Who Will Pay for the Damage to my Car?

An Analysis of Motor Vehicle Property Damage Claims

This is one of the first questions people usually ask after being involved in a motor vehicle crash, and understandably so.  Many people rely on their cars every day for transportation for themselves and for their families.  Suddenly losing a vehicle in a crash, whether temporarily while it is being repaired, or permanently if the vehicle is a total loss, can be a frustrating experience.  As soon as all of the passengers are checked for injuries, attention typically then turns to the damage to the vehicles.

Who Caused the Crash?

Fault plays a large role in determining who pays for the damage to the involved vehicles.  If possible, at the scene of the crash, it is important to get the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all other drivers involved, and to write down the insurance information (particularly the insurance company name and policy number) for all involved vehicles.  Also write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses who are kind enough to stick around and give you their information.  If the police arrive, make sure to clearly tell them how the crash happened.  Oftentimes when multiple drivers are involved in a crash, they may not give the same story about how it happened.   If the police officer writes a report, you want to make sure he or she understands your side of the story.

Full Coverage or Liability Only?

One important question to ask when determining who will pay for your vehicle damages is whether your insurance includes collision coverage (also commonly referred to as ‘full coverage’).  Not all insurance polices in Minnesota include collision coverage.  If your insurance policy is ‘liability only,’ then you will not have collision coverage.  If you do have collision coverage, find out what your deductible is.  Most are either $500.00 or $1,000.00.  If you have collision coverage, you can make your claim for vehicle damage to your own insurance company, subject to any applicable deductible.

If the motor vehicle collision was another driver’s fault, you will have a second option.  You can make your claim for damages to the insurer of any at-fault driver or vehicle.  If you do not have collision coverage on your own insurance policy, then this will be your only option.  If you do have collision coverage, you can decide whether to make your claim against your own insurer, or against the at-fault driver’s insurer.  

Your Choice:  Submit your Claim to your Insurance, or the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance

The benefit of submitting your claim to your own insurance policy is timing: your claim will oftentimes be paid quickly and without much hassle, depending on the responsiveness of your insurer.  The downside to submitting your claim to your own insurer is that you will be responsible for covering the deductible up front (with the possibility of being reimbursed for the deductible later on).  Also, some insurers will count your claim against you for underwriting purposes.

Alternatively, the upside to submitting your claim for damages to the at-fault driver’s insurer is that you will not need to worry about a deductible; deductibles do not apply to your claim against the at-fault driver’s policy.  The downside, however, is timing.  A claim against another driver’s insurance policy can take a lot longer to process than against your own policy.  The reason is that the other driver’s insurance policy is only required to pay the percentage of your damages equivalent to the percentage of their driver’s fault.  So, for example, if the insurance company determines that their driver was 100% at fault for the crash, they should offer to pay you 100% of your vehicle damages.  However, if the insurer determines that their driver was only 75% at fault for the crash, they will only offer to pay you 75% of your damages.

Since fault, or liability, is so important to the claim, the insurer will often take its time to do a thorough investigation into what happened; they will usually want to take statements from the drivers and any witnesses, they will want to review the police report or any other investigative reports, they will want to inspect the damages to both vehicles, and sometimes they will even hire experts to write accident reconstruction reports on how the crash happened.  Sometimes drivers are honest to their insurance companies and admit that the crash was their fault.  Other times, however, people exaggerate or even outright fabricate stories of how the crash happened in an attempt to avoid any liability.  When both drivers are giving different stories as to the facts of the crash, the insurance company’s investigation will take longer to complete.

One final consideration.  As noted above, if you decide to submit your damage claim to your own insurance company, it is possible to receive reimbursement for your deductible down the road.  If your insurance company pays you for the damage to your car, but believes that another driver’s fault caused the crash, your insurer will bring a subrogation claim against the other driver’s insurance policy, seeking reimbursement for the damages it paid.  Sometimes insurers can work these claims out between themselves, and sometimes these claims go to arbitration where an arbitrator decides fault.  If your insurance company successfully brings this claim against the other driver’s insurance company, and receives payment, then your insurer should reimburse you the amount of your deductible.

When weighing your options, one question to ask yourself is: how quickly do you need your car to be fixed?  If the damage to your car is minimal, and your car is still operable, then maybe you are more willing to wait for the insurers to determine liability.  On the other hand, if your vehicle is a total loss and you need a replacement ASAP, and both drivers are claiming they had a green light, then it might be in your best interest to submit your claim to your own insurer for quicker handling, then see how liability plays out down the road.

As always, this article is meant to be informational only and not to be relied upon or taken as legal advice.  Every situation is unique.  If you have questions specific to your situation, please call us at 651.797.4017 to schedule a free consultation with our attorney.

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