How to File a Property Damage Claim After a Car Accident



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The majority of auto accidents don't involve personal injuries, only property damage. This includes vehicle damage, and damage to personal property inside the car at the time of the accident (e.g. laptop, jewelry, cell phone, etc.). Any damaged personal items can also be included in an insurance claim.

You'll file a property damage claim if:

  • Your car was damaged in an accident
  • You want it repaired quickly and competently
  • You need a rental car while your car is being repaired
  • You want compensation for damaged personal property

The Claims Process

The claims process begins when you file a property damage claim with the liable party's insurance company. Unlike personal injury claims, which can take weeks or months, property damage claims are simpler to prove, and can be settled much faster.

The cost of automobile repairs is a fixed amount. In most cases, you won't have to wait more than a few days while your car is being fixed.

A vehicle damage claim can normally be handled with a few telephone calls and emails. Your discussions with the auto repair shop and claims adjuster don't have to be in person. Other than emailing or faxing some repair estimates, your claim can be handled solely by telephone.

Don't wait for someone to contact you. Take an immediate, active role in your own claim. Your actions after the accident can help bring a prompt and fair settlement, and get you back in your car as soon as possible.

What To Do At the Accident Scene

Call the Police

A police report can be a valuable tool. Depending on where you live, police officers may only be dispatched to the scene of an accident if someone is injured, traffic is disrupted, or conditions are dangerous to others. Call the police regardless of the circumstances.

When the officers arrive, they'll speak with you, the other driver, and any witnesses. They will investigate the scene, and may take photographs. Most importantly, they may issue a ticket to the at-fault driver. That ticket is evidence of the driver's negligence. Whether it's for speeding, running a red light, or other traffic infraction, a ticket is very helpful to your claim.

Write Down Important Information

While you're at the accident scene, write down information you will need during the claims process. Use whatever is at hand to make your notes, even the back of an old envelope. Don't trust yourself to remember crucial facts. Write down:

  • The other driver's contact information (address, phone, and driver's license number)
  • The name, policy number, and telephone number of his insurance company
  • Any admissions he might make, such as, "It was my fault," or "I didn't see you"

Here's a free accident report form to make recording information easier.

Take Photographs

Use a camera if you have one. If not, use your cell phone to take photographs of:

  • The damage to both vehicles
  • The immediate area around the accident
  • Broken glass and any other broken parts that fell off the cars
  • The position of the cars
  • Any special after-market wheels or accessories on your car
  • Any damaged or destroyed personal property
  • Any other evidence of the accident

Make a List of Any Damaged Personal Property

You have a right to compensation for personal items that were damaged or destroyed in the accident. Make a list of those items. Photograph them, and try your best to find the original receipts.

If you can't find the original receipts, request copies from the stores where the items were purchased. Also include receipts for after-market wheels and accessories, stereo equipment and speakers, and other vehicle add-ons.

What To Do After the Accident

Make an Accident Diary

Keep a chronological list of all that goes on during the claims process. This allows you to instantly access important information. Keep track of each day's events using separate dated pages.

Write down important facts and events, such as:

  • The date and time of the accident
  • The police officers' names and police report number
  • Names and phone numbers of witnesses
  • The other driver's insurance information
  • Summaries of discussions you have with the claims adjuster

Being organized, and keeping track of all the relevant information in one place, is crucial to successfully pursuing a property damage claim.

Call Your Own Insurance Company

There are several reasons why you need to contact your own auto insurance company:

  1. Most insurance policies include language requiring you to inform the company of ANY accident, regardless of who's at fault. If you don't tell them, they may be within their rights to deny coverage.

  2. It alerts your insurance company in case the other driver is uninsured (you may have coverage under the Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist, or UIM, portion of your policy).

  3. If the damage to your car is minor, you may not want to wait for the other driver's insurance company to take action. (Check your deductible first. In minor collisions, your deductible may be as high, or higher, than the actual cost of repairs.)

  4. In case the other driver denies liability, and alleges the accident was your fault.

Call the At-fault Driver's Insurance Company

Call the other driver's insurance company and file a claim. Your claim will be assigned to a claims adjuster. Make sure you get your claim number for future reference. This type of a claim is referred to as a third-party claim. (The other driver is considered the first party, and his insurance company is the second party.)

If you live in a no-fault state, you're required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. But, PIP doesn't cover property damage, it only covers personal injury.

Get a Copy of the Weather Report for the Day of the Accident

Having a copy of the weather report for the date and time of the accident is another piece of supportive evidence. If the weather was clear and dry, the at-fault driver can't try to lessen his fault by saying it was foggy or icy. You can get a copy of the weather report online from your favorite weather site.

What To Do After Your Claim is Filed

As soon as you file a claim with both your, and the other driver's insurance company, the claim adjuster's job begins. The adjuster's responsibilities include coordinating with you and the auto repair shop.

There's no legal reason you need to get multiple repair estimates, and you have a right to choose any shop, within reason, to repair your car. Don't let the claims adjuster tell you otherwise.

Demand a Rental Car

You have a right to a rental while your car is undrivable. Most insurance companies have relationships with car rental agencies, and can tell you where to pick up your rental. The number of days should not be limited to less than thirty. You're entitled to a rental right up until the day your car is fully repaired.

Insist on OEM (Original Equipment Manufactured) Parts

When your car is damaged, you have a right to have it brought back to the condition it was in before the accident.

That includes having the repair shop install the same type and quality of parts that were on your car before it was damaged. Those parts are referred to as OEM, or Original Equipment Manufactured parts. If you don't insist on OEM parts, the claims adjuster may only authorize cheaper, generic parts.

Expect Compensation Based on Actual Cash Value (ACV)

Every car has a value. That value is set by the Kelly Blue Book, or a company called CCC Information Services. Around 80 percent of claims adjusters use CCC's valuation program to calculate Actual Cash Value. This helps the adjuster decide whether the insurance company should total a car, or pay for repairs.

In the event the estimated repairs exceed your car's stated value, the insurance company doesn't have to pay for the repairs. Instead, they will write you a check for the stated value of the car. This is known as "totaling" your car.

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