Negotiating with an insurance adjuster on a property damage claim can be a difficult process. The reality is that, unlike a personal injury case, you have little leverage to get the best possible settlement.
Here are a few tips to help you get leverage so you can negotiate the best property damage settlement that you possibly can.Gather Information
Even though it may be clear as day to you, that the other driver was at fault for the accident, the insurance company is going to rely solely on the recorded and physical information when negotiating your claim.
It is important to remember that you are not dealing with the other driver at this point. You are dealing with the other driver’s insurance company. So it is vital to gather as much information as possible regarding the accident. This will give you some arrows in your quiver when squaring off with the insurance company.
Know the basics from the crash scene: the other driver’s insurance information, witnesses, physical damage, license plate numbers, and so forth. The more of this you have in your back pocket, the better. This makes it harder for the insurance company to allege that you cannot prove certain damage and claim ignorance for expenses that you incurred.
Also, make sure you are prepared in terms of what you want. Do you want the car fixed? Do you want it to be deemed a total loss? To get what you want, you have to know what you want going into the negotiations.
Insurance adjusters are always going to take the path of least resistance. When they are dealing with an informed victim, they are less likely to try to rip you off because they think a victim who is organized and understands the process is not going to fall for the insurance company’s tricks.
Also, you need to know your enemy. Here is the inside scoop on every major insurance company you may be dealing with negotiating an insurance settlement for property damage.Use the Insurance Company’s Repair Shop
The insurance company generally sets out what they think is the reasonable value of a repair. During the actual repair process, if the mechanic goes over the number in repair costs, they will have to receive permission before finishing the job. While we all have our trusted mechanics, it might be more difficult for the insurance company to correspond and arrange additional repairs if they were not initially approved.
It is usually more convenient for the insurance company to simply use their shop, so this makes things go a little smoother in the long run and increases your bargaining power as well. (That said, if you have someone that you love and trust, you might have to reconsider this advice.)Do Not Let Your Car Sit
In most states, you have a duty to mitigate damages. This would include property damage in car accident cases. If your car is totaled and you let it sit in storage, the storage fees will not be included in your final settlement as you had a duty to mitigate them under the law. Often, insurance companies will not immediately accept liability for the accident. This means that you will be responsible for any storage fees while the car is in purgatory between the accident and the insurance company taking it off of your hands.
So the best thing to do here is to either move the car from a tow lot to a storage facility or pay any costs as you go considering this number will be excluded from your final cash settlement.Transfer the Car’s Title (If Your Car Is Totaled)
If a car is a total loss after the accident, the insurance company will have to obtain the title to the vehicle, before they can pay out any settlement. This is because it has to sell the car for scrap and pay out the settlement from that amount.
Of course, if the car is a total loss, if there is still any amount owed on the vehicle, the insurance company will have to pay the bank or institution issuing the loan first. It will then pay you what is left over. Transferring title as soon as you know whether the car is totaled is a way to speed things along and avoid any snags along the way to obtaining a settlement check.
Many people ask if the insurance company can force you to total your car. It can. The insurance company meets its legal obligation to you when it pays you the fair value of your total loss if that is the route that it wants to go.Fight Hard to Get What You Want
Insurance companies do not want to get bogged down in protracted battles over the value of the property damage. The squeaky wheels get the most grease from the insurance companies in these cases. The difference between getting what you want and what they want to give you is more perspiration than anything else.
It is also important to be somewhat realistic about the types of damages that you can collect when dealing with the insurance claims adjuster. If you go into negotiations with a wildly inflated number, the insurance company is likely not to take you as seriously as someone who comes in with a slightly inflated but reasonable and justifiable number.
In property damage cases you are usually able to collect vehicle damage, personal property damage, car rental, and other out-of-pocket expenses such as a taxi ride from the scene of the accident.
Fight for all these damages. But do not go in claiming that you have emotional distress from missing the latest episode of your favorite show because of the accident. The insurance company will not take you seriously, and your overall settlement value will take a hit in the long run.Have a Settlement Payout Number in Mind
Break out your calculator and crunch the numbers. Figure out how much money you lost in property damage, as a result of the accident instead of relying on the insurance company’s valuation. After you figure out this number, calculate a minimum settlement that you would take. DO NOT share this number with the adjuster.
Remember, you are trying to get as much money as you can, not what is reasonable. The number should be just slightly higher than reasonable. Remember to give reasons why the adjuster’s number was wrong. Arm the adjuster with information to take back to her supervisor as to why the claim is worth more.
Remember, if the car is totaled, Maryland and most states require the insurance company to pay you the cost of a "substantially similar motor vehicle." This is defined as:
- the same make and model as the damaged vehicle;
- the same year as, or more recent year than, the damaged motor vehicle;
- containing at least the same major options as the damaged motor vehicle;
- in a condition substantially similar to or better than the condition of the damaged motor vehicle immediately before the damage occurred; and
- has mileage that is within the greater of 4,000 miles or 10 percent of the mileage on the damaged motor vehicle at the time that the damage occurred unless the vehicle is limited in production, specialty in nature, or older than 10 model years at the time of total loss.
Do Not Take the First Settlement Offer
In any negotiation, how often do you think people make their best offer upfront? If you guessed never, you would be wrong. It sometimes happens in property damage cases. Sometimes, the adjuster will give every penny in authority from the very beginning. But it is not always the case and you have to assume that is not the case in your claim.
Again, do not come back with a crazy high number because that would convey inexperience to a likely experienced adjuster.Hold Their Feet to the Fire
One of the most powerful words in the English language is “why?” Adults can get away with saying “because I said so” when small children incessantly ask “why?” But an insurance adjuster cannot pull the same trick.
Whenever an adjuster offers a low number, figure out why they are doing so. Make them justify their offer by asking them to provide specific facts about why your claim is not worth more.
At this point, you can gauge the strength of their reasons for doing so and adjust your demand accordingly. And if they go with the “because I said so” approach, do not feel as willing to back down from your initial number.Put Everything in Writing
When the insurance adjuster finally agrees to a settlement number, put it in writing. Write a letter and send it to the adjuster. You are not going to offend anyone by confirming something via letter.
Attorneys do the same thing when they agree to a settlement, so it is not like the adjuster is going to hate you and suddenly retract his offer. The letter does not have to be a novel either. Just put in
- the amount that you settled for,
- what damage the settlement covers, and
- the date by which you expect to receive payment or documentation from the insurance company.
Our firm handles only property damage claims (at no charge) for victims that have ALSO suffered serious injuries. But other attorneys handle property damage only cases. If you have a complex case or believe that the insurance company is just not being reasonable, it might be a good idea to contact an attorney.
While your experience may be limited, attorneys typically have vast negotiation experience, especially involving insurance companies. But for strictly property damage claims, run the numbers. If you already have an offer that is close to what you want, bringing in a property damage lawyer is going to do more harm than good to your bottom line.
More on Property Damage Claims
- Diminished Vehicle Value: how to fight when your vehicle is worth much less than before the crash
- Property Damages Release: BE CAREFUL! Signing the wrong release can be fatal to your personal injury claim. Some adjusters will try to fool you.
- Getting a Rental Car: This is usually an easy process. Here are some tips if the battle to get a rental car is World War III.
- Settlement value of YOUR personal injury case