General Rules In Case of A Motor Vehicle Collision
Generally speaking, when one is in an accident involving a motor vehicle, there are certain rules of thumb to follow:
- Do not give a recorded or written statement.
- Take photographs of the property damage and have them developed at once. Take photographs at the scene with your cell phone to show the property damage in the street and where the cars end up after the initial impact and collision before you move your car. Do not use a Polaroid.
- Do not sign anything without a lawyer reviewing it first!
- Do not discuss any matters concerning your injuries with the at-fault insurance company. You are under no obligation to give this information and should discuss nothing but the damage to your car and the need for a rental car or “loss of use” compensation. Remember to be on guard for the clever insurance adjuster who may try to trap you into giving an incomplete statement. Simply do not discuss the accident with the claims adjuster.
An automobile accident is always stressful. You are not alone. This advice has been prepared to help guide you through some of the steps you should take to insure that your property damage claim is handled speedily and that your interests are protected. When an accident is someone else's fault, generally that person's insurance company will try to get you to settle all claims directly at the time of resolving your property damage. Do not sign any release without talking to a lawyer. In the meantime, have your insurance company reimburse you for your vehicle property damage, if you have insurance coverage. A property damage claim is resolved in one of two ways: either your car can be repaired or it will be considered a total loss. This means that the cost of the repair exceeds the actual value of the vehicle.
Property Damage – The Estimate
Avoid bringing your car to the insurance company shop or the drive-through service. It provides the insurance company an opportunity to take photographs of you and observe you getting in and out of the car which it can use at a later date to argue you were not significantly injured. Insurance claims representatives are very skilled in building a case against you.
In dealing with your property damage, the insurers will frequently take the opportunity to evaluate you as a person, your injuries and your lifestyle. The information could later be used against you if you decide to make a claim for bodily injury. Don't be afraid to obtain your own damage estimates as well and send them to the insurance adjuster.
Please provide us with copies of all property damage estimates and photographs of the damage to your and other vehicles. Even if your car is a “total loss,” it is still important to obtain an estimate to prove it was a “total loss.” Typically in a car crash case, you will be concerned with, initially, the payment of your car damage repair. We normally handle this for clients as a professional courtesy without charge if it's an uncontested negotiation. Some of the things you need to be aware of in handling property damage claims initially at the time of the accident are as follows:
- You may have the right to have your car repaired at the body shop of your choice. You need not accept the insurance company's property damage appraisal of the actual repair costs. Take your car to your selected body shop and present a written estimate to the insurance company. Make sure you retain 2 or 3 written estimates from different body shops. Do not rely solely on an insurance company's estimate.
- Be satisfied that your car is returned to pre-collision condition before signing any insurance company check or property damage release. Otherwise, you may waive your right to further repairs.
- Total loss means that the cost of repair exceeds the reasonable retail market value for your car in the condition it was in at the time of the accident.
- When your car is a total loss, the insurance company is obligated to pay you for the market value of your car in the condition it was in before the collision. Market value can be determined by looking in classified ads for similar cars with similar mileage as yours. Ask car dealer salesperson what a similar car sells for in their lot. Obtain written estimates for retail values of your car from a salesperson and provide it to the insurer.
- In negotiating the value of your car, let the insurance company know of any recent repairs, any special accessories and the value of any damaged contents. Show the company recent receipts of all service and maintenance records.
- You have the right to market value, which is generally higher than Blue Book value.
- An insurance company is not responsible for an outstanding loan or lease balance in excess of market value. So, if you bought a car and were making monthly payments, you may unfortunately owe more than what the car is actually worth. You will not be entitled to recover compensation for the loan balance if the car is worth less unless you have gap insurance on your own insurance policy.
- You are also entitled to recover pro-rated licensing fees on the balance remaining on the annual license and sales tax on the total loss value. You may have the right to either a rental car or loss of use compensation for each day you are unable to use your car until your car is declared a total loss or until your car is repaired.
- Contact the insurance company for pre-authorization of all rentals. They will direct you to local car rental companies.
- If there is a delay in obtaining a rental car, you may be entitled to compensation for the “loss of use” of your vehicle for each day you have been deprived of its “use.” Unfortunately, this does not mean you'll be able to lease a Mercedes even if that was your car in the collision. You will be limited to a reasonable rental value of a reasonable vehicle unless you can show special circumstances.
- If you have collision coverage on your vehicle, you may not need additional rental car property damage insurance. Please check with your agent. If you do not have collision coverage you probably will be required to pay for insurance coverage on the rental car. This rental car insurance is not compensable. You will not be reimbursed for insurance on a rental car.
- Most car rental companies want your business and most will have a drop-off and pick-up service if you request it, at no additional charge.
After a car accident, sometimes injuries are so serious that victims are initially hospitalized following the accident. In serious cases like this, we like to get involved immediately at the start. Photographs need to be taken of the injured party in the hospital. Photographs need to be taken out at the accident scene. Witness statements need to be taken immediately. All this information is necessary to secure before the evidence changes or is lost and the memories of witnesses change after speaking with insurance adjusters. An attorney should be hired while the evidence is fresh, immediately. Photographs and video tape evidence of the scene, property damage photos and of your injuries are critical. Photograph and video tape all observable injuries, fractures and hospitalizations as soon as possible
Personal Injury Damages to which You Are Entitled
In all personal injury cases, including motor vehicle accident cases of all types, you are entitled to recover general damages for your pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability, permanent disfigurement, scarring, loss of opportunity to enjoy life, interference with the husband/wife or parent/child relationship, wrongful death, loss of services, dismemberment and any other type of general damage relating to injury. You are also entitled to recover special damages, including are past, present and future medical bills, wage loss, loss of earnings potential and other out-of-pocket expenses. It is your attorney's obligation to properly prepare your case and determine what these damages are. This usually takes place after your medical condition is stabilized.
At the point when your medical condition stabilizes, which means you will not get any better or worse, your attorney should speak to your doctors and obtain medical reports regarding your prognosis. At the conclusion of your recovery, the attorney shall put together a settlement demand package to try and resolve your case with the insurance company. From that point forward, negotiations will take place. Your attorney should be goal oriented to maximize your RECOVERY.
If your case does not settle, your attorney will file suit and proceed to trial. Many times an insurance company will not pay you what you deserve to recover until your case is set for trial or close to trial. Insurance companies know which attorneys take cases to trial and which attorneys settle cases. The attorneys who proceed and prepare a case as though it shall proceed to trial will likely recover more money for you than a settlement lawyer. It behooves all attorneys to try and settle cases. However, if cases do not settle in a reasonable period of time, it behooves everyone to file suit and prosecute your case, preparing for trial.
This is the best way to financially maximize your RECOVERY.