How to Make a South Carolina Automobile Property Damages Claim Without an Attorney

You have three property damage insurance claims you can make when your car is in an accident with a careless South Carolina driver:

  • A liability insurance claim (his policy);
  • A collision insurance claim (your policy);  and
  • A uninsured motorist claim (your policy).

Let’s go in order.

Liability Insurance Claim

If the other driver is driving a car with the minimal required insurance (currently $25,000), he will have liability insurance that covers property damages caused by his careless driving.

Making a claim is simple.  Write to or call the other driver’s insurance company. We recommend writing because it creates a record of the claim. But calling will work fine if the liability insurance company is honest. If you make a telephone call, keep detailed notes about communications with the liability insurance company adjuster’s and claims department. Ask for the name of the person with whom you speak.

The liability insurance company will open a claim, assign a claim number, and refer the claim to a property damages adjuster. Write this information down.

The Liability Adjuster’s Preliminary Investigation

The first two issues the liability insurance adjuster will address is (1) verification that the other driver’s carelessness caused the collision, and (2) that there was coverage on the car at the time of the collision.

Liability Investigation

A copy of the FR-10 form should be sent to the liability adjuster as soon as the claim file is opened and/or a property damages adjuster is assigned to your claim. The adjuster’s liability determination can often be made simply referring to the police report, which will indicate the police officer’s opinion on fault. The FR-10 is a forensic document and it puts pressure on the adjuster to quickly resolve the liability issue and move on to the property damages assessment.

Sometimes the property damages adjuster will want to talk to the driver of the other car to verify the police officer’s opinion.  Sometimes this can cause a delay.  The longer the adjuster’s liability investigation drags on unresolved, the longer it will take to pay you for your loss. With some insurance adjusters, the preliminary investigation can take days or even weeks.  When the delay associated with the adjuster’s investigation becomes inconvenient, just file a collision insurance claim (if you have such coverage) on your policy.

Coverage Investigation

During the preliminary investigation stage, the liability insurance adjuster will also make a coverage evaluation. This coverage evaluation should not take long. However, there are exceptions such as when there is an issue of “permissive use” or fraud.

As recommended above with regard to a liability investigation that is taking too long, file a collision or “uninsured” claim with your own insurance company. These claims against your policy are subject to varying deductibles so do not give up on the liability claim. You want to keep pressing it to recover for these amounts of loss.

Damages Assessment

Eventually, the liability adjuster will attempt to determine the amount of your property damage. The damages assessment process is the same no matter what type of insurance claim you are making (liability, collision, or uninsured).

Minor Collision

In a minor collision, the adjuster will hire someone to view your vehicle and assess the cost of repairing it.

You have two options: (1) You can accept payment for the estimated repair expense and hire your own mechanic, or (2) you can take the car to one of the insurance company repair facilities.

Which option is best?

It depends.

I favor the insurance company repair facility because that will reduce argument about who is responsible for faulty repair work. However, if you know a good mechanic and the repair offer is more than what your mechanic is charging, it makes sense to choose someone you know.

If you take the vehicle to the insurance company repair facility, keep bringing it back over and over until the repair work is completed satisfactorily, or the mechanics just refuse to work on it anymore. After the repairs, you should also have your car checked by your mechanic to verify that factory parts were used and that all the repairs were adequately made. Take pictures, make recordings, and obtain statements if there are repair issues.

Major Collision

In a bad collision, the issue of total loss has to be considered.
Insurance companies generally realize that when the cost of repairing a car is more than fifty percent of its total value, it is a total loss. If the repair costs are over 75% of the vehicle value, South Carolina mandates that the car be declared a total loss. This is because major repair work will never be able to fully return the vehicle to its pre-collision state, and the vehicle will have a significant loss in value.

Total Loss

If the insurance company decides to total your vehicle, then you have two options:

  1. You can keep the vehicle and receive a payment for its pre-collision, fair market value minus the post-collision “salvage value.” (The salvage value of a new vehicle can be quite high); or
  2. You can deliver title to the insurance company and receive a full payment for the fair market value of the vehicle before the collision.
Option 2 is chosen frequently because people don’t want a smashed up wreck towed to their home.

If still owe money on the car, a bank will hold the title. The liability adjuster will negotiate the payments with both the bank and you to obtain the title free and clear.  Hopefully, the car is worth more than the loan balance, and you will receive some money after your debt with the bank is paid.

Repair

Repairing a vehicle that was in a major collision to its original condition is impossible. Document and create evidence to prove the inevitable unresolved problems. These problems decrease the value of your vehicle and you should receive compensation for the loss. Here are some examples:

  1. Go under the car and take pictures of a bent frame;
  2. Use your phone to record squeaks and whistles as you drive;
  3. Obtain statements from your mechanic that replacement parts were not factory parts (they can be used factory parts in South Carolina), or that repair work was incomplete;
  4. Record friends who can feel and see lumps on the body or differences in paint; or
  5. Take pictures to show visible unresolved problems.

Use the evidence and push for money to make up for the car’s decrease in value.

Collision Insurance

Collision insurance is no fault insurance. It pays no matter who caused the collision. Your insurance company will quickly pay you for your loss because it does not need to do a preliminary coverage or liability investigation.  Sometimes it is preferable to make a collision claim and quickly settle with your company rather than waiting weeks on the liability adjuster’s investigation.
To file a collision claim, just write or call your own insurance company and tell it you wish to open a claim. Like with a liability claim, the company will open a claim file and assign an adjuster.
Once the collision insurance claim is paid (or the repair work is authorized), your insurance company will pursue reimbursement with the liability insurance company.

What you will need to worry about when making a collision claim is your deductible. You need to continue to press the liability insurance company for reimbursement of your deductible. Sometimes your own insurance company will help with this.

Uninsured Motorist Claim

When the car that caused the collision is uninsured, or when a collision was caused by a hit and run driver, your only option is to file an uninsured motorist claim. You will have to pay the deductible amount.  However, an uninsured deductible will usually be less than a collision deductible. Make sure your own insurance company processes the claim in the way that is best for you financially.  They should do this without asking, but a lot of times the property adjusters do not bother. Probably because it makes work for them. If you stay on them, however, they will change the claim for you.
The process to make an uninsured motorist claim is the same as any other. Just write or call your company and make the claim. Keep a record of the number and adjuster’s name who is assigned to the claim.

You should make an uninsured claim when the liability insurance company is taking too long to figure out if there was coverage. Let the two insurance companies sort it out. Don’t forget to make the liability insurance company reimburse you for your deductible.

 

How to Use Your Smart Phone To Create Powerful Forensic Evidence for Your South Carolina Wreck Case You are here:

The collision site is now a crime scene. Even if you’re not a policeman, attorney, private investigator, or paralegal, you can still undertake a professional wreck investigation with one simple, everyday tool–the smart phone. Keep your head and use it. This post gives you some examples of how to use a smart phone to gather forensic evidence and support an insurance claim in a wreck case.

The dictionary defines forensic  as “the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems.” In the courtroom, forensic evidence is powerful. Forensic evidence includes pictures, videos, and careful measurements of time and space. Forensic evidence corroborates testimony. It is vitally important because it establishes a factual record that is not easily attacked by insurance defense lawyers.

What kind of forensic evidence do you need to prove her wreck case? Obviously, proof of the other driver’s carelessness. Less obviously, proof of the harms and losses caused by the negligence.

Gathering forensic evidence for harms and losses is sometimes overlooked by lay people and many practicing lawyers. However, the damages element is the most important part of a claim. Forensic evidence of harms and losses documented with a smart phone enhance the probability you will make a full monetary recovery.

The ubiquitous smart phone is your best tool for making a good forensic record. Send the image, audio and video files you make with it to yourself (or your attorney) by email, save them to your computer’s hard drive, and upload them to an Internet file storage service (e.g., Dropbox) as backup.

Here are some examples of how to use a smart phone to create forensic proof.

Take pictures of the vehicle damage.

The insurance company will take pictures of the vehicles. However, the insurance company takes photographs designed to minimize the collision impact. (Insurance defense lawyers like to argue the collision impact did not cause injury.) Therefore, you need your own pictures of the cars to prove the full extent of vehicle damage.

When you’re on the scene, think like a CSI. If a paint smudge on your car helps proves someone hit you, take the picture of the smudge.  If the dent location supports your description of the collision, take a picture. Take pictures of the interior. Look for bent steering wheels and star patterns on the glass. Photograph the speedometer and odometer.

If you cannot take pictures at the scene, it is worth a trip to the car storage facility to gather the evidence.