5 Simple Steps to Handling Your Own Car Accident Property Damage Claim in Louisiana Without Hiring an Attorney
If you are involved in an automobile accident in Louisiana, chances are your car will have been damaged and may need to be repaired or replaced. You may have suffered some level of bodily injury also. While the services of an experienced car accident attorney will often be necessary to help handle a bodily injury claim, handling a property damage claim is something that you may be able to do yourself without having to pay a lawyer to help you.
Unfortunately, when it comes to getting your car fixed, what to do and who to talk to can be confusing. Also, chances are getting your vehicle repaired quickly is dire, as you need your car to get back and forth from work, school, daycare, etc.
While not actual legal advice, I wrote this simple step-by-step guide as a service to my clients and the public to help ensure your property damage claim is handled reasonably and promptly by the responsible insurance company. Should you wish to discuss the particulars behind your case or claim with me, I would be happy to do so. All you need to do is give our office a call at (504) 264-5587 to schedule a free consultation.
Here are five simple steps to handle your own property damage claim:
Step 1: Immediately Document the Damage & Call the Police
The first thing that you need to do following an automobile accident is document the damage to your vehicle. Most modern cell phones have cameras.
Use your cellphone camera to document the following items:
- Take pictures of the damage and the accident scene
- Record a video of the cars, and then the accident scene in genera
- Note the date and time of the accident, the position of the vehicles, any traffic signs, lights, or obstructions in the general area
- Write down your immediate recollection of the accident details. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
In addition to documenting your damages, be sure to gather the following information from the other driver while at the accident scene:
- Telephone number
- Driver’s license number
- Insurance company
- Insurance policy number, etc.
You should always call the police before moving any vehicles unless the safety of others or the law requires it, but always call the police, at any rate. A copy of the police report is typically available within 5-10 business days. Make sure you get it.
Finally, if your vehicle must be towed, tell the tow company where you would like it to be taken or make sure you know where it is going.
Step 2: Notify the Insurance Companies of the Claim and Get a Body Shop Estimate
Notify the Insurance Company of the Other Driver
Next, you’re going to have to report your damage claim to the insurance company of the responsible driver.
Hopefully you got the name and telephone number of the insurance company at the accident scene. If not, this information should be listed in the accident report. Following your filing of a claim, the company will assign an adjuster who, in all likelihood, will inspect and photograph the damage to your car. Additionally, they will probably estimate the cost to repair the damage, or, if the damage is extensive enough, determine that it is a “total loss.”
Be aware that any conversations you have with the insurance company may be recorded, and whatever you say can be used against you to deny your claim.
Remember, insurance adjusters are trained professionals whose entire job is to minimize your recovery. Therefore, if you suffered serious injuries in your accident, you should probably ask your attorney to participate in any discussions with insurance adjusters.
Notify Your Own Insurance Company
If you have collision coverage on your vehicle, in addition to contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you should strongly consider contacting your own insurance agent to file a claim. The reason for this is simple: your own insurer is likely to pay your claim and repair your vehicle faster than the other driver’s company. One downfall to this is that you will probably have to pay a deductible although you should eventually be reimbursed by the other driver’s insurer.
Get a Vehicle Repair Estimate From Your Own Body Shop
It is also a good idea to get an estimate from your own body shop. Although the insurance company may want you to use their “preferred” body shop, Louisiana law allows you to use the body shop of your choice to repair your car. When performing the estimate or repair, tell your shop to use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts only in connection with your repairs (to learn more about the importance of using OEM parts in vehicle repairs after an accident, click here). If the amount the insurance company offers to pay to have your car repaired is less than what your own body shop estimated, then have your body shop contact the insurance company and work it out with the adjuster on your behalf. Be prepared to negotiate with the insurance company. In most cases, the first offer you receive may not be the last, best offer.
Receiving Compensation for Diminished Value
In addition to the cost to repair your car, you are also entitled to compensation for “diminished value.” In this day and age, services like CARFAX track accident history, so it is easy for buyers to determine if a particular used car has been in an accident or not. It is well known that a used car that has been wrecked is worth less than that the same used car that has no accident history. Please note that a diminished value claim will probably require the services of an experienced car appraiser who can perform market research to determine what impact the particular damage to your car has caused to its value.
What To Do If Your Vehicle is Considered a Total Loss or “Totaled”
If the amount to fix your car is greater than the value of the vehicle, your car will be considered “totaled.” At that point, the insurance company will offer to pay you the “fair market value” for your car. Do not accept the number the insurance company provides as gospel. You should compare the amount being offered by the insurance company against Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and NADA values. Also, in case of a custom or vintage car, you should strongly consider having a professional appraisal done.
Compensation for Towing and Storage
If you have towing/storage coverage, your insurance company will pay for the towing and storage fees up to the limit of your coverage. If you do not have towing/storage coverage, or if the fees exceed your coverage limits, you can include those fees in the property damage claim with the at-fault person’s insurance company. Be sure to inform the insurance companies right away if your vehicle was towed from the scene. Storage fees add up quickly. You have a duty to mitigate (to minimize) your damages, which means you must act reasonably to protect your property from further harm. An unreasonable delay in removing your vehicle from the storage facility can cost you your entire property damage settlement.
Step 3: Submit Your Claim in Writing
Once you have the police report, repair estimate, and any other documentation regarding property damage costs (for example, diminished value appraisal), you should provide copies to the insurance company by fax, email, and/or certified mail.
The key is to submit the claim in writing, and be sure to document when and how you provided proof of your claim to the insurance company.
For example, if sending by certified mail, be sure to keep a copy of the proof of mailing and return receipt (old fashioned “Green Card” or modern electronic notice) that lets you know when the company got the letter. If sending via fax, be sure to keep the fax confirmation page. Lastly, if forwarding your claim via email, be sure to request and save notice of when the email was received and read. Proof of submission and receipt of your property damage claim is vitally important when it comes to Louisiana’s bad-faith law discussed below.
Step 4: Monitor the Insurance Company’s 30-Day Bad Faith Deadline
Under Louisiana law, an insurance company can be subject to severe penalties for bad faith if it fails to make an offer and/or pay an undisputed claim within thirty days of the proof of property loss.
For this reason, it is extremely important to document when your damage estimate was sent to and received by the insurance company. While it will probably require hiring a qualified car accident attorney to recover these bad faith damages, the key is to know of their availability if the insurance company should improperly delay payment of your claim.
Step 5: Avoid Insurance Company Tricks and Traps
First things first: if you suffered any type of bodily injury in connection with your car accident, never, I repeat, never sign anything sent to you by the insurance company without seeking legal advice. If you do, it may well be the end of your bodily injury claim as insurance adjusters often include language on property damage releases that include release for personal injury as well.
Additionally, even though it is common for additional damage to be discovered once actual repair to your car begins, insurance adjusters often include language in their property damage releases that preclude you from seeking additional compensation, even if the additional damage was clearly caused by the accident at issue.
While handling your own property damage claim is not a very complicated process, asking an attorney for advice is never a bad idea, especially when signing documents.
When handling your property damage claim, remember, you are in a negotiation with the insurance company. It is their goal to pay you as little as possible to settle your claim. Because of this, be sure your numbers are well researched, and do not accept less than you should.
If you follow the five simple steps outlined above, you will be on the right track to getting your car fixed as soon as possible.
Consulting a Car Accident Lawyer
Finally, if you have any questions about your property damage or bodily injury case, call the Law Office of Keith L. Magness today at (504) 264-5587. We will be happy to help. We pride ourselves on helping auto accident victims receive and keep more of compensation they deserve.