This blog has always focused primarily on questions of personal injury and pain and suffering recovery, yet there is another important part to an auto accident claim that is often not discussed. That is the property damage - the repair to your vehicle, replacement of a total loss and placement in a rental vehicle immediately following an auto accident.
I have previously written posts about low bodily injury settlement offers from insurance companies if you do not have a personal injury attorney. But even when it comes to property damage, the insurance company's main objective is to cut costs and limit your total recovery. Since you need immediate help following a car crash, it is imperative that you call an experienced car accident attorney right away, so there are no delays or problems with the repair of your vehicle.
What if my vehicle is repairable?
If your vehicle is repairable following a car accident it will need to be brought to a body shop. Rhode Island law holds that you are entitled to bring the car to the body shop of your choice and an insurance company can not steer you towards a preferred body shop. Many of the so called "preferred" body shops are VERY GOOD and will make a perfect repair to your car. These shops, however, have a very close relationship with the insurance companies and this always opens the door for a conflict of interest. Your vehicle and satisfaction should be the only priority!
It is usually best to have the vehicle inspected AT the body shop. An appraiser can not accurately write an estimate in a driveway or parking lot. It is better to have the vehicle in a shop where it can be disassembled and put on a lift during the inspection process. If the vehicle is to be repaired at a body shop, that shop will work with the appraiser to agree on an estimate for the repair of your vehicle. This process will need little input from you as the owner.
What if my vehicle is a total loss?
If your vehicle is a total loss that means that the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the value of the car. Therefore, the vehicle will not be repaired, instead the insurance company will offer you the value of the car. Total losses can create a lot of headaches. Sometimes, a car owner is "underwater" in that they owe more for the vehicle than it is worth. Sometimes, the insurance company "valuation" of the vehicle is below your own opinion of the worth of the vehicle. This can happen if the insurance company takes excessive deductions for prior wear and tear or damage to the vehicle. An attorney can help look over the total loss paperwork and ensure that you are receiving a fair price for your vehicle.
If the car is a total loss it was likely towed from the scene of the car accident and not driveable. If the car is in storage, it is collecting storage fees. This means that you (or your lawyer) will need to work quickly with the insurance company to resolve the total loss, otherwise, the insurance company may not be willing to pay ALL of the storage fees.
What about a rental car?
If you're car is not drivable and you are not at fault for a car crash, then you are entitled to a rental vehicle. Not drivable does not necessarily mean that your car is a steaming pile of scrap metal... If your windshield is cracked in the accident or your headlights are damaged, then your car is technically not drivable because these are safety items. My office will assist in putting you in a rental car right away so that there is no disruption to your life and you can make your doctor's appointments and make it to work on time.
If your car is still drivable following an auto accident, then you will be entitled to a rental car while the vehicle is being repaired at the auto body shop. You are entitled to a vehicle similar to the one you currently drive. If you drive a truck for work, or a minivan because you have four kids, then the insurance company will have to pay the higher cost of renting these vehicles to accommodate you. Similarly, if you drive a Mercedes S class, the insurance company can not put you in a subcompact car.
The car accident lawyer that you hire, matters
Some personal injury law firms refuse to handle the property damage portion of your claim. This is because there is no money to be made from the property damage portion of your claim and it can be a lot of work for the law firm. I find this ridiculous, and in my humble opinion, you should find another attorney if you are told that they are unwilling to assist you with your property damage claim. Ignoring your property damage claim is ignoring a major part of your accident claim.
My firm not only helps you with your property damage claim for free but we will try to make the process as easy as possible for you. We will arrange a rental car for you right away while you are waiting for the insurance company to inspect and repair your vehicle. We will work directly with your body shop of choice and ensure that the process goes smoothly.