Property Damage

Introduction

If your car or truck has been damaged or totaled in an accident, you probably want to file an insurance claim. Here are some answers to some questions you may have about that process in the State of Washington.

Do I need an attorney or lawyer to file my property damage claim with an insurance company?

No, you do not need a lawyer to file a property damage claim. In fact, most accident victims deal with the property damage issues without representation by a lawyer.

We present this information here as an aid to anyone who is attempting to deal with insurance companies regarding property damage claims.

It can, however, be very advantageous to have an attorney represent you for the personal injury portion of your claim arising from an accident. If you have been injured as the result of an accident, please contact our office so that one of our auto accident attorneys can speak with you regarding your potential claim for personal injury.

Do I have a choice about which insurance company to file a claim with?

Yes, in certain situations. If the accident was caused by the negligence of the driver of another vehicle, you have two choices: (1) file your property damage claim with your own insurance company; or (2) file your property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company.

Which insurance company should I file my property damage claim with?

Your choice here depends on several factors (explained in more detail below):

  • Payment of a deductible on collision coverage
  • Payment for a rental car until your car is repaired or a settlement offer is made on a vehicle that is a total loss
  • The possibility that you may make a claim for personal injury
  • Your legal relationship with either insurance company

What if I file my property damage claim with my own insurance company?

Deductible

First, your insurance company will require you to pay the deductible amount on your policy’s collision coverage. If the other driver is at fault, your insurance company can recover that deductible amount from the other driver’s insurance company, and then will repay it to you. The main problem with this situation is that you may have to wait weeks or months to get reimbursed for the deductible amount.

Rental Car

Second, your insurance company is not required to pay for a rental car for you … unless you have that specific coverage on your policy. You can call your insurance agent to find out if you have that coverage.

Personal Injury Claim

Third, it is important to understand that there is often a relationship between the extent of your property damage and the amount you can recover for personal injury. Insurance adjusters often reason that “If the property damage was so minimal, then you must not have been injured.”

If you file your property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company, they may work to minimize the dollar amount of your claim, knowing that a lower property damage amount will be in their favor when it comes time to negotiate your personal injury claims. In cases where you are not at fault, your own insurance company does not have that motive. The other insurance company will ultimately pay for both your property damage and personal injury claims.

Fiduciary Responsibility

Finally, a big advantage to filing a claim with your own insurance company is that you already have a contractual relationship with them through your insurance policy. This means that your own insurance company is held to higher legal standards to protect your interests. If they don’t live up to those standards, you have a much stronger case for legal recourse against them than you might have against the other driver’s insurance company. Moreover, because of the enhanced legal duty of “good faith,” it is less likely that your insurance company will place its interests above your interests.

What if I file my property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company?

Deductible

You don’t have to pay any deductible to the insurance company of the other driver.

Rental Car

The insurance company of the other driver will likely provide you with a rental vehicle while yours is being repaired, or until a settlement offer is made on a vehicle that is a total loss.

Personal Injury Claim

As stated above, it is important to understand that there is often a relationship between the extent of your property damage and the amount you can recover for personal injury. If you file your property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company, they may be motivated to try to minimize the dollar value of the property damage to your car. This can later help them make an argument for a lower personal injury amount.

Fiduciary Responsibility

Unlike the situation with your own insurance company, the other insurance company has no contractual relationship with you. That is, they have no “duty of good faith” to protect your interests. They are looking out for themselves and the other driver, with whom they have a contract (policy). With regard to you, they are simply interested in resolving your claim and moving on. It is virtually impossible to successfully bring suit against another person’s insurance company.

Not sure which insurance company to file your claim with?

We can help you with that decision. Just contact our office to speak with one of our auto accident attorneys who can help you understand how to make the best choice.

Do I have to file my personal injury claim along with my property damage claim?

Absolutely not! In fact, this is a very important point for all victims of motor vehicle accidents to understand. Your property damage claim is handled separately from any personal injury claim. As a rule, the property damage is taken care of first, and then later any personal injury claims are settled.

Because personal injuries may not manifest completely until some time after the accident, it is important that you don’t rush into any settlement for a personal injury claim. If you have injuries or other losses resulting from the accident, it’s a good idea to get some legal advice from a personal injury attorney. Just contact our office to speak with one of our auto accident attorneys who can discuss your claims for personal injury and other losses.

What happens after I file my property damage claim?

An insurance adjuster will examine your vehicle to determine the extent of the damage. At that point, an important decision is made that affects the rest of the process of settling your property damage claim.

  • Is the vehicle repairable?

If the adjuster determines that your vehicle is repairable, then you are ready to start the repair process. For information on the steps in this process, see Getting Your Vehicle Repaired.

  • Is the vehicle a “total loss?”

If the adjuster determines that your vehicle is a total loss, then you need to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. For information on dealing with this process, see Dealing with a “Total Loss” Vehicle.

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