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Property Damage

Virtually all car crashes involve some degree of damage to the vehicle. Regardless of who was driving or who paid the insurance, it is the vehicle’s title owner who has the right to claim property damage. A claim for property damage is separate from the personal injury claim and is usually resolved first. When we represent clients for personal injuries, we also handle their property damage claim.

When a property damage claim is made, an insurance company representative will inspect the vehicle and make an estimate of the repair cost. Depending on the cost of repair, the vehicle is either “repairable” or is a “total loss.”

Total Loss

An insurance company will declare a vehicle a total loss if the damage is so severe that it cannot be structurally repaired or if it is not economically feasible to repair. Georgia law does not require insurance companies to pay for repairs that exceed the vehicle’s pre-collision fair market value. This is the amount you might reasonably expect to receive if you sell the vehicle, given the location, age, mileage, and condition of the vehicle. Insurers typically consider a vehicle “totaled” if the repair cost exceeds approximately two-thirds of the fair market value.

If your vehicle is a total loss and the insurer accepts liability, the insurance company buys the vehicle from you, takes the title, and sells the vehicle for salvage. The insurer is responsible for paying you the fair market value as of the date of loss, plus ad valorem tax and tag/title fee. Unfortunately, many insurance companies will offer less than a vehicle’s fair market value.

As part of our services, we obtain the insurer’s valuation report and scrutinize it for errors, omissions, and discrepancies. We make counter offers to seek a better deal for you. If the insurer refuses to negotiate in good faith, we hire an independent appraiser to assess the fair market value and use the appraisal to support a statutory demand for payment. If the insurer doesn’t pay the demand in a timely manner, a bad faith claim can be pursued in court to recover your total loss damages.

 

Repairable Damage

If the vehicle damage is repairable and the insurer accepts liability, the insurance company will typically issue you a check for the amount of the estimate. It is advisable to hold onto the check so you can present it to the body shop after the repairs are completed.

You can select the body shop of your choice, and they will begin work on your vehicle based on the insurance estimate. If the shop determines that the repair estimate is too low, they will request a supplemental estimate from the insurance company.

If any issues arise during the repair, we are available to assist and advise you.

Rental Car and Loss of Use Claims

We can assist you with rental car arrangements as part of our legal services. If you are entitled to a rental vehicle but prefer not to rent one, you may have the option to receive money for “loss of use” (for being deprived of the use of your vehicle). Depending on the size and type of your vehicle, some insurance companies will pay a certain daily amount in lieu of actual rental expenses. Loss of use begins at the time of the wreck if the damage rendered your vehicle inoperable or unsafe to drive. As part of our legal services, we can seek recovery of your loss of use damages.

Diminished Value

Once your vehicle is repaired, you may be entitled to payment for diminished value. This type of property damage represents the sudden loss in value of your vehicle, due to the wreck itself. In other words, a wrecked vehicle is not worth as much as it did before the wreck, no matter how well the repairs were made. If you were to try to sell your vehicle after the repair, no one would want to pay the market price knowing that it had been in a wreck. They would offer less, if anything at all. This reduction or diminishment in value is the difference in the fair market value before to the wreck compared to after the repair.

The amount of diminished value tends to be higher when vehicles are newer and/or the damage is greater. An independent appraiser can determine diminished value, and the amount can be negotiated with the insurance company. If, however, the insurer refuses to negotiate in good faith, a bad faith claim can be pursued in court for diminished value.

Bad Faith Claims

If you are not paid for your property damage, you have rights. Georgia law requires liability insurance companies to adjust property damage claims fairly and promptly, and to make a good faith effort to settle your claim. The failure to do so exposes insurers to penalties for bad faith and attorney’s fees. We can help you understand your rights and can pursue a property damage bad faith claim for you, even if you don’t have a personal injury claim.

 

Punitive Damages

If the at-fault driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), you may have a claim for punitive damages in connection with your property damage claim, even if there were no injuries. If this is the case, you should not accept any offer or check from the insurance company for payment of the repair estimate, diminished value, or total loss before you have the chance to consult with an attorney. Otherwise you risk waiving a potentially large claim for punitive damages. While a property damage claim is compensation for a damaged vehicle, a punitive damage claim is for additional money to punish an at-fault driver for his/her dangerous conduct in causing the collision.

If a drunk driver caused your property damage, please contact The Law Office of Paul Shimek for a free consultation as soon as possible.

 

“I really appreciate your extensive knowledge on how you handled my automobile accident, how you dealt with the at-fault insurance company, and how you obtained a fair settlement for me. You handled everything in a professional and speedy manner with limited delays…” —Diane S.