Let’s pretend it’s a perfect world and everything goes as it should when filing an auto insurance claim. It might look something like this:
Settling a Claim
Of course a lot depends on circumstances. If you have a good relationship with your auto insurance company in Grapevine, Dallas, or Fort Worth or online, great. You’ve been out front and up front with what happened, the information requested, and it’s time to get your car repaired.
There are always howevers.
- The other driver’s insurance company may ask you to sign a release to settle your claim that says you won’t file additional claims related to the same accident.
- If you don’t understand this, talk with your auto insurance agent on the phone or in person at his or her Grapevine, Dallas, or Fort Worth office.
- Get a letter from your doctor estimating the cost and length of your future medical treatment to decide if your settlement is fair. Remember: document everything.
- Don’t sign a release until you are satisfied with the total settlement. Texas law gives you two years after an accident to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.
Texas law prohibits insurance companies from delaying payment of a claim to pressure you to sign a release. If you think an insurance company is delaying payment to pressure you, file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance.
The Other Driver
If the other driver denies fault, his or her insurance company may refuse to pay your claim. This can get sticky and contentious, so if you have the documentation that supports your claim — including names of witnesses and their accounts — it can certainly help.
Independent witnesses can make a difference in getting the company to pay. As stated, it’s important to get names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Take pictures or have someone take them for you.
Make sure the insurance company knows about the witnesses and your documentation. If the company continues to refuse to pay the claim, you can file a claim against your own insurance company or you may have to go to court to resolve the issue.
One thing you might not think of: Ask your auto insurance company in Grapevine, Dallas or Fort Worth or its underwriting department how a claim might affect your rates on renewal. A company can’t refuse to renew your policy solely because you had one accident in a 12-month period that was not your fault. However, if the accident affected your driving record, your company may consider it in determining your rates, whether you filed a claim for the accident or not.
Getting Your Car Repaired
Your auto insurance company will either have an adjuster inspect your car and give you a repair estimate, or it will ask you to get estimates from mechanics and auto body shops that it, most likely, pre-approves.
Some of the larger insurance companies have adjuster locations for you to visit. Others will send an adjuster to the accident site or to wherever the car is located.
Insurance companies will pay for repairs or replacement only up to the car’s actual cash value. Actual cash value is the amount your car would be worth if it weren’t damaged.
Some companies might give you a list of “preferred” repair shops, but they can’t require you to use a particular repair shop. For collision and comprehensive claims, your company only has to pay for parts of like kind and quality to those that were damaged.
Yeah, it can get messy.
Disputing a Settlement
If you and your auto insurance company can’t agree on the amount of a settlement, you can demand an appraisal.
Appraisal allows you and the auto insurance company to hire separate damage appraisers. The two appraisers choose a third appraiser to act as a referee or sorts.
The appraisers review your claim, and the referee rules on any disagreements.
The appraisal decision is binding on the amount of the damage. If there is a dispute about what is covered, you can pursue a settlement of the coverage issue after the appraisal. You must pay for your appraiser and half of the referee’s costs.
Appraisal is available only in disputes between you and your insurance company. It is not available if the other driver was at fault and you disagree with his or her company’s offer.
Totaling a Car
If repair estimates are more than your car is worth, the insurance company likely will total the car and pay you its actual cash value rather than pay to fix it.
Auto insurance companies use various sources for determining the value of your car. Ask you agent in Grapevine, Dallas, or Fort Worth or representative online what source they use to determine a car’s value.
Note: The company probably didn’t consider your car’s condition, special features, or value on the market when calculating its settlement offer. Be prepared to negotiate to get what you think is a fair deal, including collecting any receipts, photos, or other documentation that might help your case. The auto insurance company may raise its offer if you can show the car, as configured, would sell for a higher price in your area.
Another tactic is to get written price quotes, preferably on legitimate stationary (if possible), for a similar car from several used car dealers or look in the classified section of local newspapers for used car prices. Online searches of Internet used car companies is also worth the effort, although craigslist is iffy.
If you’re bound to the car for sentimental reasons — it was your first — and you’d prefer to have it repaired instead of totaled, you can keep the vehicle if you are willing to subtract its salvage value from the insurance settlement, remembering to make sure the repair cost will not exceed the actual cash value. To find out salvage value, contact local salvage yards in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. You’d be surprised how connected and computerized they are these days.
The Rental Car
There are several coverages that will pay for your rental car while the car is in the shop, including:
- If the other driver is at fault, his or her liability insurance may pay for the rental.
- If the accident was a hit-and-run or the other driver was uninsured and at fault, your UM/UIM property damage coverage will pay for a rental.
- If your car was stolen and you have comprehensive insurance, your company will provide a set amount for a rental car each day, up to the policy’s limit.
- If your car is being repaired or replaced for some other reason, you must have rental reimbursement coverage to get a rental.
We started off by saying “Let’s pretend it’s a perfect world.” We know it isn’t, so if you have a problem with a claim, first try to resolve it by talking with your agent in Grapevine, Dallas, or Fort Worth or online representative.
This is a good reason why we recommend getting to know your local agent, and for him or her to get to know you, as personal relationships are even more important in a hyper connected, often impersonal digital world.
Disputes are often caused by miscommunication, misunderstanding, providing the wrong information, and so on. Texas law requires most companies to have toll-free numbers for policyholders, so use them as a place to start.
If you still cannot resolve a dispute, you can always complain to the Texas Department of Insurance. The TDI will ask the auto insurance company for a detailed response to your complaint and share the response with you, sending an explanation of the outcome (usually) within 45 days of receiving the complaint.
Do realize, the TDI has limited jurisdiction. It cannot resolve questions of fact or determine who is at fault. These are usually resolved in court.
TDI’s involvement is more to encourage an auto insurance company to review your issue more thoroughly. By engaging the TDI, you are also helping others in Grapevine, Dallas, and Fort Worth (as well as all of Texas) as complaints and inquiries help the TDI assist others by identifying potential problems with insurance companies and agents.