If your vehicle has been damaged in a car accident, and you've got good car insurance coverage, you likely have a couple of options for getting your car fixed and back on the road. Especially when the other driver is at fault for the crash, your best bet may be to file a third-party vehicle damage claim. This article explains the process and what to expect.
A third-party property damage claim is usually handled by the other driver's insurance company immediately after the accident, and separately from any personal injury claim related to the accident. In vehicle accidents, the two claims—one for personal injury, the other for property damage—are sometimes negotiated by two different insurance adjusters, each of whom specializes in that type of claim.
One difference between a property damage claim and a personal injury claim is that with the property damage claim you will be back in contact with the insurance adjuster as soon as you have a repair estimate for your property—whereas with a personal injury claim, you will usually wait until your medical condition stabilizes before speaking again with the adjuster. You may need to speak with the adjuster on the phone several times to set up an inspection of your car or other property, or to get a separate insurance estimate of repairs if the adjuster requests it.
In a third-party claim, you are not required to get any particular number of repair estimates. However, if you get more than one written estimate, the insurance company will be less likely to argue with you over the amount of repair costs. The more detailed the estimates you receive -- each replacement part and labor aspect specified—the more easily you can argue that they are fair and reasonable. (Learn more about your vehicle repair options after a car accident.)
The insurance company for the person or business responsible for your car accident may simply accept a repair estimate you obtain and call that a fair settlement amount.
But the insurance company also has a right to inspect the damage and/or obtain its own estimate of repair costs. The conditions for such inspections and estimates must be reasonable. That means that if the insurer would like to have someone examine the car or other property, it should be at a time and place at your convenience, not theirs. And you should be present at the inspection, according to your schedule.
It may be sensible for you and the insurance company to have you take the damaged property to a local inspection site or repair shop. But the emphasis here is on "local"; you have no obligation to travel any great distance just because the insurance company would prefer to have the inspection done at a particular place. And only one inspection should be needed, unless you or your repair shop later discover some damage you did not discuss with the insurance adjuster originally.
Try to be reasonable with the adjuster about where and when the insurance company is to inspect the property or check it for repair. If you are reasonable, the adjuster is more likely to be reasonable, and the sooner you can agree on an inspection, the sooner you will resolve the matter and receive your compensation.
Once you have obtained your estimates, provided them to the adjuster, and allowed the insurance company to make its own inspection or obtain its own estimate, you will begin to negotiate with the adjuster about how much compensation you should receive for the damage. If the cost of repairs is at all close to the actual cash value (ACV) of the property, you should begin to gather information on exactly what the ACV is in the area where you live. (Learn more about actual cash value and "total loss" declarations.)
For more tips on getting your vehicle repaired the right way after a car accident—and all the information you'll need to navigate your case—get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).