, you will have to handle your property damage differently than if you were going to repair your vehicle. In this case, the insurance company’s legal responsibility is to pay the “fair market value” of your vehicle. The fair market value is (in theory) the amount of money you would likely have received if you had sold your vehicle the day before the collision.
Under rules set by the California Department of Insurance, insurers must base total loss payouts on “comps,” the average of at least two comparable used vehicles sold or listed for sale within the last 90 days.
In theory, the payout from an insurer is supposed to enable you to replace your vehicle with a comparable one from the used-car market, whether from a dealership lot or from a private party. Because this type of valuation is subject to many points of view, it is generally a good idea to obtain several examples of written evidence of your vehicle’s value. Good sources of information are Craigslist, Auto Trader, CarMax, or other online or printed want ads/classified ads. We highly recommend you contact a used car dealer or online database to obtain prices of comparable vehicles.
The Kelley Blue Book can give you a general idea of the value of your car, but the insurance company is not required to use the Kelley Blue Book values. If you feel that your car has not been fairly valued, under California regulations, you can demand to see the comps used by the insurer.
How Much Will I Get After a Total Loss?
Your car insurance company pays the fair market value, or actual cash value (ACV), of your totaled vehicle. Simply put, a vehicle’s ACV is your car’s current value after depreciation but before the accident.
Should you choose to accept the ACV (and not dispute the claim), you could receive a full settlement or partial settlements. These settlements can vary by provider, but there are some general principles that typically apply.
With a full settlement, you hand over the vehicle to the insurance company in exchange for a check for the ACV.
You have the option to retain the salvaged vehicle. The vehicle will have a “salvaged title” which in California means that the vehicle was involved in an accident or incurred considerable damage from another source, such as a flood or vandalism. Because you will be keeping the salvaged vehicle, the insurance company will issue you a check for the amount of the ACV less the value of the salvage.
You can do whatever you want with the salvage vehicle, including repairing it, selling it, or continuing to drive it if it is drivable. When a salvage vehicle is repaired to street-worthiness, the Salvage Certificate is exchanged for a special title so it can be legally sold. This title says “Revived Salvage.” The vehicle will never get a “clean” title again, but can still be used if it is safe to do so.
NOTE: Not all insurance companies will insure a salvage car. Talk with your insurance company first, or shop around for auto insurance companies that will cover your salvage. You can also donate the salvaged car to charity and receive an IRS tax write-off.
Ultimately, your decision will rely on your insurance company’s options and your personal preference.
What If The Payment On My Claim Doesn’t Cover My Loan?
If you have a loan or lease on your car, the payout from the insurance company will be paid directly to the lienholder or leasing company. It is possible that the actual cash value (ACV) doesn’t cover the difference between what the vehicle’s actual worth and the amount left on the loan or lease.
If You Have Guaranteed Auto Protection (AKA GAP Insurance)
If the ACV check doesn’t cover what’s left on your loan or lease, your gap coverage will pay the difference (or the “gap”) between the two values. Essentially, GAP insurance protects you from being contractually obligated to continue to make loan payments on a totaled vehicle. We recommend you file a claim immediately with the company who provides your GAP insurance coverage.
If You Don’t Have GAP Insurance
you should continue to make your monthly payment to avoid any negative reports to the credit bureaus. The insurance company’s check for the total loss value (TLV) claim should be used to pay down your balance on the loan. Your lender will want you to pay off the residual balance. We highly recommend you negotiate with the lender to adjust your monthly payments to a value that you can afford, so that you can continue to make your payments until the loan is paid off.
If you financed the vehicle through a dealership, you could also attempt to negotiate the purchase and financing of a new vehicle and add-in the preexisting loan payments to the new loan. This way, you are able to obtain a new vehicle, and the monthly payments you will make will pay down both the loan on the new vehicle and the pre-existing loan from your totaled vehicle.
Any time you are financing a vehicle we strongly recommend purchasing GAP insurance coverage.
Keep Conversations Limited
Never allow a conversation to be recorded before consulting with your attorney. When speaking with the insurance company’s adjuster, whether it’s your company or the at-fault carrier, you are to discuss only how the collision occurred and the damage your vehicle sustained. You should never discuss your injuries or treatment. If the adjuster asks you any improper questions in this regard, advise them that you have an attorney handling the bodily injury portion of your claim and refer them directly to this firm.
Rental Vehicles/Loss of Use After A California Accident
If you have rental coverage through your own insurance policy, we recommend going through your own carrier to arrange for a rental vehicle.
If you do not have rental car coverage in your policy, you may obtain a rental car on your own or pay the costs of alternative transportation (Bart, Uber, Lyft, public buses, etc.) and save the receipts/proof of payment for later reimbursement.
To recover damages for “loss of use” of a vehicle, you must prove: (1) The reasonable cost to rent a similar vehicle, and (2) for the amount of time reasonably necessary to repair the vehicle’s damage or replace the totaled vehicle.
In our experience, insurance companies will pay between $25-$35/day as the reasonable cost of renting a similar vehicle and the insurance company will consider the amount of time to start on the day of the accident and end when they have issued the check for the cost of the repairs and/or the total loss value of the vehicle. This is a claim we can submit on your behalf.
If you have obtained a rental, the insurance company will issue the rental reimbursement payment directly to the rental company. The rental company will require you provide a credit card to secure the rental, but if you rent an approved vehicle (usually one that costs less than $35/day), return the vehicle within the time frame and do not purchase any extra items, then your credit card should not be charged.
The insurance company will not reimburse you for insurance or gasoline. You are entitled to reimbursement for the specific number of days as dictated by the terms of your insurance policy, the amount of days required to repair your vehicle, or until the insurance company issues the check necessary to settle your property damage claim.
The Insurance Company Is Not Your Friend
At the end of the day, you should remember that the job of the insurance adjuster is to pay you as little as possible. He or she is not your friend. Do not take it personally. Be respectful and well-informed when challenging the adjuster’s decision with respect to your property damage claim.
You are not required to accept the first offer the insurance adjuster provides, especially if you can prove your vehicle has a higher value than the adjuster’s offer. Please remember that the attorneys at Kuvara Law Firm will always be willing to help you should you have any questions resolving your property damage claim. However, because you have control of the vehicle and are more familiar with it than anyone else, it is a good idea to at least attempt to resolve the property damage directly with the carrier.