10 Auto Accident Tips

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Total Loss and Value Surveys

When the insurance adjuster finds out that your car is a total loss, they contact a company that performs a market survey of vehicles similar to yours to determine the value of your car. They do this by keeping a database of classified car advertisements, inspecting some vehicles at dealerships, and past evaluations of similar vehicles. Insurance companies often do not include vehicles that are priced higher than what they want to pay in their survey; thus, the average price they generate is often lower than actual market conditions. You have a right to a copy of this report. When the person from the insurance company contacts you (the adjuster) and makes an appraisal of your car, request a copy of it.

Do Not Accept the First Offer

Do not accept the insurance company's first auto insurance claim settlement offer. If you do some research, you can probably get more.

Do Your Own Research

Right away, you should do your own market research. The best place to start is by searching the Internet. Thousands of cars are advertised on the Internet at any given time. Also, look in the auto classified section of your local paper. Make copies of ads for similar vehicles that favorably price your car. If all else fails, call an auto dealer and ask what they believe is the market price of the same year, make and model of your vehicle equipped with similar options. Have them fax or write their answers to you. Average all the figures to get an idea of the true market value of your car.

Blue Book Values

"They didn't offer me blue book price, why not?" This is a common question. The answer is that no law requires an insurer to pay for the loss of your car based on the blue book or any other price/value book. It is simply evidence of what a reasonable sum might be and for that reason you should also use it in coming up with a counter proposal to the insurer's offer. To check blue book value, go to www.carpoint.msn.com and click the pricing link to Kelly Blue Book. Type in your year, make and model, and be sure to check all the options your car had plus mileage. Chances are, the blue book value is higher than what the insurance company offered you. Let the adjuster know your car's blue book value.

Respond with Your Own "Comparables"

When the insurance company sends you its market survey results, chances are that none of the "comparables" you found will be on it. You should then mail or fax your research to the insurance adjuster and ask him/her to raise the original offer in light of the higher values your research has uncovered.

Check that Research is Local

Read the insurance company report very carefully. It's supposed to contain comparable values for vehicles available in your area. Many of the vehicles they claim are available in the local market area are neither available nor in the local market. Highlight vehicles that are over 75 miles away. Also highlight ads that are over 3 months old. When you write or speak with the adjuster, tell him/her how many vehicles were either not available or not in the local market. Explain that this makes the report flawed. In addition, certain vehicles on the report may have extra information to document the comparison between it and your car. Verify all this information by calling the dealer or source. If the company claims to have inspected the car, call the dealer to see if they remember anyone inspecting the car. If you have time, go look at the vehicle yourself. It may be in far worse condition than yours.

Value of Additional Options

Options make a world of difference in valuing a vehicle. Everyone knows that a car with power windows, power locks, air conditioning, a cassette player, deluxe interiors, etc. is more valuable than a car lacking those options. The problem is that insurance companies do not figure in options at their full value in determining the price of your car. By Minnesota Statute (§72A.201 Subd. 5(9)), it is an unfair settlement practice to "reduce or attempt to reduce for depreciation any settlement or any offer of settlement for items not adversely affected by age, use, or obsolescence." When insurance companies add on only a few hundred dollars at most for all the options you have, they are depreciating them. For example, if your car has a working AM/FM cassette, you should get the full value of that AM/FM cassette player, not something far less. Go to www.carpoint.msn.com and use Kelly Bluebook to find the retail value of your car as it was actually equipped. Then compare it with the same car lacking those options. The difference between the two is what you should argue the insurance company should add to the value of your car. This can be a significant amount.

Emphasize Details

Emphasize the good points of your car. If your car is older, but with low mileage, this should add value. The same is true if the car was in good shape. If you have pictures of the car from before the crash, make sure you send copies to the adjuster.

Be Reasonable But Firm

The way you present yourself can influence the insurance company's willingness to offer a fair price. Be polite, yet firm. If all goes well, they will probably offer a higher amount. If you don't get a reasonable offer, the law allows you to take them to small claims if the amount in question is under $7,500. Advise the adjuster that you are willing to take that step, if necessary.

Get Knowledgeable

Know the law. In Minnesota, statutes and regulations regulate property damage claims. Insurance companies must comply with these requirements. Many are contained in the Minnesota Unfair Claims Practices Act, Minn Stat. §72A.201 Regulation of claims practices.

Subdivision 6 of that statute provides as follows:

Standards for automobile insurance claims handling, settlement offers, and agreements. In addition to the acts specified in subdivisions 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9, the following acts by an insurer, adjuster, or a self-insured or self-insurance administrator constitute unfair settlement practices:

(1) if an automobile insurance policy provides for the adjustment and settlement of an automobile total loss on the basis of actual cash value or replacement with like kind and quality and the insured is not an automobile dealer, failing to offer one of the following methods of settlement: (a) comparable and available replacement automobile, with all applicable taxes, license fees, at least pro rata for the unexpired term of the replaced automobile's license, and other fees incident to the transfer or evidence of ownership of the automobile paid, at no cost to the insured other than the deductible amount as provided in the policy; (b) a cash settlement based upon the actual cost of purchase of a comparable automobile, including all applicable taxes, license fees, at least pro rata for the unexpired term of the replaced automobile's license, and other fees incident to transfer of evidence of ownership, less the deductible amount as provided in the policy. The costs must be determined by: (i) the cost of a comparable automobile, adjusted for mileage, condition, and options, in the local market area of the insured, if such an automobile is available in that area; or (ii) one of two or more quotations obtained from two or more qualified sources located within the local market area when a comparable automobile is not available in the local market area. The insured shall be provided the information contained in all quotations prior to settlement; or (iii) any settlement or offer of settlement which deviates from the procedure above must be documented and justified in detail. The basis for the settlement or offer of settlement must be explained to the insured;

(2) if an automobile insurance policy provides for the adjustment and settlement of an automobile partial loss on the basis of repair or replacement with like kind and quality and the insured is not an automobile dealer, failing to offer one of the following methods of settlement: (a) to assume all costs, including reasonable towing costs, for the satisfactory repair of the motor vehicle. Satisfactory repair includes repair of both obvious and hidden damage as caused by the claim incident. This assumption of cost may be reduced by applicable policy provision; or (b) to offer a cash settlement sufficient to pay for satisfactory repair of the vehicle. Satisfactory repair includes repair of obvious and hidden damage caused by the claim incident, and includes reasonable towing costs;

(3) regardless of whether the loss was total or partial, in the event that a damaged vehicle of an insured cannot be safely driven, failing to exercise the right to inspect automobile damage prior to repair within five business days following receipt of notification of claim. In other cases the inspection must be made in 15 days;

(4) regardless of whether the loss was total or partial, requiring unreasonable travel of a claimant or insured to inspect a replacement automobile, to obtain a repair estimate, to allow an insurer to inspect a repair estimate, to allow an insurer to inspect repairs made pursuant to policy requirements, or to have the automobile repaired;

(5) regardless of whether the loss was total or partial, if loss of use coverage exists under the insurance policy, failing to notify an insured at the time of the insurer's acknowledgment of claim, or sooner if inquiry is made, of the fact of the coverage, including the policy terms and conditions affecting the coverage and the manner in which the insured can apply for this coverage;

(6) regardless of whether the loss was total or partial, failing to include the insured's deductible in the insurer's demands under its subrogation rights. Subrogation recovery must be shared at least on a proportionate basis with the insured, unless the deductible amount has been otherwise recovered by the insured, except that when an insurer is recovering directly from an uninsured third party by means of installments, the insured must receive the full deductible share as soon as that amount is collected and before any part of the total recovery is applied to any other use. No deduction for expenses may be made from the deductible recovery unless an attorney is retained to collect the recovery, in which case deduction may be made only for a pro rata share of the cost of retaining the attorney. An insured is not bound by any settlement of its insurer's subrogation claim with respect to the deductible amount, unless the insured receives, as a result of the subrogation settlement, the full amount of the deductible. Recovery by the insurer and receipt by the insured of less than all of the insured's deductible amount does not affect the insured's rights to recover any unreimbursed portion of the deductible from parties liable for the loss;

(7) requiring as a condition of payment of a claim that repairs to any damaged vehicle must be made by a particular contractor or repair shop or that parts, other than window glass, must be replaced with parts other than original equipment parts;

(8) where liability is reasonably clear, failing to inform the claimant in an automobile property damage liability claim that the claimant may have a claim for loss of use of the vehicle;

(9) failing to make a good faith assignment of comparative negligence percentages in ascertaining the issue of liability;

(10) failing to pay any interest required by statute on overdue payment for an automobile personal injury protection claim;

(11) if an automobile insurance policy contains either or both of the time limitation provisions as permitted by section 65B.55, subdivisions 1 and 2, failing to notify the insured in writing of those limitations at least 60 days prior to the expiration of that time limitation;

(12) if an insurer chooses to have an insured examined as permitted by section 65B.56, subdivision 1, failing to notify the insured of all of the insured's rights and obligations under that statute, including the right to request, in writing, and to receive a copy of the report of the examination;

(13) failing to provide, to an insured who has submitted a claim for benefits described in section 65B.44, a complete copy of the insurer's claim file on the insured, excluding internal company memoranda, all materials that relate to any insurance fraud investigation, materials that constitute attorney work-product or that qualify for the attorney-client privilege, and medical reviews that are subject to section 145.64, within ten business days of receiving a written request from the insured. The insurer may charge the insured a reasonable copying fee. This clause supersedes any inconsistent provisions of sections 72A.49 to 72A.505;

(14) if an automobile policy provides for the adjustment or settlement of an automobile loss due to damaged window glass, failing to provide payment to the insured's chosen vendor based on a competitive price. If the insurer disputes the amount charged by the vendor, the price shall be as established by the commissioner through a market survey to determine a fair and reasonable market price for similar services. The survey shall be: (a) an annual survey using accepted industry standards; (b) a statistically significant sample of auto glass vendors; and (c) of work actually done. The commissioner shall consult with interested parties in designing the survey document. Reasonable deviation from the market price determined by survey is allowed when based on the facts in each case. This clause does not prohibit an insurer from recommending a vendor to the insured or from agreeing with a vendor to perform work at an agreed-upon price, provided, however, that before recommending a vendor, the insurer shall offer its insured the opportunity to choose the vendor;

(15) requiring that the repair or replacement of motor vehicle glass and related products and services be made in a particular place or shop or by a particular entity, or by otherwise limiting the ability of the insured to select the place, shop, or entity to repair or replace the motor vehicle glass and related products and services; or

(16) engaging in any act or practice of intimidation, coercion, threat, incentive, or inducement for or against an insured to use a particular company or location to provide the motor vehicle glass repair or replacement services or products. For purposes of this section, a warranty shall not be considered an inducement or incentive.
We hope these tips about your property damage claim help you achieve a fast and fair settlement of your claim.

Have you or someone you know been involved in an auto accident? If so, contact one of our experienced auto accident attorneys in your area today!
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