How Should You Evaluate Your Property Damage Claim?
Below is a transcription of the podcast
This is Ann-Margaret Perkins and I’d like to welcome you to Perkin’s law firms podcast. Today I’m going to be answering the question how should you evaluate your property damage claim.
The first thing you need to know is that property damage may be settled separately from your bodily injury claim. Typically in a property damage claim there is not a release involved. So you don’t have to worry about signing something that’s going to release your bodily injury claim. But if you are asked to sign anything then you do need to make sure that it does not release your bodily injury claim. Powers of attorney and things like that to change your title over will not release your bodily injury claim. But you do need to read all the documents to just make sure that they don’t. While property damage is not personal injury. It is personal when your vehicle is damaged or destroyed. First of all cars are expensive. Cars today cost what houses cost, when I was young. Most of us especially, who live away from cities and don’t have public transportation, we need our car. We need it to work. We need it to take our children to school. We need it to get to medical treatment, so our car matters. Sometimes it can be weeks before an insurer will even get any one down to look at your car. That can be a significant inconvenience. It’s very important for you to understand if your car gets towed and it’s incurring storage costs, you have a legal obligation to mitigate which means to lessen those damages. So if the liability insurer is dragging its feet getting out to look at your car, you still have to mitigate your damages. If a liability insurer tells you hey we’ll pick up the storage until we can get out there and look at it. That’s fine. But I would strongly encourage you to get that in writing so that you don’t end up with a three week storage bill if the adjuster decides they didn’t say that. Frequently because storage costs are expensive the insurer will tell you that they want to move your car. Now, in a perfect world I tell people I don’t want them to move it because I think once they move it they kind of feel like they’ve got you over a barrel. They’re in a position of strength in terms of bargaining because you’ve just lost the access to your vehicle. If you’re going to let them move it to stop the storage or whatever, make sure you get any of your property out of it. Make sure, in order to level that bargaining with them, that they agree if you don’t settle the property damage that they will move it back to you at no charge. Now what do they owe you? If your property is damaged, they owe towing, reasonable storage, the actual cash value if it’s totaled, the reasonable cost of repairs and diminished value if it’s repairable.
Let’s talk about actual cash value. First of all it’s retail. It’s not wholesale. It’s the retail value of your car and that is not necessarily the value that some of these programs that insurers use to value cars say it is. They use a program called CCC very frequently. I find that it almost always undervalues vehicles. Actual cash value is is not what you find on the Internet. It’s not what the NADA says, it’s not what Kelley Blue Book says. Those might give you some idea of value as the CCC might give you some idea of value. But really the actual cash value of a car is a matter of expert opinion and an expert can be somebody who works for a car lot. But I always tell clients, the Kelley Blue Book can’t walk up and hop on the witness stand and testify. Neither can a CCC report. An expert really is necessary to give you a value on a car. In addition to actual cash value. If they totaled your car, they owe you tax, tag, and title. They also owe you a reasonable amount for loss of use. That’s different than a rental. While sometimes if they do total your car they will put you in a rental and that may pan out to be the same as what reasonable loss of use should be. They don’t owe you a rental where your car is totaled. And that seems crazy to people because it’s like, “I don’t have my car. How am I supposed to get around?” Well the law assumes that if your property is destroyed that you’ll replace it. There’s a practical matter: a lot of people can’t. But that’s what the law assumes and that’s why you’re not entitled to a rental. You’re entitled to loss of use.
Sometimes insurers surprise me and are very fair in what they offer on a totaled vehicle and sometimes they’re not. So it’s just very important you do your homework and you get good information about what that car was worth immediately before the wreck. Repairs are typically easier because what you’re dealing with is the parts and labor. And those are pretty standard. So I think the important thing for you to know about repairs is you do not have to use their repair facility. Some insurers have gotten smart. The law says they can’t make you use the repair facilities but what they’ve started doing is saying, “Well if you use this facility we’ll warrant their work.” Well, unless the repair facility really does a bad job that doesn’t mean anything. And my feeling is insurers wouldn’t offer it if they thought it was actually going to cost them anything. But you know the question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I really comfortable with the shop?” If you’re not, take it to a different one. You’ve got a right to have your car repaired wherever you want it repaired as long as it’s being done for a reasonable cost. You are entitled, if it’s being repaired, for a rental for the period of time it’s in the shop actually being repaired. If you take your car in and the shop is two weeks behind, and then it takes them two weeks to fix it, you don’t get four weeks of rental. You really are only entitled to two weeks of rental. So it’s important to talk with the shop and make sure when you take it in they’re going to be able to get to it. Don’t get yourself stuck in a situation where you’re going to need a rental and the liability insurer won’t be paying for it.
Now, diminished value can be tougher. And that is after your vehicle is repaired you’re entitled to the difference between the value of your car immediately before the wreck and the value of your car after repairs. Obviously the quality of repairs can affect that. If you’ve been to a good shop and they’ve done a good job on the repairs, then what you need to do is get get someone, a car dealer again, an expert. There are people who do this for a living who are appraisers and will charge $100-$150 and give you an opinion about the diminished value but you get an expert opinion about what that value is. There is not a formula. Some insurers will tell you that there’s some formula the insurance commissioner has approved and that’s simply not true. Sometimes they’ll tell you things like you’re not entitled to any diminished value for some reason. I was rear ended last December and it did $7500 worth of damage to my car. I drive cars for a long time and I have over 100 thousand miles on my car. After the repairs were made, I had an appraiser come up and give me a diminished value. He said it was around $2700 which didn’t surprise me given that there was $7500 worth of damage to it. I sent them my appraisal and auto owners told me I was not entitled to any diminished value because my car had over 100 thousand miles on it. Well they just made that up. There’s nothing in the law that says that. So you know there’s not a formula out there. It’s a question of opinion. Is it worth less after repairs than it was before and if it is you’re entitled to that.
Sometimes insurers will, if you’re kind of getting in a bad spot with a liability insurer and they’re not wanting to pay you what your cars worth or you’re arguing over pay, sometimes what they’ll say is, “Well maybe you just want to take this up with your own car insurance.” And I encourage people not to do that and there are two reasons. One is you’re going to have some deductible on your insurance. And I had a client who did this a couple of years ago. She waited a year to get her $500 deductible back. So you’re going to have a deductible and you’re going to have to wait to get that back. And it can be a long time. The second reason is we have a very strong bad faith law in Georgia that applies to liability insurers. If they don’t adjust your climb fairly, then they can be subject to attorney’s fees and penalties on your property damage claim. And that law does not apply to your own car insurance. Taking your property damage claim up with your liability carrier is the way you need to go if you possibly can. Once in a while you know somebody simply can’t for some reason or the other and I understand that but if at all possible that certainly is my preference.
So I hope this gives you some good information on what you might expect in terms of what you’re entitled to in your property damage claim and how those might be handled. If you have other questions, I’d be happy to talk to you about those. Perkins’s Law Firm’s phone number is 770-728-6932. Our website is injuryispersonal.com. We have blogs on a number of subjects about injury, wrongful death, and property damage. So if we can help you in any way whatsoever please feel free to let us know.
What if I have more questions about evaluating my property damage claim?
Property damage can be settled separately from your bodily injury claim.
If you do sign forms, read through to make sure it will not release your bodily injury claim.
Get what is said in written form to ensure safety of all money/property being handled.
If you are interested in a free consultation, email us! Or call us at 770-728-6932