Property Damage Insurance Claims

CONSUMER GUIDE TO HANDLING PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIMS AND DEALING WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES FOLLOWING A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT IN FLORIDA

Every Florida Personal Injury victim involved in a vehicular accident has at least two issues: personal injury and property damage to their vehicle.  Most attorneys deal only with Personal Injury claims while others also assist their clients with their property damage claims.

One of the important issues auto accident victims must deal with is their property damage claim. The most important issues (whether you realize it or not) concern seeing the appropriate healthcare provider soon, receiving proper healthcare treatment and addressing loss of income to pay basic living expenses.  Most accident victims, however, feel that their vehicle damage and having a working mode of transportation is their highest priority.  We agree that this is a very important item, because afterall you will need to travel to your doctor’s appointments and to work.

Below you will find the Florida Legal Injury Center’s Consumer Guide to handling property damage claims and dealing with insurance companies following a motor vehicle accident in Florida.  This guide was written to help motor vehicle accident victims understand their rights with regard to recovering compensation for the damage to their vehicle (property damage) and how to deal with the claims process and the insurance carriers.

Legal Rights of Motor Vehicle Accident Victims?

When your vehicle is damaged as a result of a collision in which you may or may not have sustained personal injuries,  you may be able to recover your damages from one of two parties.  When a party is involved in an accident in Florida, there are generally two people to recover from as against the adverse party: the driver and the owner.  These parties insurance companies may or may not accept fault.  The first party you should try to recover from is against the adverse driver and their insurance company.  You should also, in most circumstances in the state of Florida, attempt recovery from the owner of the motor vehicle.   Your next avenue of attack is against your own insurance  carrier under your own policy – so long as you purchased the appropriate insurance coverage.

In the Great State of Florida, You Have Rights Against the Owner and The Driver:

Don’t let the insurance carriers tell you who is responsible.  When you are the victim of an accident, you have the right, pursuant to Florida Tort and Florida Negligence Laws, to recover from an at-fault driver and the owner of the vehicle driven by the at-fault driver.  An insurance policy (contract) does not control or abrogate your rights. There are two possible scenarios when you sustain property damage in an accident: (1) your vehicle can be fixed, or (2) total loss – it is estimated that it will cost more to fix your vehicle than to replace the value of it. In cases where your motor vehicle can be fixed the at-fault driver and owner are responsible to pay the following damages:

  1. the reasonable cost of repairing your vehicle;
  2. loss of use of the vehicle while it is being repaired (which should be addressed through providing a rental vehicle);
  3. towing, storage, and other incidental charges you incur as a result of your loss of the vehicle that would not have incurred if not for the motor vehicle crash; and
  4. in some cases, pursuant to a “diminution of value claim” the damage for the diminished value of your vehicle since it is now a “wrecked vehicle” even though it is repaired.  Think about it: would you pay a certain amount of money for a car with a previous wreck (but otherwise no signs of damage), or would you rather pay the same amount of money for the same exact car, but that had not been in a previous accident? I think not.

Total Loss cases – in cases where your vehicle cannot be fixed, or when the repair costs exceed the current value of the vehicle, the adverse owner and driver are responsible to pay you the following:

  1. the fair market value of the vehicle;
  2. the cost of taxes on the fair market value and lost registration fees (commonly referred to as “tax, tag, and title”);
  3. reasonable towing and storage charges and other incidentals you incurred as a result of the accident; and
  4. loss of use for a reasonable period of time so that you can find a replacement vehicle.

These are basic, well-established rights pursuant to Florida law. Don’t let an insurance adjuster tell you otherwise. If you are getting the run around or if you are not seeing the results you need, seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in representing accident victims.

Recovering under your own insurance: What are your rights against your own insurance company?

Typically,  you would only want to recover under your own policy if the other party was not at faut.  While recovering against the adverse driver and owner is governed by established Florida Laws, pursuing recovery under your own insurance policy is an entirely different animal driven completely by your insurance policy (Florida contract and Insurance law). REcovery under your own insurance policy is usually done through your “Collision Insurance”.  If you did NOT purchase this type of protection, in Florida you may have no rights whatsoever to recover under your own policy. However, if you did purchase collision coverage, or a similar coverage, your rights are defined by the terms of the policy. Most policies which include collision coverage pay for either for the following:

  1. the cost to repair your vehicle (in cases where your vehicle is not a total loss); or
  2. the fair market value of the vehicle, including tax and registration fees (if your vehicle is considered a total loss).

There are a couple of major differences in connection with a claim under your own policy as opposed to a claim against the at-fault driver and owner. To recover under the other parties insurance, they must accept liability or otherwise be deemed at fault.  Your rights under your own policy are somewhat broader in the respect that if can recover from your own insurer carrier, they will pay regardless of whether you were at fault or the other driver was at fault. Your rights against your own insurer are more limiting in the respect that most policies will not allow for (1) you to recover for the diminished value of a wrecked vehicle which is fixed and (2) you do not necessarily get loss of use damages. In regard to the latter, you can, however, receive a rental if you purchased rental coverage (and in most cases rental coverage is a separate coverage with a separate premium). Your claim against your own insurer would be subject to your deductible as well.  Typical rental coverages may be 80/500 which means that your carrier will pay 80% of the value up to a maximum of $500 for a rental car.

If the other person was at fault, why should your insurer have to pay?

If you have chosen to go through your own insurance carrier to receive faster results before it can be determined who was at fault, don’t worry.  Even if you have to pay some money out of pocket and the other party is deemed at fault, your out of pocket expenses will normally be covered.  Here’s how: Your own company will gain a “right of subrogation” which means they can stand in your shoes for purposes of recovering the money it had to pay out.   Through subrogation, your insurance carrier and its subrogation department should also recover your deductible on your behalf and pay you that money once it makes a recovery.

What do I do?  How does the process work to recover may damaged  property and get a rental vehicle?

Whether you go through your own insurer or the adverse party’s insurer, the process is very similar. You call the insurance carrier and they set up a claim number and a point of contact with the company.  If it’s the adverse party’s carrier, you should ask about whether they are accepting liability.  You should also refrain from giving any statements about any injuries.  Speak to an attorney about that.

An appraiser or field adjuster will make an appointment with you to inspect your car to prepare an estimate of the damage to make an initial determination regarding the amount of the damage and whether or not the vehicle is a total loss. If not, the insurer will typically issue you a check and release to sign or pay a reputable body shop directly to perform the repairs. Sometimes the repairs cost more money than originally anticipated and, if so, the insurer should pay for the additional charges. It is not always possible to determine the total amount of damage based upon the initial damage appraisal. You deserve to get a fully repaired vehicle that is in the same condition it was in just before the crash. If you have rental coverage, or if you are working through the adverse party’s insurer for the property damage, a rental is usually provided during the time period in which you are without your vehicle during the repair process.

In total loss situations, the insurer will actually purchase the vehicle from you by paying you the fair market value of the vehicle (the value before the crash), plus sales tax and your title and registration fees. How is this value determined ? Determining fair market value can be difficult, but consumers can rely upon resources such as NADA, KellyBlueBook.com, Edmunds.com, similar vehicles for sale in your area, and other information. This is often a source of frustration for some accident victims. Your attorney can help you determine the fair market value of your vehicle and present evidence to the insurer that it is worth more than offered. The make, model, and model year are not the only important factors. The condition of the vehicle, mileage, accessories, and other factors that can often impact the fair market value. Things like aftermarket stereo’s, performance adjustments etc. are difficult to use in some cases.

The guidelines presented above are simply that, guidelines. Property damage claims can often be complex—and in some cases it is not wise to treat your property damage separately from your personal injury claim. Most personal injury attorneys will assist you with your property damage claim (often at no cost if a lawsuit is not required) if they are handling your personal injury claim as well.  I know we do!