My Car Was Totaled and I'm Not at Fault: Now What?
You drive reasonably. You come to a full stop at intersections, always use your blinker, and obey speed limits scrupulously. Despite your caution, you may still find yourself in an accident on account of another driver's actions. So, what happens if someone else's negligence results in a crash that totals your car? The following article provides an overview of the process and potential issues following just such an accident.
Determining a Total Loss
The first step following an accident is to file an insurance claim with the other driver's insurer. The documentation included in this claim should be carefully assembled to ensure that you are fully compensated. There are situations in which the Kelley Blue Book value of your vehicle alone may not account for the full value of the vehicle. Modifications, such as an improved stereo system or recently-installed new tires, might impact the overall assessed value of the vehicle.
The insurance adjuster will use this information to determine the value of the vehicle before the accident. This number is then compared to the cost of repair. A total loss is declared when the cost of repair would amount to a percentage of the total value that is set by the insurer. This percentage is constrained by state laws, which frequently require a declaration of complete loss when damages are about 70 percent or more of the total value of the vehicle. The insurer may set a higher percentage than the state (but not a lower one) in reaching this determination.
After a Total Loss is Determined
When a car has been totaled the insurer must then compensate you for the determined value of the vehicle prior to the accident. They won't replace your car, or guarantee that the vehicle's pre-accident value will be enough to purchase a replacement. You cannot, in most situations, keep the wreck to sell or use for parts. By accepting a settlement payment you are agreeing that the insurer will take possession of the totaled car, which they will then sell to a scrap yard or repair and put back on the market as a salvage titled vehicle.
There are a number of potential issues that can arise when a car is totaled and you are not at fault. One issue involves an insurer's value estimate of the wrecked vehicle that is too low. Following an offer by an insurance adjuster you may send a reply that includes arguments and evidence for a higher estimate of the vehicle's value. This may result in an adjustment, but if the insurer is unwilling to properly value the vehicle you may need to sue them in civil court.
A second issue involves when the car that was totaled was purchased with a loan and the amount outstanding is greater than the insurer's estimated value of the car. In this circumstance you may find yourself paying for the car that was totaled through no fault of your own. Unfortunately, the car's destruction doesn't alter the loan agreement in any way. As such, your only recourse may be to argue for a higher value on the vehicle.
Get a Free Initial Claim Assessment
When a car is totaled and you are not at fault it may feel like you shouldn't have to do much to get compensated. However, insurers are crafty and they employ an army of professionals to help them protect their rights and avoid payouts wherever possible. Contact a local attorney for a free initial claim assessment to discuss how you might be helped by having professional assistance of your own.