After being involved in a car accident, one of the most pressing issues for most people is getting their car fixed and getting back on the road. In most accidents where the other driver is clearly at fault, the at fault driver’s insurance carrier will promptly step up to the plate, offer you a rental vehicle, fix your car, and get you back on the road. There are, however, occasions where things do not go smoothly with regard to property damage claims. Below is some general information about property damage claims, collision coverage, and getting you back on the road.
What is Collision Coverage?
Collision coverage is insurance coverage that will protect you in situations where the other driver’s insurance company does not promptly fix your car. It also will help you get your car fixed or replaced if you are in an accident that is your fault. Collision coverage is governed by Section 19-512 of the Insurance Article of the Maryland Code. Insurance companies in Maryland are required to offer collision coverage subject to deductibles of $50 to $250.00 in $50 increments. It provides insurance without regard to fault against property damage to your vehicle when driven in the United States, Canada or Mexico. If you purchase collision coverage in Maryland it will also cover you if you are driving a rental car for 30 days or less. Therefore, if you have collision coverage through your Maryland automobile policy, you do not need to buy the collision damage waiver or additional collision insurance coverage when you are in a rental car for 30 days or less.
Getting Your Vehicle Fixed in Clear Liability Cases
If your vehicle is involved in a car accident in Maryland, one of the biggest headaches is dealing with the property damage claim. As a courtesy to our clients, we help them handle their property damage claims when necessary free of charge. We only charge for handling the property damage aspect of the claim if it has to be litigated (if a lawsuit has to be filed to receive property damage compensation). We advise that all individuals purchasing car insurance in Maryland be sure to purchase collision coverage (and rental reimbursement coverage as well if possible). This coverage is very important and will protect you against financial hardship if you are in an accident that is your fault and/or where liability is disputed.
The first thing that you need to understand is that whether the other driver’s insurance company will settle your property damage claim at the forefront depends on whether they accept responsibility (known as accepting liability ) for the accident. When an accident is clearly the other driver’s fault, for example, in a rear end collision, quite often the insurance company will accept liability right away within 24 hours or so of the accident. However, there are other occasions, even in clear cut cases, where there is a delay in the adverse insurance company accepting liability. This happens for several reasons such as the other driver does not contact his or her insurance company, the other driver does not give a recorded statement to his insurance company in a timely manner, inexperienced claims adjusters, unfair insurance company tactics, or for whatever reason the adverse insurance company insists on investigating liability further. Also, some automobile insurance carriers are better than others when it comes to resolving property damage claims in Maryland car accident cases.
If liability is not clear, then the adverse insurance company will not agree to settle the property damage claim at all. This is why it is important to purchase collision coverage when you buy car insurance (see above). In these situations, we review our client’s own automobile insurance policy to see if they purchased collision coverage. If you have collision coverage, then your own insurance company will have to fix your vehicle (or pay you the value of the vehicle). The only downside of going through your own insurance company is that you will have to pay a deductible (typically $250 or $500). However, quite often you will get the deductible back through inter-insurance company arbitration and/or when the case resolves.
In our experience, if the accident was the fault of a government vehicle (for example a police car, postal truck, or ambulance), then you can expect that the liability adjuster for the adverse driver will delay accepting liability, and it is often a good idea to use your own collision coverage.
What if I do not have collision coverage and the other driver’s insurance company does not accept liability?
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to force an insurance company to accept liability and pay a property damage claim in a timely manner. These are difficult situations. We will do our best to help you if you are in this situation, but it is important that you understand that these situations can be avoided by purchasing collision coverage. A lawsuit can always be filed to recover property damage losses (including transportation costs, loss of use etc.), but that takes many months or even more to resolve and in the meantime, you will not have access to a car and will be incurring transportation costs. Our legal team understands that you need your car now to carry forth your daily activities. Often you cannot drive your car and must keep it in storage after a crash. The most important thing to understand is that you have a legal duty to mitigate your damages, and it is very important to get your vehicle out of storage so as to avoid racking up storage fees. If you do not have collision coverage, and the other insurance company does not agree to fix your car (or replace it if it is a total loss), then you are going to have to pay out of pocket to get your vehicle out of storage, fix your vehicle and/or get a replacement vehicle. If we are pursuing a personal injury case for you, in these circumstances we will include the reasonable storage fees and repair costs in our claim and fight to get you compensated for this when the case resolves. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to purchase a replacement vehicle and roll the debt owed on your old vehicle into the new vehicle. Everyone’s situation is different. Again, these are the most difficult situations when it comes to handling property damage claims, and our legal staff will do everything we can to help you get through this.
What does the law allow me to recovery for property damage?
If your vehicle is damaged in Maryland the law allows you to recover the reasonable cost of restoring your vehicle substantially to its condition immediately before it was damaged. In addition the law allows recovery for loss of use of the property during a reasonable period of time while it is being repaired. Where the cost of repairing your vehicle is more than its fair market value, then you are only entitled to the market value of the property before it was damaged. Maryland law also imposes a duty to mitigate damages on car accident victims. The law mitigation of damages in Maryland essentially is that A plaintiff has a duty to use reasonable efforts to reduce the damages, but is not required to accept the risk of additional loss or injury in these efforts. It is important to understand that the law does not allow you to have your car fixed in all situations. If the cost of repairing your vehicle exceeds the fair market value of your vehicle then you are only going to be entitled to the fair market value of the car.
It is important to understand that the law in Maryland does not require the insurance company to pay the replacement value of your vehicle. It only requires payment of the fair market value. This is unfair and creates additional hardship for many people especially those who owe more on their car than their car is worth, and those who have an older car that is good for basic transportation but has a low fair market value.
How does the insurance company determine what my car is worth?
The insurance companies will determine what your car’s fair market value is by using either NADA or Kelley’s Blue Book Values (most use NADA).
What if the amount offered by the insurance company is not enough to pay off my loan?
The law is not favorable to consumers in this situation. Unfortunately, the law in Maryland (and most other states too) does not require payment of replacement value, or that the insurance company pay off your loan. The law simply requires payment of fair market value of the vehicle. Therefore, if you owe $15,000.00 on your car, but the car is only worth $10,000.00 then you are only going to receive $10,000.00 in property damage compensation, and will still owe the bank $5,000.00. When our clients are confronted with this situation, we sometimes will advise that the client purchase a new car (not necessarily new but a replacement car) and roll the outstanding loan amount into the purchase price of the new vehicle. A solution to this problem is to be sure that you purchase GAP insurance when you finance your vehicle.
How long Can I stay in my rental vehicle?
The insurance company will only pay for the rental vehicle until the repairs to your car are completed or until they issue you payment for the total loss of your vehicle. It is important to return the rental vehicle in a timely manner in order to avoid excess storage fees.
Storage Charges-Will I be liable for them?
It is important that you do not just let your damaged vehicle sit in storage. Even though you were not at fault in the accident, Maryland law imposes a duty to mitigate damages on you. The answer is that yes-you can be liable for storage charges.