A property damage claim is a request for compensation for property damage caused by a collision or other event. The most common property damage claim is when someone files a claim with an at-fault driver’s insurer after a car accident. But if a driver causes an accident or otherwise suffers vehicle damage, they would file a property damage claim with their own collision or comprehensive insurance.
Key Things to Know About Property Damage Claims
- Property damage can be covered by liability, collision, or comprehensive insurance, depending on what caused the damage.
- If you were involved in an accident, you’ll file a claim with your insurance company or the other driver’s, depending on who was at fault.
- Once you file a property damage claim, the insurance company will assign an adjuster to your case who will oversee the process and give you a final settlement offer.
How to File a Property Damage Claim
1. Report the Damage to Your Insurance Company
You should always call your insurer to report damage to your vehicle, regardless of how it happened. Even if you plan to file the claim through the at-fault driver’s insurance after an accident, you should still let your insurance company know about it. They can even work with the other driver’s insurer on your behalf.
There’s usually not a specific timeline for reporting an accident to your insurance company, but you should do it as soon as possible.
2. File a Police Report
You’re legally required to file a police report if you’re involved in an accident resulting in injury or extensive property damage. The specifics depend on state laws, but you should almost always get a police report anyway, as your insurance company will likely request a copy.
3. File the Claim
You can file a claim in many different ways, so you should choose whichever way is most convenient for you. You can call your insurance company directly, send a claims form via email or fax, or use your company’s mobile app or website. If you plan on filing a claim with an at-fault driver’s insurer, you can call the company’s claims number.
Depending on your state, you could have up to five years to file a property damage claim. However, the longer you delay your claim, the harder it will be to defend it.
4. Work With the Insurance Adjuster
Once you file a claim, an adjuster will be assigned to your case. They will review the damage themselves or take the car to a repair shop to be inspected. Once they’ve looked over all of the evidence, they’ll provide you with a settlement estimate, which is how much they will pay for the vehicle to be repaired. If you were involved in an accident, they’ll also make a final determination of fault. It’s important that you tell them exactly what happened without speculating about anything. You also need to provide them with all of the documentation you have, including photos of the damage and the scene.
Your car will be considered totaled if the cost of repairing the damage is more than the car’s market value. In that case, the insurance company will write you a check for what the car was worth prior to the accident. The exact value of your car will be determined by factors such as its age, mileage, and condition.
5. Get Your Vehicle Repaired
While your insurance company can recommend repair shops to you, they cannot force you to go to any particular one. However, there are advantages to going to an authorized body shop. The insurance company will usually pay them directly, and if more damage is exposed during repairs, the repairs will be approved faster.
You might also come into conflict with your insurer over the use of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts. OEM parts are the same as the parts that originally came with your vehicle, specifically in terms of quality. However, insurance companies usually only authorize the use of “after-market” parts. These parts are cheaper than OEM parts but are not always the same quality. You can request that the body shop use OEM parts, but you will have to pay for the price difference compared to after-market parts.
6. Finalize Your Insurance Payout
After your vehicle is repaired, the insurance company will either send you a check or pay the body shop directly. You’ll be required to sign a release accepting the payment and promising not to pursue any further claims related to the accident.
Although the basic steps of filing a property damage claim are usually the same in every situation, the specific details of the process can vary based on what caused the damage and which insurance company you’re filing the claim with.
When & Where to File a Property Damage Claim
Scenario 1: Damage Is Unrelated to an Accident
If your vehicle was damaged by something other than a collision, you need to file a claim with your own insurance company under your comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensive insurance policies are optional and cover vehicle repairs or replacement needed due to a wide range of events such as a natural disaster, vandalism, or theft.
Scenario 2: Damage Was Caused by an Accident
There are multiple ways to go about filing a property damage claim after a car accident. The route that you need to take depends mostly on who’s at fault.
- If the other driver is at fault: If the other driver is to blame for the accident, you need to file a claim with their insurance company. Their liability insurance will cover any repairs to your vehicle up to the limits of their policy.
- If you’re at fault: Your own collision insurance policy will have to cover your vehicle’s damage when you’re at fault, since your liability insurance will only cover expenses incurred by other people in accidents that you cause.
- If the fault is shared or unclear: In this scenario, you would file a claim with both your insurance company and the other driver’s. Once a claim has been filed, an insurance adjuster will investigate the accident and determine who was at fault. You’ll then get coverage under one or both policies, depending on the negligence laws in your state and what percentage of responsibility you both share.
- If you’re hit by an uninsured/underinsured motorist: When you’re hit by a driver who doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the damage to your vehicle, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage will pay for the repairs. This type of insurance is required in almost half of the states, although uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage coverage specifically is not available everywhere.If you don’t have uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage coverage, collision coverage can be used instead since it pays for vehicle repairs after an accident regardless of who was at fault.
- If you’re the victim of a hit and run: If you’re hit by an unidentified driver who flees the scene, you can file a claim with your insurance company under your collision coverage or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.However, it might not always be possible to use uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in this scenario. In some states where uninsured/underinsured property damage coverage is available, such as California and Illinois, it cannot be used in hit and runs when the at-fault driver remains unidentified.
Tips for Filing a Property Damage Claim
Ask About a Rental Car
If rental reimbursement coverage is a part of your policy, your insurance company will cover the cost of a rental car while your car is being repaired after an accident or other damage-causing event. However, this would only be used if you’re filing a claim with your own insurer under your collision or comprehensive coverage.
When the damage is the result of an accident you did not cause, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance should pay for the cost of a rental car. However, if fault is not immediately apparent, it might take longer for you to get reimbursed.
Do NOT Make Any Repairs Until You Meet With The Adjuster
The adjuster can’t determine fault or accurately estimate the cost of repairs if you’ve already fixed the car. The only exception to this rule is if delaying a repair would cause further damage to the car. If that’s the case, then you need to call the insurance company to confirm that the car needs immediate repair and document all steps of the process. This includes taking pictures of the exact damage that will be repaired and keeping all receipts and documentation.
If You Don’t Think You’re Being Treated Fairly, You Can Do Something About It
Insurance companies don’t always play fair, and if you’re concerned about how your claim is being handled, you have the right to do something about it.
- You can contact the insurance company to appeal any decisions they have made.
- If your car was totaled and you don’t think the insurance company valued it correctly, your policy should give you the right to have an independent appraisal.
- If all attempts at appeal fail, you can file a complaint with your state’s insurance regulator or retain an attorney to represent you in a dispute.