Who is Responsible for Property Damage Repairs After a Car Accident?
Who is responsible to pay for your property damage repairs after a car accident in California? It depends on how the collision occurred. There is also a question of timing: who pays at first might not be who pays at the end of the day.
Confused? It can get a little complicated. Let us explain through examples.
Example #1: The Other Driver Caused the Collision
The most important question is the most obvious: who caused the collision? If another driver caused the crash, that driver — most likely through an insurance company — is responsible for the damage.
Often, it is just as simple as that. You get it an accident that was not your fault and the other driver’s insurance company pays for your car repairs or pays you the Blue Book value of your vehicle if your car was totaled. The insurance company does not give you another vehicle that is equivalent of yours.
Why It Can Still Get Complicated When the Other Driver Caused the Accident?
Sometimes, the other driver is at fault for the accident but the driver’s insurance company will not accept responsibility for the loss.
There are two reasons why this might happen. First, the insurance company might deny the claim because it thinks (1) it can win at trial, or (2) the victim will just go away and not force the issue and make a claim.
The second reason is that the insurance company cannot get in contact with its insured to verify the facts of the accident. In this case, the insurance company is going to do what insurance companies do best: stall and delay.
What to Do If the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company Refuses to Pay?
If the other driver’s insurance carrier refuses to pay for your property damage claim, you then turn back to your own car insurance company—if you have full coverage. This makes our clients furious with good reason. But it is not as bad as it seems. In most cases, your justice is just delayed for a short time. Temporarily, your own car insurance company — assuming you have the coverage — will pay for your property damage claim minus your deductible (if you do have coverage, see below).
Your insurance company will then bring a claim against the other insurance company through a mechanism called the Nationwide Inter-Company Arbitration, which is where insurance companies battle each other behind closed doors to resolve these kinds of disputes. But if the other driver is clearly at fault, it rarely gets this far. Normally, the claim itself will force the at-fault driver’s carrier to get realistic about the case and they will pay up.
What If The At-Fault Driver Does Not Have Car Insurance?
California car insurance law requires that all motorists – at least those that have their vehicles registered in California– maintain car insurance of $15,000 for bodily injury per person, $30,000 for bodily injury for all injuries in the crash and $5,000 for property damage.
Two problems can arise for our clients that often need to be tackled. First, the at-fault driver may not have insurance; this would be uninsured claim. Second, the at-fault driver might not have enough insurance; this would be an underinsured claim.
In both of these scenarios, you go back to your own insurance company to cover the gap between what you are owed and how much you were paid. If you have a vehicle registered and insured in California, you have at least $3,500 the minimum uninsured coverage listed.
Of course, you technically have a claim against the responsible party directly. But uninsured motorist coverage lets you end run that horrific and laborious process by pushing it off on your insurance company (who will often go after the at-fault driver for the money they pay you).
What If I Did Not Have Any Car Insurance?
Certainly, you need to get car insurance. But this does not limit in any way your ability to make a property damage or a personal injury claim, albeit with the backstop of your own insurance company if there is a problem with the responsible driver’s insurance company.
The same holds true if the other driver does not have insurance and you do not have collision insurance. Certainly, you have a viable claim against the negligent driver. The problems here are practical. You have to get through the logistics of filing suit — finding a lawyer will be very tough — and collecting on a judgment should you get a verdict.
What If No One Had Car Insurance?
Conceptually, nothing changes if neither party had car insurance. There is still the obligation of the negligent driver to compensate your for all of the harms you suffered, including your property damage and injury claims. But as a practical matter, most people without car insurance do not have assets that could pay a judgment. You can threaten them with legal action. It might work. But most likely it will be a challenge.
Scenario #2: You Caused the Accident
Even if you caused the accident and you are a California driver with insurance coverage, you should be in good shape. Your insurance company should fix your car if you have collision insurance and also handle the repairs for the other driver. You will be out your deductible and, as you suspected, your insurance rates will probably go higher.
If you did not have car insurance, expect the inverse of what we explained above. The other driver’s insurance will most likely pick up the tab for the outstanding repair bills. But that insurer takes over the rights of the victim through an insurance process called subrogation. Do not be surprised if they bang up your credit and eventually sue you if you don’t come up with the money that you should have paid. The take home lesson here is clear: every California driver needs to be in a car that has motor vehicle insurance.
Getting a Lawyer to Fight for You
Our offices handle personal injury cases. Do we take property damage cases? Yes, if there is also a personal injury component to it. If you want to learn what options you have, call us at 916-573-0474.