Automobile Property Damage Claims — Representing Yourself

If you’ve been in a car accident, many personal injury attorneys will not want to deal with the property damage part of your claim (paying to repair your car). This is due to the fact that property damage claims force attorneys to make a choice between: a) charging you their contingency fee (usually at least 33%) for the property damage claim, which will almost always result in you getting less money than if you negotiated it on your own; or b) not charging you any fee for the property damage claim, in which case the attorney is doing several hours of work for free. Neither option is appealing to most attorneys. Even if your attorney chooses option “b,” he will likely not put forth the same amount of effort in maximizing your property damage recovery as he would if he were negotiating over his own car. So what can you do to get the maximum automobile property damage settlement?

Maximize Your Property Damage Claim — Help Yourself!

Because your car’s property damage claim is not going to have any real impact on your injury claim, this is one you can risk handling on your own. If you are dealing with your own insurance company under your collision coverage, find out if they will be pursuing a recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurance company (this is called a subrogation claim). If they are, see if they will recover your deductible for you as part of their negotiations. If they are not pursuing a subrogation claim (they should be in almost all cases), or if they will not try to recover your deductible for you, make sure you tell your attorney the amount of your deductible so he can make that part of his settlement demand. He will have no problem adding this amount to his settlement demand, as it will be a fixed number ($250, $500, whatever your deductible is). You should be able to get him to do this part for free, because it will not involve any significant work. If your insurance company seeking reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurer and will recover your deductible for you, the process is even easier — and will get you paid faster.

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If you have to negotiate directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company on your property damage claim, there won’t be a deductible. However, be sure to only speak with the insurance adjuster handling the property damage claim. In almost all cases, this will be a different person from the adjuster handling your injury claim (under the at-fault driver’s “bodily injury” coverage). If the at-fault driver’s insurer tries to use the same adjuster to handle both property damage and bodily injury, tell your attorney immediately, as it is unlikely he will want you to speak with this person outside his presence. In those rare cases, you need to work out with your attorney how to handle the property damage claim. In all other cases, you’re ready to negotiate!

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Learn How To Handle Property Damage Claims!

When you’re ready to negotiate with the collision adjuster (from your own insurer) or property damage adjuster (from the at-fault driver’s insurer), you may ask yourself: how do I do this? How do I know how much my car is worth or when I’m being offered fair value? Luckily, there is a cheap and excellent e-book available that can teach you how to get the most from your negotiations: The Claim-Buster E-book. As of the writing of this article, it only costs $12.95, and the wealth of information it contains will more than pay for itself in increasing the value of your property damage settlement. I didn’t write this book, but at only $12.95 I can easily recommend it. It sure beats paying your lawyer 33% of your property damage settlement. Good Luck!

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14 Responses to Automobile Property Damage Claims — Representing Yourself

  1. Betty says:

    Hello, I just have a quick question. I was at work in April 2012 while someone backed up into my parked car. He didn’t have insurance at the time and claimed he “was getting it that day”. Since then, he owes me 800$ and has had an extension 3 times already (which he keeps making up excuses). What do you suggest I do. Is it worth getting a lawyer?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      No lawyer could afford to take a case worth so little. If you can’t get him to pay by hounding him, you’ll have to sue him in small claims court. If you go to your local county courthouse, the clerk for the small claims division will likely have a form you can fill out to file your complaint and can instruct you on how to serve it on the defendant. You’ll have to pay a filing fee and a fee to serve the complaint (check your local court’s website for fee info, and maybe even the form complaint), but these costs will be added onto the judgment he owes you should you win.

  2. Req says:

    I have a question about representing yourself for property damages. I was involved in a motorcycle accident wherein the other car driver did not see me, made a left turn and I swerved, but hit the front right bumper. I had seen the car approach the street, but since I had right of way, I thought the car had seen me and was yielding to me. Injuries were minor, bike is totaled based on damage estimate, other driver’s insurance denied claim on the basis that I did not reduce speed–this occured in NC. Total costs with property and medical after my health insurer paid some will be about $5k-7k.

    Most lawyers I spoke with said I’d likely win in small claims representing myself and have declined to take my case. I am very nervous about representing myself as I don’t really have any way to prove that the accident was not my fault as it happened very quickly and all I could do was swerve. I was not speeding, as listed on the accident report. Is this worth trying to find a lawyer to handle?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I doubt that any lawyer would be willing to take a case with this amount of damages. The fact that you were cited for speeding makes this case particularly problematic in North Carolina. North Carolina is one of the few states that applies strict contributory negligence, which means that a plaintiff is barred from making a recovery if he or she is even 1% at fault (most states use comparative negligence which just reduces your damages by your percentage of fault). If you contested the ticket and won, you’d be in a better position (it’s not necessary, but helpful), but even then there would be no guarantee that a court wouldn’t find you to be partly at fault. If it comes down to a “he said/she said” contest between you and the other driver as to how fast you were going, it will be very difficult to avoid having any fault attributed to you.

      Keep in mind that if you sue, the other driver’s insurer will hire a lawyer to defend the claim (unless they decide that offering nuisance value is a better tactic and you accept their small offer). If the other vehicle suffered damage, this lawyer may even file a counter-claim for those damages, as pursuing a counter-claim would require very little effort beyond defending the case. It sucks, but seeing that the officer who wrote up the accident believed you were speeding, it seems likely that a court would do the same, making your odds of winning pretty low.

      • Req says:

        I would like to clarify that I was NOT speeding. The posted speed limit was 25mph and the officer simply put down that I was going 25mph on the accident report, so there were no tickets or citations.

        I have filed a complaint with NC’s Dept. of Insurance and got a response from the other driver’s insurance that really did not tell me anything new about the accident as from their point of view. In their response, as well as the accident report, the driver just said she did not see me. I understand that it will likely turn into a “he said/she said” contest in small claims court, especially since I cannot prove anything. As far as I know, the other driver has not filed for damages to the bumper with my insurance and immediately after the accident, I did not see damage, but I was rather dazed afterwards.

        Still, if I did manage to find a lawyer to take this case… would it be even worth it in order to win?

        • fl_litig8r says:

          Sorry for the delayed response. For some reason, I didn’t get my usual notification that a comment was posted.

          It probably wouldn’t be worth a lawyer’s time to take your case, given the amount of damages at issue. Given that you weren’t cited and the other driver didn’t claim you were speeding, it may be worthwhile for you to pursue in small claims court.

  3. Alex says:

    My wife was involved in an accident with my suv a couple of months ago. Another driver ran a stop sign and pulled right out in front of her. It caused $21K in damages, the frame was bent and the air bags deployed. She was sent to the hospital for injurys. The other driver was claimed to be at fault on the police report and tickets were issued for failure to yeild. We have several witness. I contacted my insurance and the other party’s insurance company after the accident. Both insurance companies sent adjusters out to estimate damages. My insurance company quoted $11K in repairs and 15 days of fix time. The other insurance company quoted $16K in damages and 1 month of fix time. I was advised by the repair shop to use the other drivers insurance company for the repairs, since the estimate was more complete and realistic. I spoke to the other drivers insurance company and they claimed to be at fault for the repairs and rental coverage. Once the repairs were complete 2.5 months later and totaling $21K (this was approved by the at fault drivers adjuster). I sent the other drivers insurance company an email stating that I needed payment for the repairs. There response was that after interviewing the at fault driver, he stated my wife appeared to be speeding (they have no evidence). The at fault drivers insurance company was going to only take 85% fault and the rest is for me to pay. They sent me a release of liabilty form to sign and of course i’m not signing it. I went back to my insurance company to explain what was going on and my adjuster said there was no way he could help me. That i should of went by his estimate for the repairs. Now my suv has been sitting in the repair shop finished for over a week and no one wants to pay for it. What can i do?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      You won’t be able to find a lawyer to represent you against the at-fault driver’s property insurer (unless your wife also has an injury claim it can be joined with and the lawyer waives his fee for the property claim). The lawyer’s fee for bringing a claim for the property damage, assuming you can even find one, would make you worse off than accepting the 85% offer, and the insurer knows this. There is a better possibility of finding a lawyer to sue your own insurer, as claims against your own insurer usually entitle you to collect your attorney’s fees in addition to the disputed amount. I’d call a few personal injury lawyers to see if any would be interested in that claim, because fee awards in those types of cases can be substantial, and you already have an adjuster’s report (from the at-fault driver’s insurer) disputing the reasonableness of your own insurer’s offer.

      You could also file a complaint with your state department of insurance against either or both insurers, but your mileage really varies as to how effective these are.

      • Alex says:

        Thanks for the response. My first thought is to send them an offical demand letter for the repairs and dimenised value of the car. This will likely get denied. Then to file a complaint with the state department against the at fault drivers insurance company and adjustor. Hopefully, this will wake them up. Finally, get my insurance to pay whatever i can get them to pay for the repairs and pay the difference. Can I take the at fault drivers insurance company to small claims court? I figure thats the fast route to recovery. Georgia small claims court is up to $15k. My wife has a attorney that is representing her for the injurys. When speaking to her attorney he gives some advise, but is more like good luck. In this case the policy for the at fault driver is $25K on property damages. All I want is for them to send me a letter stating that the policy limit has been reached, so i can go after my insurance for the balance.

        • fl_litig8r says:

          You’ll run into some complicated issues if you settle with your own insurer first. There’s the question of why you would accept less than the full claimed value of the repairs from them that you now demand from the at-fault driver’s insurer, which even a small claims judge would have a problem with. It may consider your acceptance of a lower amount from your own insurer as an admission that you believe that amount to be the true value of the repairs. There’s also the fact that your own insurer would be subrogated to your property damage claim against the at-fault driver’s insurer to the extent it paid. That could possibly make it an “indispensable party” to your small claims suit, because the court will be asked to decide the total value of the repairs to the car, and if your claim and your insurer’s claim are pursued separately, it may create an inconsistent result. If your own insurer is considered an indispensable party, then that takes the total amount of the damages at issue beyond the small claims limit.

          You would also need to be careful about any paperwork you sign if you settle with your own insurer that would affect your ability to seek the balance of the repair costs from the at-fault driver’s insurer. You would need to be clear with your insurer that you intend to pursue the remaining cost of the repairs from the at-fault driver’s insurer and that you are not waiving your right to do so, preferably in writing. Otherwise, you may settle with your insurer, they may get reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurer, and a court may determine that the whole matter is resolved because you assigned all your rights to seek the property damage coverage to your insurer when you accepted their offer.

          I know you’re in a tight spot because you don’t get your car back until the repair shop is paid and you probably can’t afford to not take an offer from one insurer or the other, but there could be consequences to accepting a low offer from your own insurer. You may be better off just eating the 15% and taking the offer from the at-fault driver’s insurer if you can’t find a lawyer willing to take your claim against your own insurer.

          I’m not sure why you’re suggesting that the at-fault driver’s insurer would pay you $25,000 (its policy limits) when it already said it would only pay 85% of the $21,000 you incurred.

  4. Alex says:

    Im sorry I wasn’t 100% clear on the intent. The at fault driver has a $25K policy limit. The repairs to my suv are $21K and then I had to draw $1,550 for rental that i paid out of pocket. Then the at fault drivers insurance picked up additioanl rental thats probably going to cost at least $2K. We also are trying to settle dimenised value which is proably at least $4K-$6K. All in all we should be over the $25K policy limit. An issue that just showed up is the at fault driver wants to claim 100% of the liabilty because he doesnt want me to take him to court. The insurance company still wants me to proceed with the 85%/15%. Do you have any other suggestions on how to avoid court or getting recovery. I have sent the at fault drivers insurance company a demand letter and have also told them that i will file a complaint to the state insurance board. I’m not sure what else i can do.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      The amount the at-fault driver’s insurer paid (and will pay) for your rental car came out of the $25k property damage limits, so you’re already going to pretty much max out his coverage with the repair cost alone (if it pays in full), with only a few hundred left for any diminished value claim. Did the at-fault driver’s insurer offer to pay its remaining policy limits when it made the claim that you were 15% at fault as a way to claim that it fully compensated you for your loss, or is it offering less than the remaining amount of coverage?

      Also, how do you know that the other driver wants to claim 100% of the fault? Did he tell you? If that’s the case, then his insurer is potentially exposing him to an excess judgment and itself to a third-party bad faith claim. Of course, it would be a really small bad faith claim, so maybe it’s not concerned about it. Still, if the driver did tell you that he was 100% at fault, that’s something you should mention in your negotiations, along with the fact that it is exposing him to an excess judgment by playing games with the fault issue. The threat of a bad faith case, even a small one, may get the claim in front of someone who can resolve it reasonably.

      Aside from that and filing a complaint with the state department of insurance, I really don’t have any other suggestions.

  5. Adie says:

    This is a bit unrelated, but your article got me thinking. My niece, 27 years old, clean driving record but bad finances, is coming down in a couple of months. She has asked me to rent a car for her due to her lack of credit card or good credit. I would list both of us as drivers even though she will be driving the car, but is there anything else I need to do to protect myself? After reading many of your articles today, the potential liability issues are a bit scary. If she was driving and I rented the car (and was not in it at the time), she hits someone or even if someone hits her, am I on the hook? She is a MA resident and I live in FL. The car rental would take place in FL.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Just be sure that she is listed as a driver on the rental agreement. This way, there isn’t an argument to be made that you entrusted the car to her — the rental agency did. The fact that you paid for the rental should make no difference as long as the rental agency knows she will be a driver. Florida holds negligent drivers and the owners of the vehicles they drove (with permission) liable for accidents. You are neither in the rental scenario you describe. If she isn’t listed as a driver on the rental contract, however, there are several ways you’d be exposed to liability if you rent the car and let her drive.

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