Insurance companies will typically pay to repair the vehicle or to replace the vehicle, whichever is less. For example, if your vehicle is worth $8,000, and it will cost $6,000 to repair it, then the insurance company will likely opt to repair the vehicle. If it will cost more than $8,000 to repair the vehicle, the insurance company will opt to pay you the replacement cost for the vehicle. The first step following an accident is for the vehicle owner to obtain an estimate of the value of the vehicle and an estimate of what it will cost to repair the vehicle to determine of the vehicle will be repaired or replaced.
If the Vehicle Cannot be Repaired
If the insurance company determines that the vehicle is a total loss (i.e. cannot be repaired) then you are entitled to the fair market value for the vehicle. This can be determined by looking up the vehicle's value through the NADA, Kelley Blue Book, or obtaining an estimate from a professional estimator or car dealer. An estimate should be done for a comparable vehicle meaning a vehicle of the same age, same condition, same mileage and same options as your vehicle. Make sure that the vehicle's that the insurance company is using to estimate value are comparable vehicles.
Diminution in Value
If the vehicle can be repaired to its pre-accident condition it may not be worth as much as if it had not been damaged. Typically, if you have two identical vehicles with the exception that one of the vehicles was damaged and repaired, the repaired vehicle is usually worth less than the vehicle that was not damaged. This difference in value is an item of damage that you are entitled to claim. After your vehicle is repaired, you can have a professional estimator or car dealer give you an estimate of the vehicle's value taking into account the repairs. Compare this to similar vehicles that have not been repaired. If it is lower you have a valid claim for the difference in value.
Loss of Use
You are entitled to claim the loss of your ability to use the vehicle from the time of the accident until the vehicle is repaired. The cost to rent a substitute vehicle is one measure of the loss of use of a vehicle. The loss of use is for a comparable vehicle. Therefore, if you are without the use of a full size truck, you are entitled to the cost to rent a full size truck, not just the cost to rent a small sub-compact car. You are entitled to make a claim for loss of use whether or not you rent a substitute automobile.
Insurance Company not Permitted to Use Property Damage Claim as Leverage
People rely upon their vehicles. Being without your vehicle because of an accident is an extreme harship under most cases. The insurance company has a duty to resolve your property damage claim within a short period of time unless their is a dispute regarding who is at fault for the accident. If you have suffered both property damage and personal injuries as a result of an automobile accident, the insurance company may not delay the settlement of your property damage claim in order to influence you to resolve your personal injury claim quickly or cheaply. If you are confronted with an insurance company that is attempting to use the property damage claim as leverage you should contact an attorney immediately.
Consider Hiring an Attorney
Insurance companies are becoming increasingly more aggressive in dealing with property damage claims. It used to be that most people could resolve their property damage claims with the insurance company through perseverance without the need for an attorney. However, with insurance companies becoming increasingly difficult it may be necessary to obtain an attorney to assist you in recovering all of the damages you have suffered. This is especially true if you suffered personal injuries as well as property damage in the accident. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, contact a lawyer sooner rather than later. If your claim involves solely property damage and no injury, be firm, persevere, and you should be able to obtain a fair settlement of your claim.
Additional resources provided by the author
Additional information can be found at the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner or at our website below.