The measure of how much property damage is worth is the lesser of the cost to repair the damage, or the cost to replace your property if it was considered a "total" loss. When discussing value of property, the amounts can vary considerably. Insurance companies are used to dealing with property values on a corporate level, since they deal with property losses on a daily basis. They work in the world of wholesale value, which is less than retail value, what most individuals pay for what they own. You are correct that the law is designed to compensate you to replace what you lost. Insurance companies often offer low figures, because they know that a certain percentage of claimants will take it just to resolve the issue. They don't usually concern themselves with whether or not the property is available for that price in your area. When dealing with companies like that, information is key. You are going to need documentation, statistics, or other proof that the figure they are presenting is too low. Consider looking through want-ads for possible comparable sales. Look for other similar local examples of what others are accepting for the same property. Have an appraiser give you an opinion as to what it should be worth.
Under most states' laws, you have a time period known as a statute of limitations, but which you must either have settled your claim, or file suit to preserve your rights. In Tennessee, the statute of limitations for property damage claims is three years. In Colorado, it is six years. You are not required to take the offer an insurance company gives you if it is too low. Sometimes insurance companies present lower than fair offers because they know if you don't take it, you will have to file suit and take them to court, which will cost you money. Often, I have found that if you become the "poison pill" with them on property damage claims, they will negotiate with you. This tactic means you call and pester them frequently, arguing with them, absoring their time so they can't work on other claims. You have to have information on your side, though, because just calling them without information tends to make you look unreasonable, which makes you easy for them to ignore. Unfortunately, when it comes to negotiation, so long as they do not lie to you, there are not very many other rules to protect you. Courts consider settlement negotiations to be information that is not presented in court, and that it is a matter for the parties involved to discuss freely and openly without court interference. Therefore, buyer beware is the best label to place on property damage negotiations.
You may want to look up the Kellie Blue Book value of the car and boat. Try to provide photos and other documentation such as the value of similar cars, boats and trailers to your attorney or the insurance company supporting your opinion of the value of the car and boat. You can also get appraisals from experts in an attempt to show the true value of your loss.
I suggest that you review the Legal Guide I have published on Avvo.com which deals with property damage issues. I suggest that you contact a boat dealer and get, on their letterhead, an estimate of the retail value of your boat and trailer etc. on the day of the collision. You can use this to negotiate a fair amount. If you are not successful in reaching an agreement, you have the option of suing the adverse party and proving your damages in court.
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Mr. Lundeen is licensed to practice law in Florida and Vermont. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Lundeen strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.
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