Property damage generally refers to your vehicle and any property in your vehicle that is either damaged or completely ruined in the automobile accident. You can make a claim for your property damage one of two ways. You can file a claim with your insurance carrier if you have purchased collision coverage. Another option is you can pursue reimbursement through the other party’s insurance carrier. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options, as I will discuss below.
Filing a claim through your automobile collision coverage has several advantages. First, your own insurance company has a vested interest in making you happy since you are a paying customer. They will be more responsive to your needs and provide better customer service. Since you are entitled to collision coverage as per your insurance contract, fault is not an issue. Therefore, there is no need to complete an investigation of the accident prior to paying for your property damage claim thus speeding up the process.
The only drawback to filing a claim through your insurance carrier is there is usually a deductible. A deductible is an agreed upon amount of money you must contribute to the repairs or replacement of your property damage. Most deductibles range between $500 and $1,000 dollars. The good news is that, after completing your insurance company’s accident investigation, you may be entitled to full or partial reimbursement from the other person’s insurance carrier. Further, your carrier will fight to get the money back for you. This is accomplished in an inter-insurance company arbitration proceeding against the offending vehicle’s insurance company.
Filing a collision claim is a better option than pursuing a claim through the other vehicle’s carrier. The only time I recommend a client with collision coverage to pursue a claim through the other carrier’s policy is when they do not have the financial resources to pay their deductible.
When pursuing a claim through your own collision coverage is not an option, you can file a claim with the other vehicle’s insurance carrier. However, fault will be a key issue in the claim. This is because the carrier will only be responsible for their client’s proportionate share of fault in the accident. Therefore, prior to issuing any payments, the insurance carrier will complete a thorough investigation. This will include obtaining a police accident report, witness statements, and an inspection of all damaged property.
The insurance company will likely be biased. If there are multiple versions of the accident, they will likely accept the version favorable to their client. Further, they will be less responsive to your needs as they have no financial relationship with you. Also, the carrier does not have to make a settlement offer to you. They will only do so if they feel it is in their best interests to settle because they have no chance of winning if the case goes to court.
However, if the carrier refuses payment or offers a payment that is less than you feel is acceptable, you can pursue recovery in court. Unfortunately, this is an arduous process and will likely require the services of an attorney.
Should you agree on a settlement with the carrier, you will likely be asked to sign a release. Be careful when signing a release with an insurance company. Read it carefully and make sure you understand the contents. Never sign a document you do not fully understand. Further, make sure that the release pertains to your property damage only. This is extremely important because signing a general release will bar you from pursuing a bodily injury claim. Even if you do not believe that you are injured, never sign a general release in a property damage settlement. You never know if you are suffering from latent injuries that may reveal themselves later on.