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Car Totaled, Not At-Fault

Posted on 08/25/23

If you’ve experienced a car crash of any nature, you are likely familiar with the challenges that arise from managing injuries and assessing the extent of damage to your vehicle. It’s an inconvenience or traumatic event that nobody desires, and it can be compounded by concerns that insurance providers won’t operate in your best interest.

Regrettably, countless individuals find themselves taken advantage of by auto insurance companies. They typically instruct their claims adjusters to avoid excessive payouts for injury or property liability coverage claims.

To prevent the insurance companies from taking advantage of you, it is important to follow the correct steps right from the time the accident occurs. That includes exchanging contact details with all parties involved in the crash, then filing an auto insurance claim through the at-fault driver’s insurer. It is essential that you also file a claim under your personal insurance policy and verify if you have collision coverage, taking note of any deductible.

To ensure full compensation, you will need to assemble all the relevant documentation for your claim, including an appraiser’s assessment, and any medical bills. You will also need to provide documents that demonstrate upgrades, or replaced tires, that can influence your car’s true cash value. This information, together with a police report, helps the insurance adjuster determine your vehicle’s value prior to the accident.

If you are not at fault for the accident, navigating the aftermath of a totaled vehicle can be perplexing. Continue reading for comprehensive recommendations on how to navigate the situation.

When Is a Car ‘Totaled?’

A vehicle is classified as a total loss, or “totaled,” when the expense of repairing it exceeds the actual cash value (ACV) of the car just before the accident occurred.

The insurance adjuster will use the estimated ACV of your vehicle to determine if it was totaled. Remember, the ACV is based on the car’s estimated value at the time of the crash, not on the price you paid for it when you bought it. Because of depreciation, the ACV is usually less than the original purchase price, even if the car is relatively new. The adjuster then weighs this value against the repair costs. If those costs meet or exceed a percentage of total value that the insurance company has set, then total loss is declared.

That percentage figure depends on various variables, such as state regulations and insurance company policies. For many states, their total loss formula (TLF) finds that the car was totaled if repairs cost around 70% of the car’s actual value. Insurance companies can go higher than these state percentages but not lower. In some states, a car can be deemed totaled if it cannot be repaired safely.

However, it is important to be clear that a car can’t be determined to have been totaled just based on whether it can be driven after the accident. Repair costs can often go higher than you might think, depending on the parts affected, and a minor collision could ultimately lead to a conclusion that a car was totaled.

How Does the Insurance Company Determine the Value of My Car?

Insurance companies consider various factors when assessing the pre-accident value of your vehicle. To precisely compare your car with others in the market, they consider the following criteria:

  • Age of the Vehicle: The age of the car is an important factor because older models might pose challenges in finding replacement parts. If sourcing these parts turns out to be impossible for the auto repair shop, the car might be categorized as a total loss.
  • Brand, Model, and Trim Level: Insurance companies use a vehicle’s brand, model, and specific trim level along with its age to accurately gauge its true value.
  • Extent of Damage: The nature and severity of the damage directly determine whether the vehicle is deemed a total loss or potentially reparable.
  • Recoverable Costs: The amount of money the insurance company can recuperate by salvaging the car also contributes to the overall assessment. If selling the car to a junkyard would yield greater returns for the insurer, it increases the likelihood of the car being declared a total loss.

Ultimately, the insurer gauges the ACV by assessing your vehicle’s pre-accident state and consulting the market value of comparable used cars within your local region.

If you have recently undertaken significant repairs or enhancements, it is advisable that you inform your claims adjuster and be ready to provide documentation, such as receipts. Major work refers to substantial undertakings like transmission replacements or extensive paint jobs.

Although your adjuster may recognize the value of the work done, you could have a different opinion as to whether the evaluation was fair. It is perfectly reasonable to have a conversation with your adjuster. If you have a significant difference in opinion and your insurer can’t be swayed, it may be worth checking if your policy includes an appraisal clause.

Upon invoking the appraisal clause, both you and the insurer will enlist the services of an appraiser They will independently assess the actual cash value and endeavor to reach a consensus. If that isn’t possible, another appraiser will be appointed.

What If the Car Was Worth More Than They Estimate?

If you still think the car was worth more than the insurance company estimates, it could be time to negotiate. You are not obliged to accept the adjuster’s estimate. The adjuster is encouraged to pay you the minimum they can, so being armed with data and research about your car’s value will help you negotiate with them. If you can get figures from multiple sources, even better. Aim to get an estimate from your own reliable mechanic, then go to two others for their estimates also. Support these estimates with data from websites such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.

To negotiate with the insurance company, you don’t need to file a lawsuit initially. You can decline their first offer and ask for a better one. The discussion can take place in person, or via email, but you should get the final decision in writing.

When having the conversation, it’s prudent to have both a targeted settlement figure and a minimum acceptable settlement in mind. These numerical benchmarks should align with the estimates you’ve researched. Throughout the negotiation process, maintain a composed demeanor and objectively evaluate the merits and drawbacks of the presented offer.

Do keep the concept of “betterment” in mind. It stipulates that the insurer is not obligated to cover the costs of repairs or replacement components that would enhance the car’s condition and subsequently elevate its value. An older vehicle, for example, that requires new parts after it is repaired — and is then better than it was prior to the crash — will see the insurer charging you for the value gained, or reducing their payout proportionately.

Nevertheless, there are ways you can counter an argument of betterment in negotiation. You can demonstrate that the value boost is negligible by using a mechanic or an automotive expert’s statement. You could also argue persisting diminished value. This means that after the accident, potential buyers will automatically assign the car a lower monetary value, because the crash history implies an enduring impact on the car’s market price.

Who Is Responsible for Covering Costs Related to the Accident?

If you weren’t at fault for the car accident or crash, then typically the insurance company of the at-fault driver will cover the expenses for the damage to your property.

If there is any uncertainty regarding who was responsible for the damage, or if you were at fault, you do have the option to use your own personal collision coverage to address the car repairs temporarily while the liability matter is being resolved. Generally, collision insurance stands as a distinct coverage that is often included within a comprehensive coverage bundle. It is designed to pay for your car’s repairs irrespective of the party responsible for the damage.

If you decide to use it but later it is determined that the other driver was at fault, your insurance provider might seek reimbursement from the at-fault party’s insurance company.

In the unfortunate event that the driver responsible for the accident was uninsured, your own insurance policy’s uninsured motorist coverage comes into play. This coverage addresses the costs associated with repairs.

Once you have an assessment that your vehicle was totaled, the insurance company will request you transfer the car’s title to them. This allows the insurer to proceed with making a payout to you for the loss incurred.

Liability and Pennsylvania’s ‘Comparative Negligence’ Laws

In Pennsylvania, fault is determined based on which party acted with negligence or recklessness — that is, the person or people whose actions were outside the limits of reasonably safe behavior. The insurers or courts will examine all the facts and make this determination. The factors that they will weigh up depend on the type of accident. For car accidents, they may look at evidence like the police accident report, especially if a driver violated a Pennsylvania traffic law, such as going through a red light or speeding. They could also consider photos of the crash scene and of the damage to the vehicle, witness testimonies, cell phone records (to demonstrate that a driver was using their phone while driving), or red light camera or surveillance footage.

Pennsylvania also considers comparative negligence. This means that someone can seek compensation for damages as long as they were less negligent than the other driver or responsible party. So here, parties in a negligence claim are assigned a percentage of fault, which reflects the extent to which their action or inaction contributed to the damage, injuries, and general situation. In Pennsylvania, if you were less than 51% at fault, you can recover damages. And, if you are found to be, for example, 20% at fault, you will only be entitled to 80% of the settlement awarded.

How Do I Handle Insurance?

You should notify your insurance company as soon as you can after a car accident. Policies require prompt notice, and a delay could impact your insurer’s ability to investigate the case, so your rights under the policy could be compromised. Your insurance card typically has a phone number for getting in touch with your local insurance agent or the company’s claim department.

When you speak to the company, do tell the truth and be clear and factual. There are too many possible negative consequences to leaving out information or misreporting some details, including a loss of coverage and criminal penalties. Describe the facts of what happened, but it can hurt you to accept fault.

Then, check if you have rental coverage under your insurance, and make sure any car you rent to tide you over while yours is being fixed or replaced is safe. Meanwhile, so long as you have collision coverage, your insurance company is required to pay for the repairs necessary to return your car to its pre-accident condition.

If that isn’t possible, the vehicle will be totaled. That is where the above information becomes important — and when it becomes important to know your car’s pre-accident value. If negotiation becomes necessary but doesn’t work out, mediation and arbitration are also options for resolving any disputes. Pennsylvania state has an Insurance Department you can call.

Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyer

After your car has been totaled in a collision, you are often stressed and possibly injured, and the last thing you will want to deal with is preparing the documents and evidence to ensure you get the correct insurance payout.

Luckily, with an experienced auto accident attorney like Wilk Law, LLC, to support you, you won’t have to navigate the complex process on your own. Wilk Law is committed to protecting clients’ rights and ensuring that insurance companies don’t take advantage of them.

If your car has been totaled and you weren’t at fault, we can determine if you have a viable claim and your legal options. We will go over all your questions, investigate your car wreck and secure evidence, bring in experts such as accident reconstruction engineers to support your claim, and ultimately fight for the fair settlement you deserve — even if that means heading to trial.