What to Do When Your Car Has Been Damaged in an Auto Accident
Q: My car has been damaged in an auto accident that was not my fault. What should I do?
A: My initial advice is to CALL ME FOR A FREE CONSULTATION at the Law Offices of Robert J. Kaiser. I am an experienced Santa Clarita personal injury attorney with experience handling auto accident injury and property damage claims.
If the other party has insurance, and you carry collision coverage on your policy, then you will have some decisions to make. In such a case, the quickest way to get the car fixed is probably to go through your own insurance company. This is because the other insurance company will probably take a while to make a liability decision before even considering paying for your property damage
Of course, if you do go through your own insurance carrier, you will have to pay the deductible. However, if you go through your own insurance company, the repair work should get started fairly quickly and your insurance company should try to recover your deductible for you when they seek to recover the repair costs from the other driver’s insurance company. You should see a reimbursement check in the mailbox in about four to eight months.
If you don’t have collision coverage, or you just don’t want to have to pay your deductible, you will have to make a claim against the other driver’s insurance policy. Call the carrier and make sure the accident was reported and a claim has been opened. The insurance company will want to have one of their damage appraisers look at your car and prepare an estimate of the cost to repair the damage before they authorize any work. This is where you need to be careful.
If you are still driving your damaged vehicle, the insurance company may want to send one of their appraisers out to your house or workplace to inspect the vehicle. In my opinion, these “at- home” appraisals are cursory at best and invariably result in very low estimates that are intended not to include all of the damage caused by the accident.
What happens is that the appraiser does a cursory inspection of the “visible damage” only, and makes no attempt to determine the actual extent of the damage that is not readily apparent. The appraiser will likely not even attempt to look underneath the vehicle for damage which might be visible from such an inspection. The insurance company will then make you a lowball offer to repair the vehicle and tell you that, if there is more damage identified when the repair work is started, they will come back out and do a supplemental repair estimate. Of course, they realize that many people will just take the initial money offered and not fix the vehicle or call them back for a supplemental repair estimate.
In such cases, the insurance company saves money by avoiding having to pay the actual value of the claim. Multiply that savings by the thousands and thousands of claims that are evaluated in this cursory manner, and you can see that the insurance companies can avoid paying millions and millions of dollars on valid claims through this practice.
What you need to do is to get an independent estimate of the cost to repair your vehicle. Bring the vehicle to a reputable auto body repair facility and ask them to prepare an estimate of the cost to repair the damage. Most every reputable autobody repair facility will prepare such an estimate for you free of charge. Additionally, such facilities are much more likely to attempt to evaluate the true extent of the damage to your vehicle even without disassembling the car. The estimate will help you understand the true extent of the damage.
It is also a good idea to schedule an appointment for the appraiser from the other insurance company to come out to inspect your vehicle at the body shop while it is there and can be lifted up so possible damage can be seen from underneath. In some cases, some body shops may want to remove bumpers or other parts to reveal hidden damage. It is important in such situations to make sure the body shop is not going to charge you for this work if they don’t get the job from you to do the repairs. Make sure you understand the possible charges before authorizing any dis-assembly work to be done.