Demystifying Property Damage Claims After an Accident: Your Complete Guide

Insurance Adjuster looking at a car that's been in an accident.

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You have two claims if you are involved in an automobile accident while in your vehicle. 

  1. Personal injury claim
  2. Property damage claim

This article is to help you deal with the property damage. For detailed information about your personal injury claim, click here.

Understanding Property Damage Claims in an Accident

The party that caused the accident is legally obligated to pay you for the expenses incurred due to the crash. This means that in addition to compensating you for your injuries, they have to pay to have your car repaired or replaced and pay for a rental car for a reasonable time while it is repaired.

In almost every case, the insurance company for the other driver will settle the property damage portion of your claim soon after the crash. The property damage claim can be settled before you finish treating your injuries and usually well before you are ready to make a claim for your injuries.

You Don’t Need an Attorney to Resolve Your Property Damage Claim

In most circumstances, you can get your car repaired or replaced and get your rental car paid for without the assistance of an attorney. If you have collision coverage through your insurance policy, it is easy since you are dealing with your own company. 

Even if you don’t have collision coverage, however, you can deal with the adverse insurance company, and they will pay for your rental and repair when their insured is at fault.

Insurance adjusters may have preferred body shops that will work closely with the adjuster and have your car repaired. You may choose to use one of these shops, but you are not obligated to use the shop suggested by the insurance company

If your car is drivable, you should get estimates from several body shops before deciding. If your vehicle is not drivable, getting multiple estimates is challenging.

The at-fault driver’s insurance company will assign an adjuster to work with you to resolve your property damage and rental claims. You should try to work with the adjuster to resolve the property damage claim. You are typically not better off going to court to resolve the property damage portion of your claim. It will likely cost you thousands of dollars to do so. 

So, unless the adjuster is unreasonable, you don’t want to get into that fight.

You do not want to give the adjuster a recorded statement. The adjuster may request that you provide a recorded statement, but they cannot require you to do so.

What the Insurance Will Pay For

Maryland law requires the insurance company to put you back where you were before the crash. 

This may not mean what you think. 

It means that economically, you will be in no worse position than before the crash. The insurance company will generally pay the cost to repair your vehicle. In addition, you may recover some costs for loss of value due to the crash. 

If your vehicle is not repairable, or if the cost to repair is close to or exceeds the value of your vehicle, the insurance company may opt to pay you the value of the vehicle as it was before the crash. The insurance company, not you, decides whether the car will be totaled.

If the vehicle will be repaired, you have the right to choose who does the repairs. The insurance company must pay for the repairs, and you are entitled to new parts.

Once your vehicle is repaired or declared a total loss, your right to recover for a rental car will be up. If your vehicle is totaled, you’ll likely be able to get another two or three days of rental coverage, but you want to get a replacement as quickly as possible so that you will not have to pay out-of-pocket rental expenses.

It is not unusual for clients to have accidents in relatively new vehicles, and the insurance doesn’t pay the entire outstanding amount on their loan. This is the risk of financing with a loan for the full amount of the vehicle. Some people purchase “gap insurance” to cover the difference between the vehicle’s value and the outstanding loan.

You may have a loan for more than the vehicle value because vehicles often depreciate rapidly. If you financed the total purchase price of your vehicle, your vehicle will be worth less than you owe on it almost immediately. If your car is financed and is totaled, you are obligated to pay the balance due on your loan even though you no longer have a car.

If the car has a lien, any insurance proceeds will pay off the lien first. So, you might not receive any money for the vehicle due to your claim.

When negotiating your property damage claim, review the appraisal prepared by the insurance company thoroughly. Ensure that your appraisal accounts for any options and extras your car had. For example, if your vehicle has power seats or a sunroof, ensure that is reflected in the appraisal. Extras can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the vehicle’s value.

Finally, if you are unhappy with the property damage resolution proposed by the insurance company, you have a couple of options. 

  1. First – you can file a lawsuit to recover the cost of the car. There are reasons that this may not be a good option for you – particularly if you have been injured in the crash. If that’s the case, you should talk to a personal injury attorney first. 
  2. Second – you can accept the total loss and buy back the car from the insurance company for salvage value. You can then decide to get it repaired or perhaps sell the parts. 

Auto accidents can seem complicated because of the two types of claims. We hope this article has been helpful to clear up some of the confusion. 

If you’ve been involved in a car accident in Charles, St. Mary’s, or Calvert Counties, the law offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz offer a free consultation to see if we can provide you with the legal assistance you need.

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The information contained on this page is provided as general information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz can assist you if you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation for any injury-related claim. The law offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz handle accident and injury claims throughout Maryland.