In a car accident, the at-fault insurance company may accept responsibility for the damage to your vehicle and make an offer to settle the property damage claim. You will almost always deal with the at-fault driver’s insurance company through its adjuster. An adjuster is the person the insurance company hired to review and negotiate your claim. Typically, part of the adjuster’s job is to try to minimize your claim in order to control costs for the company. When the insurance company accepts fault, and makes an offer, this will either result in repair of your vehicle, or they will decide the vehicle was a total loss and pay you for the vehicle’s value.
If you are satisfied with the insurance company’s first offer, then it is fine to accept it. However, what should you do if you do not believe the offer is fair? If you are not satisfied with the insurance company’s offer, then you should arm yourself with information to negotiate with the insurance adjuster.
Offers to Repair
An insurance company will often offer to repair a vehicle if the cost of repairs plus supplemental claims equal less than 75% of the vehicle’s pre-accident cash value. “Supplemental claims” include things like the projected rental vehicle costs during the repair period.
The pre-accident cash value is sometimes called the “fair market value.” Fair market value is the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller, when neither is being compelled to buy and/or sell, and both have reasonable knowledge about the relevant facts. When calculating repair costs versus value, insurance adjusters may use the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) publication, the “Official Used Car Guide,” to determine the fair market value. The NADA is published monthly. It is available online at www.nadaguides.com.
While the insurance company may use the NADA book value to determine fair market value, the book is only a guide. There is more room to negotiate based on the actual condition of your vehicle.
You should get estimates for the amount of repairs your vehicle will need. After you get the estimates, and provide them to the insurance company, the insurance adjuster may make an offer over the telephone. If you do not agree with the telephone offer and the adjuster has never seen the damaged vehicle, then you can require the adjuster or the insurance company’s appraiser to personally inspect your damaged vehicle.
If you do not agree with the settlement offered by the adjuster, you have the right to request that the adjuster send to you in writing the amount of the offer along with the specific policy provisions or legal basis the adjuster is relying on in support of the offer.
An adjuster may tell you they want you to take your car to a particular garage – typically, a garage with which they get a volume discount. However, you have the right to take your vehicle to any repair shop of your choosing.
Offers to Pay Cash Value for a Total Loss
A vehicle is legally considered a total loss if the cost of repairs and supplemental claims equal or exceed 75% of the fair market value. If this is the case, the liability insurance carrier is required to pay fair market value for the vehicle.
Fair market value is often determined via a local market survey. Local fair market value must be determined by using either the local market price of comparable vehicles or, if no comparable vehicles can be found, quotes from at least two qualified dealers within the local market area. If your vehicle was in better-than-average condition prior to the collision, the adjuster is required to give due consideration to this fact when determining value.
It is also important to note that the insurance company is not necessarily obligated to pay the full balance of an existing lien on the vehicle. If you owe more on the car than it is worth at the time of loss, all the insurance company has to pay is still fair market value, not the payoff amount.
You should require the adjuster to give you a written statement, along with the total loss payment. This statement should include estimates, evaluations and deductions used in calculating the payment, as well as stating the source of these values.
If you have a complaint about an insurance company and the way they are handling your claim, you may call or write the Consumer Insurance Information Division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance. The toll-free telephone number is 855-408-1212. The mailing address is: North Carolina Department of Insurance, Consumers Services Division, 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699.
The Consumer Services Division will take information from you and then an analyst from the Division will request information from the insurance company, agent or adjuster. If the analyst finds that there is just cause for the complaint then a recommendation will be made to both sides as to how to settle the situation. If this does not resolve the problem, a deputy commissioner may arrange a conference with the insurance company involved to resolve the problem. If the conference does not resolve the disputed issue, then the deputy commissioner may recommend to the commissioner that appropriate legal action be taken including a public hearing (filing a lawsuit).
Our Recommendation: No Need For an Attorney Unless You Were Hurt
At our firm, we recommend you handle most property damage claims yourself. This can save you both time and money—you do not want to unnecessarily delay the property damage aspect of your claim, and it is often not cost effective to hire an attorney to pursue property damage.
However, if we represent you on a bodily injury claim related to the accident,
Whatever the size of your case, we believe you deserve the best representation and service we can provide. If you have questions, or want to see if we can help, give us a call at 1-866-900-7078.