If you have been in an auto accident, one of the earliest concerns is getting your vehicle fixed. This is usually also the first time you will speak to a third-party insurance adjuster or your own insurance company. Understanding your rights and options after an auto accident will help ensure that your vehicle is repaired or replaced for a fair price.

Speaking to a third-party insurance adjuster

An insurance adjuster is an employee of the insurance company who makes a determination as to fault, and then pays a claim. Typically, the third-party adjuster will ask you to give a recorded statement. This is the adjuster's first chance to get your version of what happened, and since it is being recorded, you are going to be stuck with whatever you say, even if it doesn't come out quite right. Before you speak to the third-party adjuster and give a recorded statement, you should first consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.

If you decide to give a recorded statement without the help of an attorney, keep several things in mind. First, the third-party adjuster is not your friend. Second, he or she is not legally obligated to act fairly. Third, the third-party adjuster's only job is to save the insurance company as much money as possible, which the adjuster accomplishes by paying you as little as possible.

Assuming that the accident is completely the fault of the third party, also bear in mind that you have the right to have your vehicle repaired wherever you choose. Additionally, the third party must supply you with a rental car comparable to the vehicle you were driving. Otherwise, you should be paid a certain amount for each day that you are unable to use your vehicle.

When to go through your own insurance company

Sometimes, because of the hoops that the third-party insurance company will make you jump through, it is preferable to have your vehicle repaired through your own insurance coverage. Repairs covered by your own auto-insurance provider are often completed more quickly because your provider is legally obligated to give the coverage. You will probably have to pay your deductible, but you can get reimbursed for it through the third-party company later. If you use your own insurance coverage, you will only get a rental car (if you had purchased that coverage when you bought the insurance policy). If you don't have rental car coverage, you will have to pay for the rental, or borrow a vehicle, and try to get the money from the third party later.

What is a "totaled" vehicle?

If the cost to fix your vehicle exceeds a certain percentage of the pre-accident value of the car, then the insurance company may total your vehicle. This means the company will declare the vehicle a total loss. At that point, the insurance company must give you the amount it will take to purchase a vehicle that was the same value as your vehicle was just before the accident. The overall condition and mileage of your vehicle will affect its value. Similarly, any recent work done to the vehicle, or money put into it, will affect its value. The insurance company must also reimburse you the unused portion of the vehicle licensing fee. There is usually some negotiation in this process, so it is crucial to find evidence to support your claim of value. The Kelley Blue Book value is not enough. You need to find comparable vehicles that are actually for sale or have just sold. eBay Motors is also a good place to find the values of similar vehicles that have recently sold.

Do you need an attorney?

You only need an attorney if things are not going smoothly in your property damage claim, or if you were injured in the accident. The majority of property damage claims are resolved without the help of an attorney. If you find that you're having difficulty with the insurance adjuster handling your claim, it is advisable to contact an attorney.

If you were injured in the accident, you should speak to a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help ensure you don't do or say something in resolving your property damage claim that will negatively affect your personal injury claim. Most attorneys will handle the auto-damage portion of your claim for no extra fee if you have hired them to represent you for the personal injury claim.

Additional resources:

iCan: Auto Insurance Claims

Bankrate.com: Eight Steps to Filing an Auto Insurance Claim

Kelley Blue Blook

eBay Motors

Related Legal Guides:

Vehicle-Accident Injuries

Getting Medical Coverage after an Auto Accident

Determining the Value of Your Personal Injury Claim