As a person who has dealt with victims of auto accidents for over thirty years I have seen many different reactions to the crisis and have seen many approaches to making insurance claims. This article assumes your claim is for auto property damage only and that you are an honest individual seeking a fair recovery with the knowledge you will not make a monetary profit from being the victim in an auto accident. This advice is directed toward those who are making a claim with the insurance company of a negligent driver. There are many tips that could be given.
Here are five observations concerning do and don’ts in the claims process:
- Don’t go into the process viewing it as a war that has to be fought. If you enter the claims process with this attitude you are likely engaging in a self fulfillig prophecy. Having a chip on your shoulder rarely simplifies, and shortens, the process. It is the natural reaction of most humans to get defensive when they are attacked. When you are dealing with a claims adjuster you are dealing with an ordinary human being who might react in an extraordinarily defensive way if you go into the process with a combative attitude. At the very least you will get less than empathy, and sympathy, in a time of crisis when you are in need of a sympathetic party. Remember that the claims person did not cause the accident and try to avoid transferring your anger to them. Making an enemy of the claims person at the outset is not likely to be profitable monetarily or emotionally.
- Don’t expect to come out the process better off than you were prior to the accident. The law in all jurisdictions allows a claimant, against a negligent person’s insurance company, to recover compensation for vehicle repairs, or compensation for the actual cash value of a vehicle that is a total loss. Damages incidental to vehicle damages are also recoverable. If your vehicle is repairable you are entitled to a recovery for the loss of use of your vehicle. Typically a rental car will be provided while you car is being repaired. The rental car provided is generally comparable to the vehicle that is being repaired. In some jurisdictions courts have ruled that basic transportation is all that is owed to compensate a person for loss of use of their vehicle while theirs is being repaired. This is the exception to the rule. Generally speaking if you drive a Toyota Camry you should be provided a vehicle that is of comparable quality to a Toyota Camry. In some cases you might be entitled to a claim for the diminished value of your vehicle after the repairs are completed. This is a claim that is generally compensable when you own a newer model vehicle, with low mileage, that sustained major damage in the collision. Don’t expect to recover damages for diminished value if your vehicle sustained minor damage. Diminished value is the difference between what your car was worth prior to the accident and what it is worth after repairs are completed.
- Expect to be inconvenienced to some degree. It is not possible for an insurance company to waive a magic wand and instantly restore your vehicle to pre-accident condition and make all your accident caused problems disappear. Even if you are fortunate enough to be hit by a responsible person, during normal business hours, who immediately accepts responsibility for his negligence, promptly reports the accident to his insurance company, and the report is made before the end of the business day it may be twenty four hours before you hear from a claims representative. Most companies consider it reasonable for a claims representative to make contact with a claimant within twenty four hours after receiving a claims assignment. Making your own report to the negligent party’s insurance company is a good practice since you will be able to insure the insurance company has all your pertinent information. Being actively involved in the process without being antagonistic will benefit you in the long run. Don’t go home and sulk and expect the claims representative to appear as your fairy godmother and waive his wand and instantly turn your damaged pumpkin into a beautiful coach.
- Be cooperative in the claims process. If you are asked to provide information pertinent to the investigation, and resolution, of your claim provide it as long as it a reasonable request. Being defensive, and uncooperative, will be counter productive. If you are uneasy about answering a question, or providing information, politely ask why the information is needed without becoming antagonistic. Be cooperative in scheduling a time to have your vehicle inspected if it is drivable. If your vehicle is not drivable be sure to promptly advise of the vehicle’s location to the insurance company so they can promptly inspect it. The sooner your vehicle is inspected the sooner it will be repaired.
- Be realistic in your expectations. The insurance company may be a “fast, fair, and friendly”, “good neighbor”, with “good hands” all rolled up into one but it will take some time for them to process your claim and for your vehicle to be repaired. You should expect their representatives to be courteous and fair but you should not expect them to meet all your demands without investigating their merits. Remember they represent their policyholders and they are obligated to investigate the merits of claims made against their policyholders. An insurance company is a business and not a government entitlement program. They will pay what they are legally obligated to pay, no more and no less. They are profitable because their policyholders pay premiums and their first obligation is to their policyholder. Once it is clear that the insurance company’s policyholder is legally liable for your damages they will compensate you fairly for your actual monetary loss. If you drive a vehicle several years old you can expect that the insurance company will pay for undamaged used parts from salvage vehicles If used parts are available. Contrary to what you may be told used parts are perfectly appropriate in repairing older vehicles and once they are prepped and painted your vehicle will have a replacement part equivalent to the one that was replaced on your vehicle prior to being damaged.
In summary: If you are unfortunate enough have your vehicle wrecked through the negligent actions of another person you should approach the claims process in a spirit of cooperation without being antagonistic. You should be firm in expecting fair and courteous treatment without being overbearing and making unrealistic demands and remember your car is not your child it is a piece of machinery that can be repaired or replaced.