My Car is Totaled, Now What?

My Car is Totaled, Now What?

“As part of my practice, I represent my clients injured or killed in auto accidents. In addition to handling injury claims, I also handle, typically at no charge to my clients, property damage claims. I have handled hundreds of such cases and hope that this information helps.” – Christopher Turak, Gold, Khourey & Turak

One day you’re driving to work or running errands with your family, when, out of nowhere you are hit by a careless driver. Thankfully, everyone is o.k., but now you’re without a car and the dreaded claims process begins. To make matters worse, you find out that your car is totaled. What do you do now, and what should you expect?

If your car is totaled, you are only entitled to recover the value of the totaled vehicle, not what it will cost to replace it. This is an important, and sometimes painful, distinction. Often times the value of the totaled car is not enough to purchase a replacement car. Although you did nothing wrong, you’re forced to take out a new car loan or dip into savings to buy the replacement car. It doesn’t seem fair. Well, yes and no. It’s completely understandable to feel frustrated or angry about the outcome, but the law is not supposed to place you in a better position than you were before the accident. The purpose of the law is to place you in the same position you were before the accident. Consequently, the insurance company is only required to offer you the value of the totaled car at the time of the accident. This does not mean, however, that you have to agree with the insurance company’s offer.

How much is my car worth?

In West Virginia, the insurance company will determine the value of your car based upon certain used car guides approved by the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner. Most insurance companies adjusting claims in West Virginia use either the NADA guides or an electronic service created by CCC Information Services, Inc.

Make sure you know which one the insurance company is using because it can make a difference. I personally prefer NADA. First of all, the NADA number can be easily verified by going to NADA.com and plugging in the information about your car. While the number may not be exact, it will be close enough to give you an idea if the insurance company’s offer is in the ballpark. Second, in my experience, NADA numbers tend to be a bit higher than CCC’s.

CCC uses a methodology where it tries to locate cars very similar to yours that are for sale in the local area. These are called comparables. It then compares the prices for the comparables to your car, taking into consideration mileage and options, to arrive at a value for your vehicle. The problem is that it is very unlikely that they will find comparables in the Ohio Valley.

As a result the CCC report uses comparables from outside the area and, often times, with very different features. I recommend calling the dealers listed on the report to check if the comparables exist. Also, ask what the sales price is to make sure that it correlates with the price listed in the report.

You will also see on the report where the insurance company makes “condition based adjustments” to the value of your car. In other words, the value of your car is adjusted because your windshield is cracked or the carpets are worn. While a certain amount of wear and tear is to be expected, the insurance company will lower its offer if it determines that it is excessive.

What is excessive? The insurance company’s determination is completely arbitrary. I often successfully argue these points. Also, you are entitled to additional money if you’ve recently had work done to your car. If your tires or battery are new, for example, you should ask for more money. Make sure to give the insurance company copies of your receipts.

Regardless of the service used, review the report closely and make sure the information accurately reflects your car and its value, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with them.

Loss of Use, Annoyance, Aggravation and Inconvenience

Lastly, don’t forget to recover damages for loss of use, annoyance, aggravation and inconvenience. For each day you are without the use of your car from the date of the accident until settlement, as long as the time frame is reasonable, you are entitled to loss of use damages. This is generally calculated by multiplying the number of days you have been without your car by the rental value of a similar car from a local rental agency. Many times, instead of giving you money, the insurance company gives you a rental. This is okay as long as it is a similar vehicle. They cannot put you into a Chevrolet Cruz if your SUV was totaled. Also, if they didn’t provide you a rental until three days after the accident, they need to pay you for those three days.

You’ll also need to ask for damages for annoyance, aggravation and inconvenience. Although allowed by West Virginia law, the insurance company almost never voluntarily offers you this. Be persistent. The insurance company may at first deny they know what you are talking about, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Anyone who has gone through this process can attest to how annoying and frustrating it can be. You need to clean out your old car, make arrangements to pick up the rental, shop for a new car, register and title it, and go through the claims process. You might have to car pool with your spouse or even miss school or work because you’re without a car. I do not know many people that would voluntarily go through this, and your time is not free.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, we can help. In addition to your injury claim, we will also handle your property damage claim. Oftentimes we will have you back on the road much sooner than if you handled the claim on your own. We offer free consultations on all injury claims. Contact us today at (304) 845-9750 and see how we can help.

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