Motor Vehicle Accidents: The Claims Process

Motor Vehicle Accidents are unexpected incidents that occur to victims daily. Hiring an attorney who clearly understands the claims process to properly represent you in your accident is the first step to ensure you are protected. The claims process can be confusing and frustrating for individuals who are unfamiliar with the process, this is why it is important to have an attorney represent you and explain the process each step of the way. Although every accident is unique, the filing process is similar case to case. 

Filing an insurance claim:

The first step in the claims process is filing a claim with the insurance company of all parties involved. This includes filing a claim with your own insurance. When you are involved in an accident, regardless of your fault in the accident, your insurance needs to be aware of the accident and a claim needs to be filed as it relates to the occurrence. The guilty parties insurance will need to confirm that you had active insurance at the time of the incident regardless of your fault. 

The claim filing process is important, as it is the time when you will provide facts of loss for the accident in order for the insurance companies to evaluate and determine which party is liable for the accident. Insurance companies will also ask that you send in any photos or documents related to the accident for review. 

Why do you need to file a claim with your own insurance even if you are not at fault?

Many people do not understand the concept of filing a claim with their own insurance since they are not at fault. The most common question asked is “why do I need to file a claim with my own insurance if I am not at fault for the accident?” The reason for filing a claim with your own insurance is to rule out the probability of your claim being a Prop 213 claim.

What is a Prop 213 claim?

Prop 213 is a California Proposition that prevents drivers injured in a car accident from obtaining damages for their pain and suffering even when the accident was not their fault if they lack car insurance or the car they were driving was not covered by insurance. There are few exemptions in Prop 213 cases in which you may still be entitled to recovery for damages. 

Exemptions on Prop 213 cases:

  • Drivers of company vehicles when their employers fail to obtain auto liability insurance for company-owned vehicles.
  • Passengers of uninsured vehicles, as long as they are not the vehicle owner.
  • Motorists who get into accidents involving drunk drivers.
  • The innocent spouse of the uninsured driver who did not know their spouse’s failure to secure insurance coverage.
  • Vehicular accidents on private property.
  • Drivers with automobile insurance coverage who borrow uninsured cars.

Property Damage and Bodily Injury explained: 

In car accident insurance claims there are two categories – Property damage and bodily injury. 

Property Damage Claims: 

When you are involved in an accident, it is important to ensure that you have collision coverage for vehicle repairs. If you do not have collision coverage, you will need to wait until the responsible parties insurance accepts liability for the crash to begin your vehicle repairs.

Property damage claims are related to any items damaged at the time of the accident. The primary property damage evaluated is your vehicle. Your vehicle will be inspected to determine the cost of repair. The insured will be responsible for the deductible under their collision coverage policy. If the damages cost less than your deductible, your insurance will deny the property damage claim. After the vehicle is inspected, the body shop will begin repairs and the insurance company will pay the body shop directly for the repair costs.

Other items that were damaged in your vehicle at the time of the accident are also subject to property damage reimbursement. This can include items such as car seats, cell phones, and other electronics.

If your vehicle results in a total loss, your deductible will normally be reduced from the total loss settlement amount. However, when the responsible party accepts liability for the crash, you are entitled to reimbursement for your deductible. 

There are some situations in which the responsible party has a minimum policy for property damage. The minimum property damage policy limit in California is $5,000.00. This means that the responsible party’s insurance is only responsible for damages up to $5,000.00. It is important to ensure that you have proper collision coverage on your policy to protect yourself in these situations. 

Bodily Injury Claims:

Victims of car accidents often suffer from injuries following the crash. These injuries can be costly and burdensome for the victim. Many accident victims do not know their rights and avoid getting medical treatment due to the cost of the treatments. Seeking an accident attorney to represent you in your claim can ensure that you receive medical treatment from professionals that specialize in motor vehicle accidents. 

When you are involved in a car accident and you are not at fault you have a right to seek damages. In bodily injury claims the damages are valued in two ways: special and general damages. Special damages are damages you incurred financially such as medical bills. General damages are non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering. In a bodily injury settlement, the insurance company will value your settlement at the amount of your special damages and consider additional funds for general damages. 

Accident attorneys can also arrange for your medical treatment to be handled on a lien, this means you are not responsible for paying any medical bills until the claim has settled and you have received your bodily injury settlement recovery. Oftentimes, accident attorneys will also negotiate your medical bills for you after the settlement to ensure you receive the best recovery from your settlement.  

In California the minimum policy limit for bodily injury coverage is $15,000.00. This means that some individuals only have insurance to pay out policy limits of $15,000.00. You can ensure that you are covered past the policy limit of $15,000.00 by having your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on your policy.

What is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage?

UM coverage is coverage under your own insurance policy to ensure that you are covered in an accident when the responsible party has no insurance or minimum coverage. Your UM will step under the two following conditions: your insurance will require that the other driver have no valid coverage at the time of the accident or that you have already maximized your recovery from the responsible parties insurance. 

For example, if you get into an accident with someone who has minimum coverage of $15,000.00 and you have UM coverage of $30,000.00. Once you have maximized the $15,000.00 from the other party’s insurance, you are still left with $15,000.00 of your $30,000.00 UM coverage. However, if the other driver has no insurance at all, you will have the full $30,000.00 UM coverage to work with.

What happens if you cannot reach a settlement with the responsible party’s insurance?

In cases where you cannot agree on a settlement amount, your attorney will often ask for your permission to file a lawsuit against the other driver. This lawsuit will help push the other party to provide you with a reasonable settlement to avoid further litigation costs. 

Insurance claims can last for years and the statute of limitations for personal injury settlements in California is two years from the date of the injury. This means that if you are still treating when your statute is approaching or you have not reached a settlement agreement, then your attorney will need to file a lawsuit to preserve your statute of limitations and ensure you are still entitled to settlement for your injuries. 

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