6/1/2012 3:57 PM ET|
Car crash? How to get a fair deal
Even when the accident wasn't your fault, getting a reasonable insurance settlement can be a hassle. These tips make it easier.
At first, Justin Lugbill and his wife, Erica, thought the popping sounds were firecrackers. Then they spotted flashes from a gun -- right before they saw a car careering straight toward them.
Luckily, the Chicago couple weren't seriously injured in the head-on collision, which involved more than gunplay (the other driver blew 0.15% on a breathalyzer, nearly double Illinois' legal limit). But the 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan they had just bought was totaled.
The bizarre crash was just the beginning of the Lugbills' problems. The other driver's insurance company refused to offer what the Lugbills considered to be a fair settlement.
"The collision pushed us into four parked cars along the side of the road, but they keep insisting they wanted to give us $900 less than what we paid for the car just two months ago," says Justin, 26, a marketing executive. The crash, which happened in late March, remains unresolved.
Anyone who's been in an accident in which the other driver left your car a mash of ground-up metal can empathize. And, as every ambulance-chasing attorney's TV ads proclaim, someone else's insurance company often fights hammer and tongs to avoid paying a nickel more than it has to.
Though it can be a struggle, you don't necessarily have to end up laying out a chunk of change for a nasty accident that wasn't your doing.
Call the carrier
Job one: Don't stand on protocol and assume the other driver will contact his insurance carrier.
"Definitely call them to start the process. Many drivers do not report accidents for hope that the other driver won't and it will all just go away," says Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Simeone. Also let your own insurance company know what happened. Not only may "good-faith reporting" reduce your premiums over time (the details are noted in your file and can count toward good-driver discounts), but it can also prove essential if your carrier gets involved in the process later on.
The next step in the fight is comprehensive documentation. Unless they argue that somehow or other their guy wasn't responsible, the insurance company will eventually present you with a settlement based on what they determine to be your car's replacement value before the accident. While that figure may strike you as laughably low, it's usually fairly reasonable, given that depreciation, mileage and even the most minor body dings can substantially shrink value.
"With the advent of the Internet, insurance companies generally can and do perform a pretty exhaustive search for the value of your car," Simeone says.
Do the same legwork on your own. Check the Kelley Blue Book to find the average dollar value for your make and model, taking into account age and other factors. Get additional estimates from other sites, such as Edmunds.com, to corroborate the amount. Don't kid yourself: If, for instance, your car had a dented fender or a slightly bent tailpipe, don't slap it into the "perfect condition" category. However, make sure you do get detailed documentation of any recent repairs or work done on the car: Obtain receipts listing the parts involved, prices and any other relevant information.
Additionally, says Bill Van Jura, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., insurance consultant, shop around for a replacement so you can cite a specific car as an example of what you'd accept. Stick within 60 miles of where you live so the insurance company can't argue that prices are affected by different market conditions.
If what you come up with seems fairer than what the carrier offers, present your counterproposal. "Negotiate with them as best you can. They will respond better to negotiations backed by documentation and facts, such as your car had fewer miles or more options, rather than you simply your saying 'I loved my car,'" Simeone says.
It can work. John Wetmore of Bethesda, Md., plowed into a deer several years ago with his 1984 Camry. His insurance company considered it totaled and offered $500. Through careful evidence that he had maintained the car well -- including an itemization of new parts -- the company doubled its settlement to $1,000.
But even thorough arguments can fall on deaf ears. One option is filing a lawsuit to obtain reasonable damages. The natural downside to this, though, is that lawyers are pricey and the expense might not justify a car that's only worth a few thousand dollars. Another cost-effective possibility is small claims court, but that can depend on the maximum claim allowed by your state. For instance, claims as large as $25,000 are permitted in Tennessee. If, however, you live in Massachusetts, your options are a good deal more limited ($2,000 maximum).
Bring in your own people
Now may be the time to get your own insurance company involved. Ask your agent if he or she would serve as an informal advocate on your behalf to persuade the other carrier to loosen their purse strings. Leverage any history as a safe driver and a long-standing policy owner (insurance companies are always eager to hang on to good customers). If you have a strong case, ask your carrier to pursue a claim against the other driver's insurance company through intercompany arbitration. If your carrier does and prevails, the settlement will almost certainly be larger than what the other carrier offered initially.
Also, if you haven't already, provide your insurance company with all the facts and evidence pertaining to the incident. Even if the other driver has insurance, your own uninsured motorist coverage (required in most states) may provide you a better offer.
"If the other driver has insurance, your own company probably could avoid (paying you) for some time," says Eli Lehrer, the head of the insurance project at the Heartland Institute, a free market think tank. "But, provided that the facts are sufficiently clear and the other insurer is just being recalcitrant, I'd suspect that many insurers would, indeed, just pay if you have uninsured motorist coverage."
Your insurance company may also be of help if the other driver's minimal coverage won't cover all damages. Check if your coverage extends to underinsured motorists. With this, you can exhaust the responsible driver's coverage and tack on your own to make up any shortfalls.
Regardless, if you have collision coverage, authorities agree it's always smart to involve your own carrier no matter if the other person's company is cooperating satisfactorily or howling over every penny.
"Your insurance company has a duty to treat you fairly, and it may offer you slightly more money for your car than the other guy's carrier," says Orlando, Fla., attorney Shane Fischer. "If they don't treat you fairly, they know you'll take your future business elsewhere. The other driver's carrier doesn't have that pressure, so they are less likely to care how they treat you."
Repair, don't replace
If a reasonable solution cannot be reached, there's one final option, provided your car isn't already buried in a landfill: Accept the money offered by yours or the other guy's insurance company and use it to pay for whatever repairs are needed to get the car back on the road. It might not be the prettiest ride on four wheels, but it's a cost-effective alternative to buying a new car and possibly being saddled with loan payments.
Says Simeone: "This is helpful for older cars. It's not because it is damaged beyond repair, but because the value of the vehicle is so low, the insurance company can pay less by simply treating it as a totaled car."
The trick is not only getting the car back into sufficient driving shape but making sure it is safe enough to pass a state inspection. To hedge your bets, check with your mechanic first to see if, in fact, reasonable repairs will be sufficient for the powers that be to declare it safely drivable. That way, you avoid wasting money on a car that's simply beyond recovery.
"The biggest challenge in many cases is getting the title back in order," Van Jura said. "This will vary from one state to another. Most companies will provide liability insurance; however, many will not offer physical damage coverage to a salvaged vehicle."
Above all, don't lose heart. Even if you have to pay your deductible to adequately cover your loss, it beats a penny-pinching settlement from the other driver's carrier or having to shell out a bundle on a pricey new model. But the process can be drawn out and maddeningly frustrating.
"Even if the other driver has insurance and they accept responsibility, it is still a pain to have to deal with a damaged car," Simeone says. "Avoiding a loss can be complicated."
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Just a couple of comments. No, we are not crooks...we are normal people who try to treat every one fairly. Keep in mind that we often do start out defensive because many people see an insurance company involved and try to profit from it. ie: minor hit in the rear and it chipped their windshield??? really? Minor hit in the rear with little or no damage and they go to one of those 'people friendly' attorneys and ask for $25k for their 'injury'??? OK, you should get the point there.
next: DO NOT keep your vehicle at the tow yard till settlement. Tow yards charge storage daily. Insurance companies will stop paying storage on first contact if you do not give permission to move...YOU will be responsible for any additional storage. Once your vehicle is moved to a staging area, which is storage free, it sits there till settlement is reached. If they start requiring insurance companies to pay extra storage.....policy holders will end up being charged more.
A deer hit DOES carry whatever Comprehensive deductible you have. In the past, some states paid that for you out of state budgets but they no longer do. Insurance companies used to waive the ded and collect from the state...but no longer do
If you think you should always get an attorney EVERY time you get in a wreck.....look at an attorney's house and then look at a claim rep's house....who do you think is making all the money...?????
on totals: we now use a system similar to real estate valuation. we find out what that car is actually selling for and pay that amount. seriously, can you think of a better way??? NADA does not consider mileage over 150,000 miles. NADA does not take into consideration the condition of the car. Kelly BB is usually pretty close to what we come up with and if there is a dispute, we sometimes use KBB to confirm our offer was fair. BUT AGAIN: some people think they should always get more than what the car is worth and/or claim there was no prior damage when there obviously was....
On a helpful note: if someone else is at fault, try to get their tag number. In most states, we can trace the tag and find out who the other party is. That is MUCH quicker than waiting for the accident report...
Insurance is the biggest racket of all scams. You miss a monthly payment they cancel your insurance. You go without an accident for years they raise your rates based on the amount of claims they had to pay out for other people which had nothing to do with you. if that doesn't work and you have an at fault accident they only pay what the alleged blue book says your car is worth nothing more then they find a reason to raise your rate if you happen to get the car fixed with some under handed excuse. I want to know where all the money goes to pay for insurance that you pay year after year without any claims. At the end of the year no one sends you a refund of any kind. Then if you don't have insurance the state will revoke your driver's license and often impound your vehicle to have you pay tow and storage fees. It all a racket and getting robbed for the lack of a better word without the use of a gun. Oh, don't forget about the insurance you pay for the uninsured driver who has never had any insurance no license and five or more DUIs. It very difficult to be a good law bidding citizen when you are getting screwed with insurance cost for cars, medical, gas, heat, food water and utilities. There is not need to ask why some people trun to cirme. The are just feed up with the system of things from the alleged greatest country on earth.
Can't Obama or Romney fix these problems in America. NO and neither can anyone else. We the people are responsible for allowing thes basic costs in America to get out of hand. We can't blame on Obama. Obama took on a job where the expectaitons were to great to over come by any human being black or white in 3.5 years.
Finally, I got an attorney to handle it. He only did the injury part. After another couple of months, we finally got some very slack response. I had to listen to ridiculous offers of $7000 as a total wreck settlement on a car I had bought the day before the accident for $13,500.
Eventually, with some help from the attorney, and a threat of charging them with acting in bad faith, they paid almost what I paid. That's as good as I could do, and I definitely did NOT pay too much for the car, and I definitely did not ask too much on the injuries.
These people need some better regulation, but I suppose they have already bought their way into the politicians who would do that.
It's a racket, if you ask me, and the state offices that should help out, just don't..
We were just trying to get back to normal, and we got smacked at every turn by a crappy insurance company. The whole ordeal went on for a couple years in total. My mother eventually died with the lingering effects of the injuries still dragging her down. As for me, my back and neck will never be the same.
Best bet: buy high quality insurance from a reputable company that covers you fully no matter what the other driver's insurance does or doesn't do.
make this simple, daughter head-on not at fault,, 18 wheeler vs. kia rio, ya cut that baby in 2. she got a ambulance ride for hurt knee no blood or any thing . lucky !!! this all accrued at 4:00 am in the morning about 4 miles up the highway. so hopped in car got their took lots of pic. truck vin# on door and dash because people will change plates, took pic of driver etc. OK got the police report next day called company that hit me they said none of their trucks involved, in no acciedentmmmmmmmmmmm???? asked for their ins. company they gave me some fly by night at of texas. this is what i asked for replace car of the same no more no less .they offered about half of market value of my area. OKKKKKKK? that's all ..i told them i will take care of our own medical ect . but pay the ambulance bill of 1,200 bucks they said they would pay only 300 bucks what ok they have really pissed me off now, then i do a background check on the other driver heroin addict for 20 or more years rap sheet 2 miles long just released on bond for drug violation !!! called his ins company they stood their ground , got a lawyer , what was a simple claim of about 14,000 including car,medical and ambulance bill, became a check three month's later for 230,000 bucks. so with all said do your home work investigate every thing because lawyers will usually not do this, and it speeds up process . then let lawyer take over, KEEP YOUR OWN INSURANCE COMPANY IN THE LOOP FROM DAY ONE, my ins.said you can handle it if you wish . any problems we will step in i think the lawyer did my daughter super good
One additional comment... Other posts are talking about getting fair market value. They suggest comparing to vehicles for sale in the area. That is a good way to set value. BUT, the cars for sale on car lots are RECONDITIONED FOR SALE. Yours is not. You would have to deduct from the established sale value the amount it would cost to put it in sellable condition; the cars on the lot would NOT have half worn out tires; deduct $400. The cars on the lot would NOT have a dent in the driver's door or a cracked rear bumper or a tail light that doesn't work. DEDUCT accordingly. the cars on the lot would be "detailed"; washed and waxed, cleaned inside and out. Yours is not. I don't know about the cost of detailing in your area but where I am from it would be about $200 or so. DEDUCT accordingly. Also, one post said they put $1200 into a transmission rebuild and were upset the insurance company only added $200 to the value. How does a rebuilt transmission add anything to the value. Every car has a transmission. If it doesn't, it is worth nothing but scrap value. If it has a transmission, it has a transmission; original or rebuilt, who cares.
P.S.: All insurance companies are NOT bad. Do not shop for insurance based on price alone. Check with other people to see what insurance they have and what the claims service is like. Read posts like this and see which insurance companies people are not happy with. As in all things, you often get what you pay for.
I have USAA. By far and away best service I have ever got from an Insurance company. Best customer service and make sure all repairs are done right. One of the best benefits for being former military.
Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.
MUST-SEE ON MSN
- Video: Easy DIY smoked meats at home
A charcuterie master shares his process for cold-smoking meat at home.
- Jetpacks about to go mainstream
- Weird things covered by home insurance
- Bing: 70 percent of adults report 'digital eye strain'