Settling a Property Damage Claim in a NY Auto Accident Case

For years and years you have faithfully paid your insurance premiums. Your driving record is unblemished– no accidents, no tickets. All is well….. Then, through no fault of your own, another driver crashes into your car causing a huge amount of damage to your car. Thankfully, you are not injured.

Seems like a simple situation where the other driver’s insurance company should take care of your property damage claim with no problems at all, right? Well think again…..

Unfortunately, my experience is that folks are frequetly jerked around when trying to resolve these claims. So below I will try to provide some helpful tips on handling these claims. I apologize for the length of this post but this is a fairly complicated issue that requires some time to explain….

TIPS WHEN YOU DO HAVE COLLISION COVERAGE

First, you must determine whether you have “collision coverage” on your own policy of insurance coverage for your car. You can confirm this by reading the declaration sheet for your policy (that is the couple of pages for your policy that summarized the types of coverage you have purchased and the amount of premium that you pay for that coverage).

Often you will see that you have collision coverage with a $250 or $500 deductible. That means your company will pay your total property damage claim minus the amount of your deductible.

If you do have collision coverage, that means that you will be dealing with your own insurance company which is usually (but not always) easier than dealing with the other driver’s insurance company.

The key in this situation is to get you own local insurance agent involved as soon as possible. As discussed in more detail below, your agent is the person who sold you your insurance coverage and they should be the person who wants to continue selling you insurance for many years to come.

Accordingly, your agent has a vested interest in making sure you are well taken care of by the insurance company and they should also have ready access to the person from the company who will be adjusting your property damage claim. Your local agent may tell you the resolution of the claim is out of their hands (and that is true) but that does NOT mean that they shouldn’t be willing to assist you with dealing with the property damage adjuster.

If you or your agent have no success in resolving your property damage claim you may want to follow the tips below for those people who do not have collision coverage under their own policy.

TIPS WHEN YOU DO NOT HAVE COLLISION COVERAGE

A recent email off my website got me thinking about this whole issue. Below is the email and then my response.

EMAIL FROM A FRUSTRATED PERSON

My fiance was in an accident. We have been having major difficulties with the other persons insurance company(USAA). The other person was declared at fault by the Sheriff Department and his insurance company has admitted fault of their client. The man was operating a mid sized John Deer type tractor and as such is falling under his home owners insurance policy.

His insurance company has been very difficult to deal with. They have demanded that we have the car at a repair shop by the 21st or they weren’t going to pay us for the rental that I had to pay for out of my own pocket. Then stated after the fact that they were not willing to even send thier person to look at the vehicle until at the very earliest the 26th of Dec. Which I had the car at the Auto Body shop by that day, and I was told by the woman that is handling the claim for USAA that I’m not going to get the full reimburstment either.

I can’t afford to pay for another week of this rental and my fiance is probably going to lose her job because if it. The woman from USAA said that she was going send out a reimburstment check, but I don’t know when I will actually receive it. She has also hung up on both of us more than once and called the rental agency, Avis, and had them authorize another week of rental on my VISA debit card without my consent. I am at a loss of what to do. Is there anything I can do? Is there anything you can do to help me? Thank you very much for your time.

MY RESPONSE

Now you have a small appreciation for why I hate insurance companies as much as I do! For more than 20 years I have been dealing with this kind of nonsense on a daily basis.

The bottom line is that there’s not a whole lot you can do to force an insurance company to promptly settle a claim because your only legal remedy, a lawsuit, can take a minimum of many months (or years) to play out. Also, filing a lawsuit costs money for court filing fees and attorney’s fees so that will cut in to any amount that the court ultimately awards you.

Unfortunately, because insurance companies know these things and because they also know most people cannot afford to wait to get their money, insurance companies often jerk people around like they are doing to you.

So, as a practical matter, what can you do?

First, document every conversation in writing. Write down detailed notes when you are talking to the insurance adjuster– write down their name, their phone #, their email address, their mailing address– write down EVERYTHING they tell you. Once you hang up, send a letter or an email to the adjuster confirming the details of the conversation. If they say they will be back to you by next Thursday, confirm that date in writing. If they say they will pay for a rental car for a certain period of time, confirm that in writing too. Basically, you want to create a paper trail that you can use later if the adjuster fails to do what they have promised to do.

Second, get your own insurance agent involved. If you are like most folks, you have been using the same agent for years and years and paying insurance premiums for years and years. Now is the time for your agent to earn his or her commissions that you have been paying over the years. Call your agent and tell them the problems you are having. Ask them if they can help you out. Your agent may tell you that the problem is not with your company but with the other insurance company over which they have no control. That may be true but that does NOT mean that they can’t help by reaching out to the other insurance company on your behalf. In fact, good insurance agents know that good customer service includes helping your client with these types of problems and good agents will be willing to go to bat to assist you.

Third, read your own insurance policy. Depending on the terms of your own insurance coverage, you may have coverage under your own policy for property damage, rental cars, etc. I know reading an insurance policy is like reading Greek but if you take some time and find the parts of the policy that pertain to the problem you are having, the policy terms are usually pretty clear. If in doubt, talk to your insurance agent who can help you understand exactly what coverage you do or do not have.

Fourth, if the adjuster fails to do what was promised by a given date, call and find out why. Unless you are given a good reason for the failure, ask to speak to the adjuster’s supervisor. Politely explain (using your confirming letters that I mentioned above) that you were promised something that was not delivered and ask the supervisor to assist in getting your claim resolved. Be polite but insistent. Be persistent. Unfortunately, the squeaky wheel gets the grease so sometimes you have to make repeated calls before any one does anything. As I said before, document ALL of these calls even if you are just documenting the fact that you left a voicemail message. That fact may become important later if your calls are not returned….

And finally, if none of the above works, you can consider:

· filing a lawsuit against the other party (up to $5,000 claims can be filed in Small Claims Court– see http://www.zifflaw.com/blog/the-peoples-court-ny-small-claims-court — larger claims may require an attorney) AND

· filing a Complaint against the insurance company with the N.Y. Insurance Department (See http://www.ins.state.ny.us/complhow.htm ).

Sorry this is so long but there’s not a quick answer to your question but I hope this helps. Good luck!

Jim

_________________________________________

James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff, Weiermiller, Hayden & Mustico, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel: (607) 733-8866
Fax: (607) 732-6062
Toll Free: 1-800-943-3529
Email: [email protected]
Web: http://www.zifflaw.com

Visit the New York Injury Law Blog at: http://www.NYInjuryLawBlog.com


This entry was posted in Keeping Your Family Safe, NY Auto Insurance and tagged , , , , , by Jim Reed. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jim Reed

I am an attorney from Elmira, N.Y. representing people who have been injured by the negligence of others. For more than 20 years, I have practiced in the state and federal courts of both New York and Pennsylvania in the areas of Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, and Legal Malpractice. Circle Jim on Google+! I am proud to be a member of the prestigious Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Forum membership is limited to trial lawyers who have demonstrated exceptional skill, experience and excellence in advocacy by achieving a trial verdict, award or settlement of One Million Dollars or more. I have been fortunate to recover many multi-million dollar recoveries for my clients. I am also proud of the fact that WETM-TV selected me as their local legal expert. I am featured on the Noon News on Wednesdays when I respond to listeners' legal questions. If you have a legal question, feel free to E-mail it to me at [email protected] and I will be happy to address your question either via E-mail or on WETM. I am a lifelong resident of Elmira where I live with my wife and three children. When I am not working, I can often be found on my bicycle as I am an avid bicycle racer having competed in races all over the country including a 508 mile team race through Death Valley (The Furnace Creek 508) and a 540 mile race through the Cascade Mountains of Oregon (The Race Across Oregon). I have lectured frequently on many law-related topics and I have been published in the New York State Bar Journal, which is the largest and most prestigious legal publication in New York State. I am happy to speak to local civic groups so please feel free to E-mail me at [email protected] or call me at 1-800-Zifflaw (943-3529) .

2 thoughts on “Settling a Property Damage Claim in a NY Auto Accident Case

  1. All great points Jim.

    I am the owner of my own insurance agency and have been in the business for 21 years.

    It’s my job as an insurance agent to help my customers – especially through the claims process. We may not know all the answers up front, but we certainly try.

    Jim, your response is well written and right on. The only thing I’d like to add is that it is critical to gather as much information as possoble right at the scene of the accident. Keep a blank “What should I do in case there’s an accident?” form right in your car’s glovebox (I have them if you want one).

    It’s amazing how many phone calls I get from people who were just involved in a car wreck and they have no idea who the other person is, who owns the car, where it is insured, etc. Without this info, it’s very hard to become an investigator, and that’s what takes time when it comes to getting a fast settlement. I suggest writing all this information down before you leave the scene, even if the police are there. It often takes 7-10 days for the police to make a car accident report available.

    Good luck out there, and drive safely!

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