If your car is damaged after a car accident, you may have more than one option for getting the vehicle fixed and back on the road. Those options will depend on who was at fault for the accident, what type of car insurance coverage you have, and whether or not the other driver is insured (if he or she is at fault). In this article, we'll explain your rights to property damage repair after a car accident, so you can make an informed choice about how to proceed.
The first rule to know is that the party who was responsible for causing a car accident can also be held liable for the cost of any necessary vehicle repairs -- everything from minor scratches to major body work. Or, if the car is deemed a "total loss," then the at-fault driver will be on the hook for the market value (or "actual cash value") of the vehicle at the time of the accident. This is usually true even in states that follow a "no-fault" car insurance system. Under no-fault, after a car accident, most medical bills and some amount of lost income are paid under the injured person's own insurance coverage. But property damage (meaning damage to your car) is not usually covered as part of no-fault.
But there is the issue of who can be held liable for car repairs, and then there is the issue of who actually pays for the repairs. Let's look at a few options.
Drivers are required to buy liability insurance for registered vehicles, and after a car accident, the property damage liability coverage of an at-fault driver's insurance should kick in to pay for any damage to your car. This means if someone else was responsible for your accident, their insurer should pay for your car's repairs (or for the market value of your car), and you have the right to make a claim with that carrier directly.
But what if the at-fault driver does not have insurance, or what if you were responsible for the car accident? What if you're pretty sure the other driver is at-fault, but you want to get your car fixed now so you can get back on the road?
In some cases, you may have to turn to your own car insurance to pay for damage to your vehicle, assuming you have collision coverage. This kind of car insurance coverage can be thought of as another form of "no-fault" insurance. That's because once you purchase collision coverage, it will cover any necessary repairs to your vehicle -- or a totaled vehicle's actual cash value -- up to the coverage limits, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
But keep in mind that if you make a claim under your own collision coverage, you'll be responsible for the "deductible," which is usually a minimum of $500 but is sometimes higher. In some cases, you have the right to get the deductible back. For example, if your own insurer pays out your claim and then turns around to seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver's insurance carrier, your insurer may also recover your deductible for you.
This is usually the fastest way to get things done, but be careful. If the insurance adjuster determines that you overpaid for the repairs, the work may not be fully covered (this may occur more often when drivers have their repair bills paid by their own insurer under a collision coverage policy). One more caveat: if the other driver puts up an argument on issues like fault for the accident or the extent of damage to your vehicle, then you could be in store for a long wait before you're reimbursed -- if you're reimbursed at all.
The claim procedure will vary depending on the circumstances and the insurance carriers involved. But usually, whether you pursue a claim against the other driver's property damage liability coverage or under your own collision coverage, there are three steps: the inspection of the vehicle, the assessment of damages, and (hopefully) the payment. The process could take a while to play out. Getting a rental car can be an option, if a replacement rental is part of your own coverage, or if you are willing to pay for a rental car now and are confident that you can get reimbursed by the at-fault driver's insurance at a later time.
To learn more about the process, and find some tips to protect your rights to compensation -- for personal injury and property damage -- see this page on settling your case.