If you are involved in a car accident, or if your property is damaged as the result of a car accident, you may be told you have to file a property damage claim for damages to be reimbursed. To understand more about how this type of claim works, read on. When you know how to file a claim, you’ll be prepared in case you ever have to file this type of insurance paperwork. You’ll also learn about whether or not it may be necessary to involve an attorney in the process.
What Is a Property Damage Claim?
A property damage claim is an insurance claim involving damage to anything besides a person in an accident. This property can include the vehicle itself, items that were contained inside the vehicle, houses, mailboxes, fences, and other things commonly involved in car accidents.
The purpose of the claim is to reimburse the owner for the cost of the damage, whether that’s the replacement value of the item, the expense of repairs, or the loss of use of certain items, such as those necessary in one’s profession. Sometimes even sentimental value can be reimbursed if an item is of great importance, such as an antique that has been in the family for a long time or some other type of irreplaceable article.
What Should You Do First After a Car Accident?
If you need to file a property damage claim to be reimbursed for the loss of property after a car accident, you want to make sure to file the claim as soon as possible. In fact, states have a time limit on how long you have to file such claims. In Maryland and Washington DC, for example, the statute of limitations is 3 years, whereas in Delaware it’s 2 years and in Virginia, 5 years. However, you want to make sure you file your property damage claim much more quickly than that.
If you are involved in a car accident with property damage, the first thing to do is to make sure that no one is hurt. If anyone is injured in the accident, making sure they get appropriate medical attention is the first priority. After ascertaining that no one was hurt, you need to call the police so that a record of the accident can be reported for insurance companies involved in any claims.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, it’s a good idea to make your own notes about the accident and any resulting damage. You can even take photographs or a video of the scene to provide a more complete picture of what happened and the damage that was incurred. Put that smartphone to good use and document the scene for future reference. You may be upset by the accident and not remember things later, or other involved parties may dispute your version of what happened or the damage involved. The more you can document, the easier it will be to make your claim.
Things to make note of include:
- Where the accident occurred
- Conditions surrounding the accident such as weather, road conditions, and time of day
- Any property that was damaged, including vehicles, dwellings, home property, and items inside the vehicles (car seat, laptop computer, luggage, work supplies, etc.)
- The other driver’s license plate number, vehicle description, VIN (vehicle identification number), and insurance information, as needed
- Any other significant details, such as if the other party was speeding, driving too fast for the current road conditions, or driving while distracted (texting or talking on the phone)
If the other driver says anything of importance, such as, “I didn’t see the light change” or “I’m sorry it’s all my fault,” make note of that as well. Don’t say anything that could make you seem at fault for the accident if you weren’t, especially once the police arrive. When in doubt, it’s always better to say too little than to say too much.
What Happens When You File a Property Damage Claim?
When you file a property damage claim, typically the at-fault driver’s insurance will cover the cost of property damage. However, sometimes there is a dispute over who is at fault or you don’t know who has inflicted the damage, such as if your parked car is hit while you’re in a store and the person who hit your car flees the scene without leaving a note. Let’s talk about straightforward insurance claims first.
In a normal situation, the person whose property is damaged files a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, whether that is their own insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company. Even if you are not at fault in the accident, however, be sure to call your insurance carrier and report the accident so it’s on record in case subsequent action needs to be taken.
Next, a claims adjuster will coordinate between you and other services, such as auto repair shops, to begin acting on the claim. Ideally, you want to have your life get back to normal as quickly as possible. This might mean asking the claims adjuster for a rental vehicle to get back and forth to work, for example, until your car is repaired.
If your car is damaged to the point where repairs cost more then the Blue Book value of the car, your car may be considered totaled. Instead of being repaired, the insurance company will write you a check for the value of the vehicle, which you can then use to purchase a replacement vehicle.
If you have been the victim of hit-and-run property damage as mentioned above, it will be up to your insurance agent to decide how the case will be handled. In some instances, your policy may cover the damage. Always file a police report even if you don’t know who inflicted the damage on your property in case the perpetrator is uncovered later and you need to file a claim against their insurance.
If no one comes forward, or if the police do not find out who inflicted the damage, your claim will change from a property damage claim into a collision claim. If you do not have collision insurance for your vehicle, unfortunately, your insurance company will then not be able to reimburse you for your claim.
If your insurance carrier pays out on a property damage claim, expect to see an increase in rates the next time you renew your policy.
Is Your Insurance Deductible Involved?
One of the more confusing aspects of filing any insurance claim, but particularly property damage claims, is how the deductible works. Remember, a deductible is the amount that you must pay out of your own pocket prior to your insurance kicking in after an accident.
If you are not at fault in an accident and another party damaged your property, you file a property damage claim as described above, and you will not be asked to pay any deductible.
If you damage somebody else’s property with your vehicle, normally your standard deductible will not be applied either. But if you are in an accident in which you are at fault and your vehicle was damaged, in order to repair your own vehicle your insurance company will require you to pay your collision deductible first before covering you for further expenses.
If the person who damaged your property is not known, such as in a hit-and-run situation, when your claim switches from a property damage claim to a collision claim, that means you will be responsible for paying a deductible first. As you might guess, it is therefore important whenever possible to find out who is responsible for property damage in an accident. In the absence of the other party coming forward after an accident, it may be possible to find a third party who witnessed the accident or it may even have been recorded by a security camera.
What About Fleet Vehicles?
If you are involved in an accident involving property damage while driving a fleet vehicle like a company car, there may be extra steps involved. You need to follow your specific protocol for handling the aftermath of the accident, which should have been given to you in writing when you received your vehicle.
Typically, you will need to phone a division within fleet management that deals with accidents to report the incident. You may also need to phone a manager if your company requires.
Fleet management should deal with the claims adjuster for you and then notify you about what to do next. They may have certain repair shops they want to use or will require that the vehicle is seen by a dealership or receives original parts.
Should You Contact a Lawyer When Filing Property Damage Claim?
Under most circumstances, property damage claims are a pain in the neck but no more than that. You will have to deal with the police report, fill out some paperwork, make some calls to your insurance agent, and deal with the claims adjuster about getting reimbursed for your property.
Sometimes, though, there are situations when getting help from a legal professional can be of great benefit to you after an accident. For example, if you were injured in the accident, you’ll want to contact a lawyer right away to see if you should file a personal injury claim.
Occasionally insurance companies refuse to pay out benefits after an accident. You may wish to consult an attorney to determine if the insurance carrier is doing what is called acting in bad faith, which could be grounds for a lawsuit. A lawyer can help deal with the insurance company to make sure you are properly reimbursed for your claim.
Another case where having an attorney on board is beneficial is if you wind up having to sue another party for property damage reimbursement. You may, for example, need to take the other party to small claims court. An attorney can help you file a civil suit for property damages in this instance.
If you feel another party’s claims adjuster is not treating you properly, or if you are being given the runaround when it comes to getting your property repaired after an accident, you may also wish to speak with an attorney. Sometimes just a call or a letter from a legal professional can get the ball rolling, and it’s well worth it to you to get the matter resolved.
You may wind up having to pay a deductible that you shouldn’t, and you may wish to hire a lawyer to go to small claims court to be reimbursed for the deductible you paid. While small claims suits typically don’t involve lawyers in the courtroom, you may wish to have an attorney advise you about the feasibility of recovering expenses and to make sure you’re filling out any legal paperwork properly.
If your property damage claim involved a large sum, this could be another reason to speak with an attorney who’s experienced with these matters. While most of the time property damage claims involve run-of-the-mill repairs to automobiles, it’s possible that your work vehicle or expensive equipment was damaged in the accident, leaving you with far greater consequences than just the loss of your personal vehicle. If your ability to pursue your profession was seriously hampered by an accident and the subsequent property damage claim, speaking with a lawyer can help you with the next steps.
Of course, if you discover after the fact that you were also injured in a car accident that you thought strictly involved property damage, it’s a good idea to consult a legal professional as well. Personal injury claims are more complex than property damage claims, and it’s definitely smart to speak with an attorney about it.
Other complex property damage cases involve unusual situations, such as three or more parties involved in one accident or significant damage to a dwelling where a homeowner’s insurance carrier may also need to be involved. Although these situations are rare, they do happen, and it’s perfectly within your rights to speak with an attorney to get the help you need.
If you need help with a property damage claim, if you’re overwhelmed after an accident, or if you think your case needs legal assistance, contact Ingerman & Horwitz L.L.P. today. We’ll help you determine the best course of action and let you get your life back to normal as quickly as possible.