Guide to Auto Accident Property Damage in Virginia
Many times our personal injury clients experience problems resolving their property damage. Sometimes, clients come to Franklin and Franklin because of their horrible property damage claims experience with the negligent driver’s insurance company. We see these bad experiences usually taking one of two forms: 1) the insurance company takes too long to get back with the injured party or 2) the insurance company offers a low dollar amount for repairs or for the totaled vehicle. We’ll address these two issues in separate parts.
Part I - Delays in Processing
How long is too long? There is no set time frame in Virginia for the resolution of property damage claims. Most insurance companies recognize that it’s in their best interests to resolve the property damage and rental car claims quickly. Insurance adjusters know that resolving these claims builds both trust and a working relationship with the injured party and usually eliminates the chance that they will go to an attorney. On the other hand, when the adjuster takes too long to get with you on your property damage or rental car, many times it may be best to work with your own insurance company to resolve the property damage issue under your own collision coverage. Time is important to you and the longer you are without your car or a rental, the harder it is for you to conduct your business. By using your own collision coverage, you will have to pay a deductible, but in cases where liability is clear, your insurance company will usually get your deductible back from the other driver’s company. Just don’t expect to get that deductible back quickly.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have collision insurance coverage on your policy, you will want to call the negligent driver’s insurance company and ask for a supervisor or to have the claim assigned to another adjuster because of the delays. Be sure to document the times you have called, emailed or texted with no response to better state your case. There is no time within which the insurance company has to respond to you. If more than four days have gone by since the accident and you’ve had no resolution, we recommend contacting a lawyer to assist with the claim. Depending on the estimated repair amounts or the totaled value of your vehicle, your lawyer may be able to file a bad faith lawsuit against the insurance company for the unreasonable delay. Property Damage claims fall under a five (5) year statute of limitations in Virginia (see §8.01-243(B)) so you have plenty of time to decide what to do.
Hit by an Uninsured Driver or Unknown Driver?
When you are hit by an uninsured driver, you will want to file a claim with your company under your uninsured motorist coverage. Let your insurance company know as soon as possible that the other driver is uninsured. If the other driver is unknown, your company can charge you a $200 deductible under Virginia law. You also have a duty to promptly report the accident to authorities or your insurer, especially if there was no contact between your vehicle and the unknown motorist’s vehicle. See Va. Code §38.2-2206(D) for more details.
Negligent Driver Doesn’t Have Enough Insurance.
What if the driver who caused my damage doesn’t have a enough insurance coverage to pay for the property damage? As cars get more expensive to buy, own and repair, the $20,000 minimum policy limits carried by many Virginia drivers is insufficient to pay for the damage. In these cases, as soon as you realize the repair costs or totaled vehicle value exceed the other driver’s coverage, we recommend that you contact your insurance company to advise them of the underinsurance situation to see how they recommend handling the claim under your policy. It may be advantageous to allow your company to cover the property damages and to seek reimbursement from the other driver’s insurance company. This would also depend on the amount of coverage that you carry on your policy. We recommend that you always carry enough insurance to be able to cover the expense of repairing or replacing your own vehicle.
What if there are multiple cars involved in the collision caused by one driver? If the negligent driver doesn’t have enough insurance to repair all of the vehicles, he would be considered underinsured. The situation is the same as when the driver doesn’t have enough coverage. We recommend involving your insurance company as soon as you can to take advantage of your uninsured motorists coverage to cover the repairs or totaled value of your vehicle.
We’ll cover what to do when the insurance company makes you a low ball offer in Part 2.