One of the immediate concerns of persons involved in a motor vehicle accident is the loss of use of their vehicle. In these circumstances, the delays caused by another’s carelessness can be frustrating and costly. Once liability and insurance coverage are established, one of several different contingencies can arise:
Vehicle Damage Repair
In the event that the vehicle is damaged, the at-fault driver is legally responsible to either fix the damage or pay for the fair market value of the vehicle if the vehicle is damaged, whichever is less (see below). The driver’s insurance carrier is responsible for the cost of repair up to the liability policy limits of their auto liability policy. In California, this limit is a mere $5,000.00. The owner of the damaged vehicle is not required to resolve their property damage claim for that amount in the event it exceeds $5,000, however practical considerations should always be taken into consideration when making this determination, such as financial insolvency or indecency of the at-fault driver, other available coverages, etc. Under the California Automobile Repair Bill of Rights, the victim has the right to take their vehicle to the auto body repair shop of their choice, and the insurance carrier may not mandate a particular repair facility. Our office can act as lies on with the carriers, recommend body shops and review settlement proposals from the insurance carrier, all at no charge whatsoever.
Vehicle Determined to be a Total Loss
A determination of total loss damage to a vehicle can be made in one of two ways: Actual total loss or constructive total loss. Actual total refers to the vehicle being damaged to such an extent that it can not be practically repaired. A constructive total loss refers to the situation where a vehicle is repairable, but the projected cost of repair will exceed the value of the vehicle. Under California law, the at-fault drive or his insurance is not required to repair a total loss vehicle, only to pay the market value of the car as well as towing and storage fees. The measure of the value of the total loss vehicle, whether actual or constructive, is determined by the market value of the vehicle, vs the cost of replacement, amount owed on the vehicle or the amount paid for the vehicle. The method of determining the value is called a Market Value Survey and is performed by one of three major independent companies which base their evaluation on what comparable vehicles are selling for or have sold for in the same geographic region. Condition, mileage and option adjustments may increase or decrease the value of the vehicle and once the value of the vehicle is determined, unused DMV fee and sales tax are added, resulting in an actual cash value (ACV) evaluation. Our office does not charge any attorneys fees associated with the assistance of the property damage claim.
When a vehicle is damaged in an accident and unsafe to drive, inoperable or in the process of being repaired, the owner is entitled to compensation for the time period when he/she is dis-possessed of that vehicle, whether it be for repair time in the body shop, period of inoperability or time period until the carrier makes a reasonable offer to settle the property damage portion of the claim. The measure of damages (amount of money the victim is entitled to) is interpreted as being the reasonable cost of a comparable replacement vehicle for the time period that the owner is unable to use the vehicle. Often insurance carriers will pay up front for the rental car, however their responsibility does not extend to insurance coverage for the rental vehicle. If the victim has collision and liability coverage on the damaged vehicle, that coverage will apply to the rental. If the victim does not carry collision coverage, the victim must usually pay out-of-pocket for the cost of collision coverage for the rental with no reimbursement from the at-fault insurance carrier.
Towing and storage fees
Often, a vehicle is damaged to the extent that it is not drivable from the scene or the driver is unable to drive due to their injuries and the vehicle must be towed. The towing company will, absent immediate proof of towing coverage or payment, transport the vehicle to a towing and storage facility. The charges can be substantial for this storage facility fee, sometimes as much as $50.00 per day. It is important to note that it is crucial to have the vehicle release as soon as possible. In the event that the victim does not possess towing and storage coverage or collision coverage, those fees will continue to accrue and the victim may not remove the vehicle from the facility without paying for the fees first. Like all other damages in an automobile accident claim, the insurance carrier is only liable for reasonable and necessary charges. Frequently, the carriers deny a portion of the storage as being excessive and only pay for a portion, especially if the claim is delayed in opening due to lack of cooperation from the at-fault driver or a delay in the investigation. Our office is ever diligent and conscientious of these difficulties and strives to resolve these issues as soon as possible.
Retaining a total loss vehicle
Victims who have suffered total loss damages to their vehicle in California have the right of “retention of salvage vehicle”. This allows the victim to keep his/her vehicle and allow the insurance carrier to reduce the amount of the total loss settlement by the salvage or junk value of the damaged vehicle. This salvage value can typically amount to 10%-40% of the total loss value of the vehicle, but for some client’s the retention makes good financial sense. The owner of the salvaged vehicle must submit the car to a DMV inspection and the title will be re-issued as a salvaged vehicle title, drastically reducing resale value.
• Call for a free consultation in one of our offices in Roseville, Sacramento or Natomis. Home and hospital appointments are also available.