The overwhelming majority of posts on this blog concern personal injuries and related questions. It has occurred to me that a lot of people may have questions about the other half of a car accident claim, namely, the damage to your vehicle. Unlike many personal injury attorneys, if you were hurt in a car crash, my office will assist you with the property damage portion of your claim for free. Many attorneys do not want to get involved with the property damage portion of your claim and tell you that they will only represent you for the personal injury. In my opinion, that is doing only half the job and leaving far too much work on the shoulders of the client.
That said, what are your rights regarding the repair and/or valuation of your vehicle? Let's talk about the two most common scenarios: If your car is a total loss or if it is repairable.
IF YOUR CAR IS A TOTAL LOSS
A total loss means that the damage to your car would cost more to repair than the vehicle is worth. If it is a total loss, the insurance company will determine a value for your vehicle. Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations (DBR) 73 §7A(2) states that "insurers shall use as guide, the average retail values indicated by the NADA official Used Car Guide, or some service substantially similar." So if you are curious what the value of your vehicle is, you can start by checking NADA.com. Remember that you may lose value if your car has excessive wear and tear or high mileage.
If the car is totalled the insurance company will only authorize approximately 7-10 days of rental because they argue that they are not required to wait indefinitely while you search for a new car. Also, keep in mind, that if your car was towed and in storage that you are accruing storage fees every day. The insurance company will owe you for a reasonable amount of storage time, but will cut it off at some point so you need to make arrangements with the tow company to dispose of your vehicle.
If you believe that the total loss offer is too low, there may be some room for negotiations. If your car is common (i.e. an Accord or Camry) the insurance company will usually make an offer that is fair. If the car is a high end luxury car or rare or an antique, it may be much more difficult to come up with a fair evaluation and you will definitely need an attorney to help you through this process.
IF YOUR CAR IS REPAIRABLE
If your car is not a total loss following the auto accident you can choose to repair the vehicle, or if the damage is such that you can live with the appearance of your car, then you have every right to "pocket" the repair money. Either way the insurance company will send an appraiser to look at your vehicle. If you plan to repair the vehicle, it is best that you take the car to the auto body for the appraisal. Since the auto body will be the one's responsible for repairing your car, it is best that they are able to talk with the insurance appraiser about what needs to be done for the car.
Also, Rhode Island General Law § 27-29-4(15) deems it an Unfair Claims Practice for an insurance company to "require that repairs be made to an automobile at a specified auto body repair shop, or to interfere with the insured's or claimant's free choice of repair facility." You have the right to choose your body shop.
Based on the estimate written, the insurance company will estimate the number of days that it should take to repair the vehicle and will authorize a rental car for that number of days. The insurance company is required to put you in a similar car to the one you were driving at the time of the collision. For instance, if you drive an SUV they can not give you a Hyundai Accent for a rental car.
Every part of an auto accident claim is complicated and it is important to hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Hire a firm that handles your entire case and will not leave you holding the bag on the property damage portion of your claim. Contact us right away for a free consultation.