If your car or truck was damaged in a collision, you may be entitled to something – but what?

If you’re like most people, you don’t have spare vehicles sitting around, much less a cash fund available to replace a car or truck if the one you usually drive is suddenly unavailable. But a vehicle that needs repairs –and possibly can’t be driven in the meantime – is common after a crash. If you’re suddenly without a vehicle because of a car accident, what are you to supposed to do? What does your insurer owe you from your auto insurance claim?

Your Car Insurance Policy

What your car insurance company owes depends on the policy you chose to buy. The coverage you bought should be summarized on a “Declarations Page” issued with the policy.  The policy itself should lay out specifically what the terms are of the coverages listed on your “Declarations Page.”

If you bought collision coverage, your policy covers property damage regardless of who caused the accident. That generally means that, subject to your deductible, your insurance is obliged to pay the necessary repair costs to restore your vehicle to its prior function and appearance. However, unless your policy specifically provides that it also covers diminution in value remaining after your vehicle is repaired, you will not be compensated for the fact that your car or truck lost value simply because it was in an accident.

If costs of repair would exceed what your vehicle was worth just before the accident, your insurance company can substitute the loss of fair market value as the measure of your policy benefits. Your deductible is subtracted from the lesser of those two things – either repair costs or the loss of fair market value – and your company owes the difference.  If your vehicle wasn’t paid for, the name of whoever holds the car loan on your vehicle likely will be included on any check issued by your insurance company.

If your vehicle is considered “totaled” because the costs of repair would be too high compared to what the vehicle was worth, the vehicle will still have some salvage value. Often, your insurance company will agree to keep the wrecked vehicle and dispose of it, so you do not need to be concerned with salvage.  If you want to keep your “totaled” vehicle, however, the amount you otherwise would be owed by your insurance company will be reduced by the salvage value.

You may be entitled to what it would cost to rent a vehicle for the time yours reasonably could not be used due to the need for repairs. If your vehicle was “totaled” and never repaired, you may be entitled to be paid for loss of use between the date of the collision and the date you were paid for the damage. If towing or storage charges were incurred, ask your company to confirm it will pay those before agreeing to a property damage settlement.

If another driver was at fault, your company will seek reimbursement from that driver or his insurer for payments made under your collision coverage. But that doesn’t excuse your company from taking care of your claim in the meantime, if that is what you need. When your company gets reimbursed, it likely will collect your deductible for you, too. A good South Dakota car accident lawyer will tell you that it’s important that your company doesn’t actually start a lawsuit against the other driver to collect the property damage, though, as that may interfere with your right to bring a separate claim later for personal injury, if it turns out you were hurt in the crash.

The Duty of Good Faith

Your insurance company is obliged to conduct a reasonable investigation of your damage claim once you report it. The company is also supposed to help identify what coverages you purchased that may apply to the loss you experienced.  When you pay premiums, you are paying not just for coverage, but also for the services of your company’s claims department.

The law imposes many duties on your insurance company, but the most basic you’re your insurance company owes you is the duty of “good faith and fair dealing” – to not act in bad faith.  That means your company has to treat you fairly.  It is not entitled to low-ball you, distort facts about the actual value of your vehicle or costs of repairs, or delay payment of your claim unreasonably in the hope that you will get worn down and cave in.

If you have had an auto insurance claim unfairly denied or unreasonably delayed, have an insurance claim lawyer review your case. Get the help you need. If you live in South Dakota, contact Turbak Law Office at 866-231-0914 to schedule a consultation. We can answer your questions and provide sound advice related to your situation.