Your car or truck was damaged in an accident that wasn’t your fault. What are you entitled to from the other driver or his insurance company?
In the long run, the main problems caused by a car accident may be personal injuries suffered in the crash, but vehicle damage often is the most immediate concern. Almost no one has enough extra cash on hand to replace a car or truck damaged unexpectedly in a crash. If you’re suddenly without a vehicle because of a car accident, who owes you what? A South Dakota car accident lawyer can offer sound advice related to your situation.
What the Other Driver Owes
South Dakota law says that if someone negligently causes harm to you or your property, that person is required to pay compensation for all the harm caused by the negligence. “Negligence” doesn’t mean being a bad person, behaving recklessly or intentionally, or even being habitually careless. It just means that at the particular time of the accident, the person was failing to use the care expected of an ideal, prudent person who takes care to avoid harm to others.
In the context of property damage from a car accident, the law requires an at-fault driver to pay the lesser of two things, either: the total loss in value, comparing the fair market value of the vehicle immediately before and after the collision; or, the reasonable cost of repairs necessary to restore the vehicle to the condition it was in before the accident.
The law tries to restore a damaged vehicle to just what it was before the damage, so adjustments sometimes are made, either adding to or subtracting from the amount arrived at by the formula above. For instance, if the value of a vehicle fully repaired is diminished just by the fact that it was damaged and required extensive repairs, the at-fault party owes the cost of repairs plus the remaining diminution in value. In the unusual case that repairs caused the vehicle to have significantly greater value than before the accident, the amount owed may be discounted to adjust for the unintended gain in value.
Besides compensation for damage to the vehicle, you may be entitled to other costs. For example, towing and storage charges reasonably incurred as a result of the crash are added to the amount due from a negligent driver. You also are 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 are entitled to what it would cost to rent a replacement between the date of the collision and the date you reasonably should have replaced the vehicle.
The Other Driver’s Insurance Company
The company insuring an at-fault driver has to pay whatever is owed under law by the at-fault driver, subject to the limits of insurance coverage purchased. In South Dakota, liability insurance limits are at least $25,000. Neither at-fault parties nor their insurance companies are required to pay you anything until you either enter into a settlement agreement with them or get a judgment against them in court. However, car insurance companies usually are anxious to settle property damage claims against their at-fault drivers because if they don’t, interest accumulates on the amount owed for property damage.
Handling Your Property Damage Claim
Most people handle property damage claims themselves, without hiring a lawyer. If you have a police report showing another driver was at fault, repair estimates showing what it will cost to restore your vehicle to its prior condition, and information about the fair market value of your vehicle before and after the collision, you may be sufficiently armed to be sure you are treated fairly without incurring legal fees.
If you have doubts, it may be worthwhile to get help, whether by consulting a lawyer or taking the case to small claims court and putting it before the small claims court judge. If you settle a property damage claim, though, be sure you don’t sign anything in the process that might waive your right to make a personal injury claim down the road.
If you have had an auto accident and have concerns about what you’re entitled to, have an insurance claim lawyer review your case. The South Dakota car accident lawyers at Turbak Law Office are available at 866-231-0914 to schedule a consultation. We can answer your questions and provide sound advice related to your situation.