Car Accident Property Damage Claims

Snapshot

Most car accidents only have property damage, not injuries, and if both drivers are insured, the at-fault driver’s insurance will cover damage to your car. Lack of insurance, though, can make things more complicated.

The majority of vehicle accidents are property-damage only – that means no one got hurt. In 2019, the least year for when statistics are available, of the 6.7 million police-reported vehicle accidents in the U.S., 71% had only property damage.

But the fact no one was injured doesn’t mean property damage-only accidents aren’t costly. Anyone who’s had even a fender-bender knows how fast car repair costs can mount after a car accident. According to the Insurance Information Institutes, the cost of body work on an automobile rose 29.5% between 2012 and 2021. The National Safety Council estimates the average per-vehicle cost of an accident is $4,700.

That can be a budget-buster. Add in the loss, even temporarily, of the vehicle if it’s your only mode of transportation, and other associated costs and it’s clear that a property damage-only accident can still have a big money impact.

That’s why mandatory auto insurance covers liability for damage to property or another vehicle for the at-fault driver. Knowing how and when to make a property damage accident claim can ensure you’re not left with empty pockets.

What Is Considered Property Damage in a Car Accident?

Property damage in a car accident is any wrong caused by the accident, aside from bodily injury. This not only includes the cars that are involved, but things like fences, signs, yards, mailboxes, bicycles – anything harmed by the accident.

Property damage also includes items in the car that were damaged. If your laptop was in the car, your kayak was strapped to the top, you were transporting a valuable vase to an auction house and it shattered, your expensive prescription sunglasses broke – anything that was damaged because of the accident can be included in your claim.

If your pet was injured or killed, you can also claim a loss as property damage. Pets are not included under bodily injury.

Who Pays for Property Damage in a Car Accident?

In both at-fault and no-fault states, the driver who is at fault pays for the damage to the other driver’s car. This will be covered by liability insurance that’s required in most states. (“No-fault” states only require drivers to pay their own damages in the case of medical expenses).

» More About: Who Pays for Car Damage in a No-Fault State?

If you are at fault for an accident, you will likely need collision insurance to cover the damage to your car. Your collision insurance can also cover your repairs if the at-fault driver’s insurance company is slow to pay. Your insurance company would then pursue payment from the other insurer. You likely will have to pay a deductible in this case.

In all cases, it doesn’t matter if the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance – he or she is still responsible for covering property damage costs.

If you have uninsured motorist coverage, which is an add-on in most states, your insurance company will pay for your property damage if an uninsured driver was at fault, then go after the driver to get their money back.

How to File a Property Damage Claim for a Car Accident

The success of a property damage claim after a car accident begins at the scene.

“You need to document as many facts as you can,” said Bryon Bromley, a former insurance adjuster who blogs about driving safety, accidents and liability at AdjustYourDrive.com. “Don’t worry about opinions on fault yet.”

Bromley said it’s important to get “all insurance information available” from the other driver.

“Most people have a smart phone – use it,” he said. “Photograph the scene, show where the vehicles came to rest.” He said insurance adjusters will take close-ups of the damage, so it’s more important to document the scene in general, which will help if there’s a dispute about fault.

“Back up and photograph overall views of the scene, showing any traffic controls, lane markings, and all vehicles involved,” he said.

Calling police to the scene is important to your claim, even if there were no injuries. Many states require police be called if the accident reaches a certain damage amount, and that amount is usually low, anywhere from $200 to $1,500 depending on the state. If your car is damaged in an accident, or you damage someone else’s property (a fence, mailbox, etc.), it’s always a good idea to call police and have them make a report. You’ll want a copy of it to help with your claim, including making it easier for the insurance company to verify the accident.

Steps in Filing a Property Damage Accident Claim

1. Notify your insurance company: It’s every driver’s responsibility to notify their insurance company as soon as possible after an accident, no matter who was at fault. The insurance adjuster will review the facts of the accident and determine fault and cost of repair. Even if the accident was obviously the other driver’s fault, you must contact your insurance company. There may be issues or ways you can use your own insurance you are unaware of. Your insurance company may also contact that other driver’s company if you were not at fault, or you may have to yourself. Make sure you understand from your insurer what the process will be. Both your insurer and the other driver’s should give you a claim number and the name of the adjuster who will be dealing with your case.

2. Get a damage estimate: Your insurance company will require you to get at least one estimate from a reputable car collision repair company, mechanic or auto dealer. The insurance company will also inspect the damage and write up its own estimate. Don’t get the work done until there’s agreement between you and your insurance company on a repair estimate.

3. Negotiate the best estimate: If you believe the amount the insurance company will pay is too low, negotiate with the company. It helps to know the value of your car as determined by Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, or the National Association of Auto Dealers, particularly if your insurer determines your car is totaled. If the insurance company decides the cost of repairs is more that what the car is worth, they will pay you the book value of the car.

Filing a Property Damage Claim if You Don’t Know Who Hit You

If your car was damaged while it was parked, and no one left a note, or damaged in a hit-and-run, your collision insurance will pay for the damages. You’ll have to pay a deductible in most cases. If you don’t have collision insurance, it’s still worth finding out from your insurer whether you have any options.

Filing a Property Damage Claim if an Object Damaged Your Car

If a tree limb fell on your car, you hit a deer, your car was damaged in a hailstorm, or some other incident where there’s not another insurance company that will pay and it’s not your fault, comprehensive coverage will pay the cost of damages. Contact your insurer to see if your policy covers such damage – comprehensive coverage is usually an add-on. Depending on the damage, your homeowner’s policy may also cover it. Since you can’t control events like this, it’s good idea to know what your coverage is before you have to make a claim.

Can You Sue for Property Damage in a Car Accident?

The shortest answer to whether you can sue for property damage in a car accident is, “Yes, you can sue anyone for anything.”

The bigger question is whether it is worth it to sue, or whether you will get compensated.

You can file a suit in small claims court if the amount is less than the small-claims cap in your state, if the other driver isn’t insured or their insurance isn’t covering what you feel you should be awarded in damages.

You can also contact a personal injury attorney, particularly if the property damage amount is high. Personal injury attorneys take on cases with the expectation of making money. The average personal injury claim is $21,000, but the average per-vehicle claim after an accident is $4,700, so most property damage accidents don’t rise to the level that would interest an attorney. Still, if you aren’t getting satisfaction from the insurance company, it may not hurt to check with an attorney. A consultation is usually free, and the attorney will let you know if it’s a case worth pursuing.

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has a three-decade career as a journalist at daily newspapers and publications that focus on business and consumer finance. She covered several beats during her newspaper career, including local and state news, features on prominent public officials and several years running a sports department. She is a subject expert on topics that include consumer debt, consumer credit, labor issues, financial abuse, rural development, and legal matters resulting from accidents in the workplace and on the roads. She is adept at presenting complicated topics in an easy-to-read format that helps readers understand the topic's impact on their lives … and their pocketbooks!

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Sources:

  1. Hurst, A. (2022, March 1) States with No-Fault Auto Insurance and What It Means. Retrieved from https://www.policygenius.com/auto-insurance/states-with-no-fault-insurance/
  2. N.A. (ND) Auto Insurance Basics – Understanding Your Coverage. Retrieved from https://www.iii.org/article/auto-insurance-basics-understanding-your-coverage
  3. N.A. (ND) Determining Your Car’s Value and Cost of Repair. Retrieved from https://www.iii.org/article/how-are-value-my-car-and-cost-repair-determined
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  5. N.A. (ND) Guide to Calculating Costs. Retrieved from https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/all-injuries/costs/guide-to-calculating-costs/data-details/