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From time to time, we receive calls from people who were in minor accidents and they need help recouping their losses on their car or motorcycle. In these instances, I’m happy to chat with the victim on the phone and explain the process for getting compensated for their losses. However, I explain that they don’t need an attorney’s help with the process. When there are absolutely no injuries involved and the liability is clear (i.e. no one is disputing that the other guy caused the accident), you can manage the property damage claim process yourself with a little diligence and patience.
Below, I’ll share the steps and also a document that can help you through the property damage claim process.
Let’s start with the basics…
If your car or motorcycle is repairable, you have two options:
(Aside: you should also pursue a loss-of-value claim.)
So, those are the over-arching steps to pursuing your own property damage claim after an accident. But there are a few additional details that you should understand.
First of all, if you were injured in a car or motorcycle accident, do not take any of the following steps on your own. Call an attorney. Why? Insurance companies don’t fight too hard against pure property damage claims because cars can’t fake injuries. They fight like crazy against people with injuries and you need legal help to take on that battle.
Now, if you weren’t injured, here’s how you start a claim:
If you’re using your own insurance to get your car or motorcycle fixed, simply call the number on the back of your insurance card and your company will get the process rolling – you will want to have your policy number on hand before making the call. If you’re making the other driver’s insurance company pay for your damages and losses, you must call them to start a claim. I recommend the following:
Often, after a body shop takes a car apart, they find more damage. It is a good idea to follow up with your body shop and see if they have updated the estimate and submitted it to the insurance company. If the shop is waiting on parts or authorization from the insurance company, ask when the car is scheduled to be worked on again. The reason for this is that an insurance company will not pay for a rental car if your car is not being worked on in a timely fashion.
After an accident, you have what’s called a “duty to mitigate your damages.” This means that you must minimize your losses and that you cannot allow bills to start piling up and expect the insurance company to cover them.
This is particularly important when your car is towed away after an accident. You need to get it out of the tow yard as soon as possible or, alternately, tell your insurance company that they have the authority to get it out. If you don’t get it yourself or release the car to the insurance company, then you may be liable for the days that the car sits in the yard. Once you give the insurance company the authority to remove it from the yard, then they can let it sit there as long as they want because it’s their responsibility!
Before releasing the car, however, you should go visit it and remove any valuables that remain. Also, you should take photos of the car to demonstrate the severity of the impact it sustained. Finally, I suggest you call the tow yard and ask what is required to release the car, or for you to have access to it. Some tow yards will allow you to release the car over the phone, but others require you to come in person, provide proof of ownership, and sign an authorization to release the vehicle.
Sometimes, the damages after a car accident don’t end with your car. For example, if you have a child’s car seat, you probably know that it is not supposed to be re-used after an accident. Make sure that you take pictures of the car seat and a photo of the tag on the seat showing the brand and type. If you have a receipt for the car seat, take a picture of that, too. If you don’t have a receipt, go online and take a screenshot of the brand and type of car seat you have, showing the current price. You will need to save the seat, as the carrier may want to take it and have it destroyed. This process applies to damages done to any of your possessions in the car. Please read below for how to make a claim for other property.
If you’re involved in a bicycle or motorcycle accident, you will likely have damage to your possessions, such as a cracked helmet, scuffed jacket, broken cell phone, and more. You are entitled to be reimbursed for those damages, as well. Here are some tips for recovering your losses.
Let’s say that your helmet ended up with a big scrape and a giant chip of paint. (Thank that helmet for saving your brain!) As you probably know, after a helmet has been in an accident, you’re no longer supposed to use it. Take a photo of the helmet showing the damage, and a photo of the helmet’s tag showing the brand and type. If you still have a receipt, take pictures of that, too. If you don’t have a receipt, go online and grab a screenshot of the helmet with the current price. Send that with your claim to the insurance company.
As with the car seat example above, when the insurance company pays you for losses on your helmet, jacket, phone or other items, they typically take possession of those items. Once they pay you for them, they own them, so don’t throw them away until after you get paid.
I hope this helps you manage your own property damage claim after an accident. But I should stress again: if you (or others riding in your car or on your motorcycle) has injuries from the accident, call an attorney immediately.
Worst Insurance Companies: Find out what insurance companies are rated the worst for cars and motorcycles. Also read about those our attorneys find treat their clients better.
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