Property Damage v. Bodily Injury Damage
I just got off the phone with a potential client who had a very common question. He was involved in an automobile accident yesterday. His car was rendered a total loss and his body was injured. His question was, how can I settle my claim on the car while I am still in medical treatment and I do not know the full extent of my injuries? The answer is simple but it takes a little to explain. First, you need to know that your property damage claim and your bodily injury claim are two separate and distinct claims. Of course they both arise out of the car crash, but they can be resolved independent of each other. First you need to know that for both claims the statute of limitations for both claims is two years from the date of the car accident. This is true whether the damage was caused by a drunk driving accident, a semi tractor-trailer accident or any highway accident. This means that you must have a complaint filed in a court within the two year period, or your right to compensation for your claims will be forever lost.
So, you have plenty of time. I suggest that initially, you stop, take a deep breath and try to not panic. Second, contact the insurance company for the person who was at fault for the collision. Inform them that you want to resolve your property damage claim. I do not suggest that you give the insurance company a statement about what happened. This is never in your best interest. If that insurance company says they will not negotiate with you until you give a statement, you have a few options. You can give the statement, which I do not recommend. You can settle the claim with your own insurance company under the collision provision of your policy. This will necessarily involve paying your deductible, but you will get that back when your insurance company settles their claim against the responsible parties insurance company. Finally you can hire a lawyer.
Most people are unsatisfied with the offer they receive on their totaled car. Usually it is not what they feel their car is worth and usually it is not enough to buy another reliable car. The measure of property damage, in Indiana, is the value of the car immediately before the collision v. the value of the car immediately after the accident. The value after the accident is scrap value and can range from $300 to $1,000.00. Of course it can be more, but that is the exception. The insurance company will want to pay you wholesale bluebook value for a car in average condition. If your car is above average (be honest in your evaluation most cars really are of average condition) then you must be able to document why it is above average in condition. I think you must remain firm that this has to be a retail value, not whole sale value. You cannot buy a car wholesale, and therefore your loss is a retail loss.
When you do reach a fair value and want to settle the claim, the insurance company will present you with a release of your property damage claim. You can sign this without jeopardizing your bodily injury claim. You must read the release and make sure it is for the property damage only. Things to look for are words such as “release of any and all claims” etc. If the release has this language, and you are not settling your bodily injury claim, do not sign it, contact your lawyer immediately for advice.