Written by attorney Earl K. Straight Jr.

Your rights in regards to damages to your vehicle

Your rights in regards to damages to your vehicle. by Earl K. Straight, ESQ

If you have been involved in an auto accident, you no doubt incurred damage to your vehicle. There are specific rights and duties you have in Texas pertaining to property damages.

If the car is repairable, you will either be asked to take it to a claims office for an estimate by an insurance adjustor, or to a body shop of your choice or one specified by the insurance company for an estimate from an auto repair specialist. You can also take it to another body shop of your choice for a comparison estimate. Very rarely will you be asked to get more than one estimate by the insurance company. The days of getting three estimates are over.

If you car is not driveable, the rules get a little sticky. Assuming the car has been towed to a wrecker facility, body shop or storage yard, storage fees of anywhere from $10 to $35 per day will be charged for storage of the vehicle. Although the insurance company may be liable for some of these storage fees, under Texas law you have a duty to mitigate your damages. This means that if the car sits there for an extended period of time, sometimes over 30 days, while the insurance company conducts an investigation into the accident, you will be responsible for the majority of these storage fees, even if the insurance company finally determines to accept full liability for the accident. My advice is that you should move the vehicle out of storage within 7 days after the accident if the insurance company has not yet accepted liability for the accident. DO NOT LET THE VEHICLE SIT IN STORAGE, EVEN IF THE ACCIDENT WAS OBVIOUSLY THE OTHER GUY'S FAULT.

If the car is repairable, you can take it to the body shop of your choice, and the body shop will work directly with the insurance company for any hidden damages. If the car is totalled, you can either accept the insurance company's offer of fair market value for the vehicle and sign the title over to the insurance company, or keep the vehicle and accept the fair market value less salvage (usually around 20-30% of the fair market value). Keeping the vehicle is a good option if most of the damage is to the bodywork, it still runs fine and can pass inspection. It may not be the prettiest car on the road, but you've still got a driveable vehicle.

Remember, under Texas law, the insurance company has the right to conduct a reasonable investigation into the accident. So even though it is clear to you that the other party was at fault, the insurance company may not come to that conclusion for a month or more. If they do accept liability AND the car is repairable and not driveable, they may compensate you for your loss of use damages of $20 to $30 per day since the date of the accident, for the days in which they did not provide a rental vehicle. If the car is totalled, they are not strictly responsible for any loss of use damages or rental car fees, but you may be able to claim these damages for the time period between the date of accident and the date when they make a fair market value settlement offer. Therefore, if you believe your car is totalled, meaning it will cost more to repair than it is worth (an estimate can help you make this determination), start shopping for a new vehicle now. Waiting for the insurance company will not do you any good, and will only leave you without a vehicle for a longer period of time.

If the vehicle is repairable, you have the right to receive a rental car while the car is being repaired. But be careful. If the car is driveable, you will not get a rental car until the car is actually being repaired. If the car sits at the body shop waiting on parts before any work begins, the insurance company may not pay for the rental during that time period. They will often get an estimate from the body shop as to the repair time, and only provide a rental for that many days. So make sure the body shop is ready to begin work on the car before you leave it there. This should not be an issue if the car is not driveable.

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