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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
If the insurance company decides to total your vehicle, then you have two options:
- 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
- You can deliver title to the insurance company and receive a full payment for the fair market value of the vehicle before the collision.
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.
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:
- Go under the car and take pictures of a bent frame;
- Use your phone to record squeaks and whistles as you drive;
- 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;
- Record friends who can feel and see lumps on the body or differences in paint; or
- Take pictures to show visible unresolved problems.
Use the evidence and push for money to make up for the car’s decrease in value.
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
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.