8 Steps to Handling Your Property Damage Claim After a Wreck

When a car wreck occurs your life can be completely disrupted in an instant. Your car is damaged, the car or cars involved may be damaged, you may be injured, and you may be unsure of what to take care of first. Following a car accident, it is essential that you file a property damage claim to receive payment for any damage that occurs to your car. As an aside, I have handled several property damage claims as it relates to their personal injury claim at no cost to the client. However, if you prefer to do it yourself, here are some things you should consider:

1) Document the property damage. Before you leave the scene of the wreck, take as many pictures as possible to document not only your vehicle’s damage, but also the damage to the other car, the point of collision, scene of the wreck, injuries to your body, even take a picture of the cop car so that you can easily identify the investigating office if needed. This moment in time is very important for purposes of documenting the wreck, so don’t waste it!

2) Notify the insurance company who insures the vehicle of the person that hit you. When doing this however, realize that your conversation will likely be recorded and whatever you say could be used against you in the future. As an example, one of my clients involved in a wreck called the insurance company to make a claim for the property damage. After the insurance company shuffled him from adjustor to adjustor on multiple occasions (In the lawsuit I called this the “Insurance Shuffle"), the client, out of frustration, told the sixth adjuster: “the next time I am shuffled to someone else I am filing a personal injury claim." The client later filed a personal injury claim because he had to have surgery to cure his injuries from the wreck. Although the client made a legitimate personal injury claim, the insurance company refused to pay because of the client’s statement about filing a personal injury claim. So, please be careful what you say to the insurance company representatives when you inevitably become frustrated with their claim tactics.

3) Notify your insurance company of the property damage. I can hear the question already, “Michael, why should my insurance company pay for damage caused by someone else?" That’s a good question. The simple answer is your insurance company is likely to pay you sooner than the other person’s insurance company. In other words, the other insurance company has to call its insurer, listen to his/her side of the story, investigate whether their insured is actually liable, verify the facts, contact you about the property damage, and then negotiate with the body shop over the costs of repairs. Your insurance company doesn’t need to investigate liability and doesn’t need to call the other person. Therefore, you should receive a payment sooner because your insurance company has less to take care of. Your insurance company will investigate liability and so forth if the other person is at fault, and it will seek reimbursement from the other person’s insurance company. This reimbursement process is called Subrogation.

4) Bring your car or truck to a body shop. Never rely upon or wait for any insurance company to handle the cost of repairing your property damage. Even if you cannot afford the repairs, you must be proactive when handling your claim. The vital piece of information you need for your claim is the cost of repairing the property damage. The best source for this information is the actual body shop that you choose to bring your vehicle to, and yes the choice is yours, not your insurance company’s. Bring the vehicle to the body shop, tell them you want them to fix it, but you need to know how much it will cost to provide to your insurance company. Get the estimate!

5) Mail, via certified mail, and fax the repair estimate. Today, many people want to simply call someone to pass information along. It’s the most efficient way of achieving this goal, but, you cannot document what was said in the telephone conversation or the actual date of the call. The best way to document when you provided the insurance company with the cost of repairs is by a letter referencing the attached repair estimate with as much detail as possible: name of body shop, total amount, date of estimate, etc. The fax confirmation sheet lets you know if the insurance company received the fax and the return receipt lets you know when the insurance company received the letter via snail mail. If you have the adjuster’s email address you can email them the repair costs, but make sure you include in your email a detailed description of the repair estimate. If you send an email, make sure you request that you receive notice when the email was received and read.

6) Countdown to bad faith. You’re probably asking why you need to document the date the insurance company received the repair estimate. The answer lies in the realm of bad-faith law. In many states if insurance companies do not pay your property damage claim within a certain time period, the insurance company may be found to have adjusted the property damage claim in bad faith. A bad-faith finding opens up additional liabilityagainst the insurance company geared toward compensating your for your inconvenience. In Louisiana, the insurance company has 30 days to pay the claim upon receipt of the repair estimate. If they don’t, the law assesses penalties against the insurance company for its inactions. If the insurance company goes beyond 60 days, the law assesses additional penalties because of your increased inconvenience. With these deadlines come some exceptions with the most important exception being additional time to conduct a reasonable investigation. In Mississippi and Alabama the insurance company has a “reasonable time" to pay your property damage claim. Unfortunately, “reasonable time" is not defined by a definitive time period. Either the court or a jury will define if the delay was reasonable.

7) Upon receipt of the insurance money, make sure it’s enough to pay! Insurance companies customarily undervalue the cost of repairs. Even though you presented the repair estimate from the body shop, insurance companies try to pay less. For this reason you should discuss the insurance companies’ cost determination with your body shop. Make the insurance pays for the right parts, new parts, not used parts.

Also, if the insurance company determines that your car is totaled – cost of repair exceeds value of vehicle, make sure the money fully compensates for the replacement of the vehicle. Use Kelly Blue Book, Auto Trader, and other websites to determine the value of the vehicle. Also, remember that you are in a negotiation with the insurance company so expect the insurance company to counter whatever value your present to them with a lower value.

8) When asked to sign something, don’t do it without legal advice! You might waive your ability to bring a personal injury claim. First, if you are not legitimately injured, enjoy your replacement vehicle and don’t worry about this section, but, if the car accident caused you pain, no matter how severe, don’t sign anything without letting a Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyer review it first. Make sure your lawyer is an experienced Lousiana personal injury lawyer, in other words, you don’t want a criminal attorney reviewing your case. Even if you don’t hire me, you can contact me for a free consultation and review of the document and ( BrandnerLawFirm.com).

Hopefully, these eight steps will help you with your property damage claim. I started the Brandner Law Firm out of frustration over how my family’s primary insurance company, State Farm, handled my extended family’s claims during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I will help anyone who needs help with their property damage claim, no matter how small. If you want us to handle this frustrating process, let me know. BrandnerLawFirm.com or Michael@BrandnerLawFirm.com or Call the Brandner Law Firm today at 504-552.5000.