Property Damage

Automobile accident claims are divided into two distinct parts. The largest, and most important, is the bodily injury damages suffered by the injured person. They involve both economic damages and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. The other part of the claim is for property damage.

It is the property damage issue that arises first and is often frustrating. When liability is reasonably clear, the Washington Unfair Claims Practices Act requires the liability insurer of the at-fault motorist to promptly compensate the claimant for property damage. This is the preferred method of handling property damage as it does not involve the payment of a deductible, which is the case when the claimant makes the claim under their own insurance policy.

The measure of damages is the lesser of the reasonable value of necessary repairs and the fair cash market value of the property immediately before it was damaged. For example, if a car has a $5,000 fair cash market value, and it requires $8,000 to restore it to its pre-accident condition, the damages would be $5,000.

If in the above example the vehicle was worth $12,000, then the measure of damages would be $8,000, the reasonable cost of repair, plus the diminished value of the repaired car.

The owner of the damaged vehicle is entitled to have it inspected by a body shop of his/her choice who will issue an estimate. A property damage adjuster for the at-fault motorist's liability insurer also will inspect the damage and make an estimate as well. An agreement will be reached regarding the repairs; either a check will be issued to the owner of the property for the cost of repair or the insurance company will work directly with the body shop to ensure that it is repaired and any additional charges that are incurred during the repair of the vehicle are covered.

Usually, the liability insurer will authorize the owner of the damaged vehicle to rent an automobile to drive while the car is being inspected and repaired. This is to offset the owner's "loss of use" which also is an item of damage. Unfortunately, the practice is to authorize only the rental of a medium size vehicle, which does not always fully compensate the person. It is important not to rent a vehicle yourself, without first obtaining the liability insurer's authorization and having the insurance company give a claim number to the rental agency.

Problems frequently arise in total losses. Typically, the vehicle owner is not happy with the fair market value appraisal of his/her car. The property damage adjuster's estimate is negotiable and may be increased by demonstrating sales of similar vehicles at higher prices. This can be done by contacting sellers of similar automobiles through classified advertising, auto trade magazines, or obtaining affidavits from used car dealers.

There are also sites on the internet that provide vehicle appraisals. One popular site is Kelley Blue Book.

Recent maintenance or improvements to the vehicle generally do not increase its market value; i.e., the installation of new engine parts, tires, water pumps, tune ups, brakes, etc. as they are regarded as maintenance items.

When a car is deemed to be a total loss, the at-fault party is not required to compensate the vehicle owner for loss of use. This strange rule of law was determined by the Washington Supreme Court in 1966 in the case of McCurdy v. Union Pacific Railroad. The basic assumption of the rule is that the defendant will tender immediately the fair market value of the destroyed property to the claimant, and the claimant is then in the position to purchase a replacement vehicle. In practice, the vehicle owner must rent a car anyway in order to shop for a new vehicle, or the vehicle owner may not be in a position financially to purchase a substitute vehicle because there was a loan against the damaged vehicle.

As a result, people often become frustrated and angry when they are not given a rental car in total loss situations. Many times this is the dispute that drives an injured person to seek legal representation. Read “When Should I Hire a Lawyer?” for more information.

With the help of The Farber Law Group, a Washington law firm experienced and knowledgeable in handling auto accident cases, you may be able to recover the full amount of your damages. Please contact us for more information and to schedule a free consultation.