Handling Property Damage Only Claims On Your Own!

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
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McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

Premise:  Your car was hit while parked, and no one was hurt.

In the insurance industry, this is called a property damage only claim.  If the person who hit your car let you know what happened and gave you their insurance information, this may be pretty simple.  You can call the other person’s insurance company (Google name of insurance company and the words “auto claim”) and tell them when your car was hit, who hit it, and describe your damage.

You will then want to get your car to a body shop for an estimate.  The other person’s insurance company will send an appraiser to see your car, or they may ask you to take it to one of their approved shops.

If the damage is bad enough, your car may be totaled.  That means, the cost to fix it is close to the value of the car, and it does not make sense to fix it.  You should then be paid the actual cash value for your car.  You will have to give the insurance company the title in exchange for the value of the car.  The property damage adjuster will offer you money for your car.  In advance of accepting the offer, you can check Kelly Blue Book online and put as much information as possible about your car into their website.  It will spit out a value range for what your car is worth.  The offer from the insurance company should be within this range.  If it is higher than the range, great.  If it is lower than the range, share the KBB value with the property damage adjuster and ask them why the value is lower.  You are not done.  Find, on the internet, the vehicle for sale closest to you which looks the most like your car that was damaged.  See how close you can get to the same year, make, model, mileage, and options as what your car had.  If that car which is for sale costs more than what the property damage adjuster offered you, ask them if you are supposed to be able to buy a car of like kind and quality with the settlement offer.  Then, share with the property damage adjuster the advertisement for the car which is very similar to the one their policyholder destroyed, and ask them to make an offer which would allow you to buy that car.

When your car can be fixed, you should know you can go to the body shop of your choice.  Make sure the work is done to your satisfaction, and make sure the body shop sends the final bill to the property damage adjuster to get paid.

Pennsylvania only requires people to carry $5,000 of property damage coverage on their car insurance. If your car is totaled and the value is over $5,000, the insurance company only has to pay you the limit of the coverage. If your care is damaged and the cost to repair is over $5,000, the insurance company only has to pay the limit of coverage. In either of those situations, if the person who hit your car has only $5,000 of coverage, you may be out of luck.

You can also make a claim on your own car insurance policy for a property damage claim, if your policy has collision coverage. Get your insurance papers out and look down the list of coverages you bought. Look for collision, and then look to see what your deductible is. Most people have $250 or $500 deductibles. That means you have to pay the first $250 or $500 of the damage before your insurance company will pay for the claim. Even though the accident was not your fault, you will still have to pay your deductible. If your insurance company is successful getting money back from the at-fault person’s insurance company, then you may get some or all your deductible back.  This process can take months.

While your car is being fixed, the insurance company for the person who caused the damage should provide you a rental car. Depending on the severity of the damage and the schedule of the body shop where you are getting your car fixed, they may provide the rental car for only a short time, or for a longer period. Communication with the property damage is very important to make sure you do not end up with a big rental car bill which the insurance company decides is extraordinary—and not payable. You don’t want that to happen. If your car is totaled, then there is probably only going to be a rental car provided for a short time after you have sent the title and received the check from the insurance company.

The worst case scenario is when there is not enough coverage to pay the value of a total loss or to pay to fix your car, or the person who hit your car did not have any insurance at all…and you did not buy collision coverage. Then you are in a real spot. Your only option is to go to your local district magistrate court, and file a complaint against the person who hit you. Filing will cost you money, and you should seriously consider whether the person who hit you has any money to pay you if you win in front of the Magisterial DJ. If you do win and get a judgement against the person who hit you, they can pay you directly to satisfy the judgement or you can take the judgement order to the sheriff and they can begin the process of selling the other person’s stuff so you get paid. There are many more fees that go with this process, so again, knowing whether the person who hit your car has anything to take is key.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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