Dealing with property damage after an accident can quickly become a confusing, stressful mess. Between police reports, insurance claims, auto body shops, rental cars, and more, the process raises so many questions.
How do I get my car fixed? Who pays for repairs? What if the insurance company lowballs me?
Don’t worry. Our car accident lawyers here to walk you through the property damage claims process step-by-step. Consider this your comprehensive guide to fully understanding and navigating the claims process to get every penny you deserve after your vehicle sustains damage.
Safety should always come first when involved in an accident. Take a minute to assess the scene and check for any injuries. Move all vehicles involved in the collision out of traffic and onto the shoulder or a nearby parking lot.
This prevents the chance of additional accidents and allows first responders to access the scene. If anyone complains of pain or injury, call 911 immediately to alert police and paramedics. Never leave the scene of a serious accident until police have arrived and cleared the area.
Collect key information from the other driver(s) involved in the accident.
Having this documentation ensures you can get in touch with the liable party later and sort out insurance claims. If there were any eyewitnesses to the collision, ask for their contact information as well so you can reach out to them later for official statements if discrepancies arise over who caused the accident.
Take ample photos capturing all damage to the vehicles from multiple angles and absolutely anything else relevant to understanding how the collision occurred. The documentation you collect at the scene forms the backbone of your insurance claim, so be thorough. Detailed scene photos demonstrate the extent of damage and bolster your version of accident events.
For any auto accident involving major vehicle damage, injuries, ambulance transport, or a hit-and-run, you will want to get an official police report filed. Notify local law enforcement about the collision and request they send officers to the scene as soon as possible to take statements and write up the report. Alternatively, if the vehicles are drivable, head to the nearest police station after exchanging info with the other driver to provide your statement and get the process started.
Police reports contain unbiased third-party accounts from officers who interview all involved drivers and witnesses. These reports carry legal weight in determining fault and liability. They also include the badge numbers and names of responding officers, which may be useful later if you need a copy of the report. Having an official report on file strengthens your case down the line if the insurance company disputes damages or tries to pin fault on you.
You’ll want to call your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident to inform them of the situation, even if you aren’t planning to file a claim. Provide your policy number, the date/time/location of the accident, names of involved parties, and a brief description of damages.
This establishes a record of the incident in case issues arise later on. Ask if they require any additional documentation from you at this time.If you do wish to file an insurance claim related to the property damage, your provider will walk you through next steps like arranging a damage inspection, getting estimates, and referring you to approved auto body repair shops. Act quickly, as most insurance policies have strict claim reporting requirements (usually within 24-48 hours of an accident). Late reporting could delay repairs or even lead to denial of your claim.
Take your vehicle to a trustworthy auto body repair shop for a thorough inspection. Avoid fly-by-night shops you’ve never heard of – go with established businesses that have excellent reviews and a proven track record with major insurance providers. The shop should assess all collision damage, both exterior and mechanical issues under the hood. Many will provide free written estimates as a standard customer service.
If visiting multiple repair shops for estimates, look out for red flags like vastly inflated costs or questionable add-on fees compared to other shops. Only trust mechanics who are transparent about necessary repairs and their pricing. Share the detailed, itemized estimate(s) with your insurance claims adjuster, circling or highlighting any complex repairs required. This gives visibility into true repair needs as you negotiate settlement value.
Your insurance provider will review police reports, damage estimates, and their own vehicle inspection to determine if the accident and resulting property damage fall within your current policy coverage and at what amount.
If the collision was clearly another driver’s fault based on available evidence, their liability insurance provider should cover your repair costs. However, in some cases, insurance providers determine that shared fault exists, so they split costs according to each party’s proportional responsibility.
Your insurer will handle communications with the at-fault party’s provider to negotiate cost sharing. Be very clear on who is footing the final repair bill before agreeing to any repairs or settlement offers. If the provider tries to pin more responsibility on you than evidence indicates, don’t hesitate to contest liability designations.
Once your insurance provider has finished their review and officially approved your property damage claim, you can go ahead and schedule a specific repair date with the auto body shop. Confirm the availability of rental cars and the expected repair duration so you can arrange backup transportation if needed.
When dropping off your vehicle, reiterate that you expect OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts to be used whenever possible for proper fit, finish, and to uphold the manufacturer’s warranty on your car. Confirm that the shop is within your insurance provider’s approved network, assuming you want the shop to bill the insurer directly once repairs are complete. If paying any portion of the bill out-of-pocket, request a comprehensive invoice detailing parts and labor charges.
If you will be without your primary vehicle for more than a couple days during the repair process, ask your insurance provider about coverage for a rental car or reimbursement of rental fees. Many policies include contingent rental car coverage that kicks in when your vehicle is inoperable due to an approved claim. Just be sure to clarify whether this is included in your particular policy.
If so, your insurer can help arrange rental transportation from an approved agency to avoid disruption to your work commute, school drop-offs, and other daily routines while your car undergoes repairs. If paying out-of-pocket, save receipts for submission for potential reimbursement. Having a rental eliminates hassles during the repair process.
Be proactive in checking on the status of repairs at least weekly, if not more often. Reputable shops will update you on parts ordering/arrivals, bodywork completed so far, mechanical repairs done, etc. Keep your insurance claims adjuster in the loop on timelines for each phase of work in case delays arise requiring extensions of your rental car coverage. Don’t hesitate to follow up frequently for your own peace of mind and visibility into your vehicle’s repair progress.
When the body shop notifies you that work is complete and your car is ready for pickup, conduct an exhaustive inspection before driving it off the lot. Closely examine each area that sustained damage to ensure it was properly repaired and blends seamlessly with surrounding body panels. Perform a test drive to check for any mechanical issues like steering wandering, suspension noises, brake problems, warning lights, engine troubles, etc.
Immediately point out any unsatisfactory repair work or persisting damage to the shop management. Refuse vehicle release until all identified issues are addressed, and repairs meet your standards. You don’t want to get stuck footing the bill for additional corrective work down the line due to the shop cutting corners or missing damage upon initial inspection.
If the settlement amount offered by your insurance provider seems too low, considering the extent of damage and repair estimates from body shops, don’t be afraid to appeal the decision. Gathering documented evidence like multiple competitive estimates, detailed repair invoices, and comparisons to similar settlements can help build a case for the insurer to increase their initial offer.
Be firm yet professional in pushing back on unrealistic claim settlements. Enlist legal assistance if settlement negotiations with the insurer stall out, and you have evidence to justify greater compensation. Reliable legal advocates can aptly determine whether filing a bad faith claim is warranted. Don’t let insurance companies get away with lowball payouts. You deserve full and fair compensation based on actual repair needs.
There is no one-size-fits-all timeline for property damage claims. The process could take weeks or even months, depending on factors like part availability, additional hidden damage, and insurer responsiveness.
However, one key thing to understand is that insurance companies will almost always want to settle claims as quickly and for as little money as possible. Their goal is to minimize payouts, not make you whole.
This is why it is so important to speak with an experienced attorney before accepting any settlement offer from an insurer. We can assess whether their offer fairly accounts for the full extent of your vehicle damage and repairs needed.
Insurers commonly use tactics like pressuring quick settlements before damage is fully known, refusing to pay for certain repairs, or claiming you share fault when evidence shows otherwise. They bank on unrepresented claimants accepting lowball offers just to close the matter. Don’t let this happen to you. Our personal injury attorneys will deal with the insurance company so you can focus on getting your life back on track.
Don’t let property damage derail your life. Now that you understand the full process, you can confidently tackle each step to get your car fixed quickly and gain the maximum settlement you deserve. Record every detail, insist on quality repairs by reputable shops, and be ready to firmly but professionally contest unrealistic claim settlements. With smart advocacy or legal representation, you can navigate the claims process and come out with your vehicle restored and wallet intact.
If you need any guidance handling property damage claims in Tennessee, our attorneys are here to help. We have successfully represented clients just like you in recovering optimally after auto accidents. Contact our attorneys at Pickford Law to start discussing your property damage case in a free consultation.