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PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIMS IN COLORADO

In any car accident, whether or not there are injuries, it's best to report the accident to the police. If there are no injuries, or the area is on Accident Alert, the police might not come out to complete a report. In this case, be sure to exchange information with the other people who were in the accident. If any witnesses stop to help, get their information too.

When a police report is not completed, you can fill out an Online Accident Report by going to the nearest police station, or the website for the city or county where the accident occurred. Getting some kind of report is helpful and sometimes necessary for establishing liability, or fault.

WHICH INSURANCE SHOULD I SUBMIT MY CLAIM TO?

You have two choices when filing a property damage claim - you can file it to your own insurance, or the insurance of the driver who caused the accident. Typically, the other driver's insurance company will need to establish liability before they will help you. This involves reviewing the police report, and also speaking directly with their insured. In a rear-end accident, this can happen fairly quickly. If, however, fault is not as clear, or if the other driver is not responding to their insurance company's calls, the process can take longer. You can speed this up by submitting the claim through your own insurance. They will move forward with getting your vehicle repaired and getting you into a rental car if you have rental coverage on your insurance policy.

It's also important to know that if you submit the claim through your own insurance, you will be responsible for any deductible you might have under the terms of the policy. After the claim is resolved, your insurance will submit the claim to the other driver's insurance for reimbursement. This is also known as "subrogation." Once your insurance is reimbursed by the at-fault insurance, you should receive a refund for any deductible you may have paid.

Once a claim has been opened with the insurance company, a Claims Adjuster will be assigned to handle the claim. The adjuster is an employee of the insurance company, and there will be certain procedures the adjuster must follow. Be patient and courteous with the adjuster, but don't allow them to intimidate you, either. In order to move forward with the claim, the adjuster will need to inspect the vehicle. This can be done wherever your car was taken after the accident - a tow yard, body shop, or your home. The adjuster will first complete a preliminary inspection to get a rough idea of the damages. If they decide to repair the vehicle, they will make a recommendation for which body shop to take the car to. Under the law, you may choose which shop completes the repairs - it doesn't have to be the one the adjuster recommends.

In Colorado, insurance companies are governed by the Division of Insurance through the Department of Regulatory Agencies, and Colorado law. Related to property damage, §10-4-120 requires insurance companies or its agents to:

  • Inform you that you may select any repair business of your choosing;
  • Supply you with a copy of the estimate upon which a settlement is based, when partial losses are settled based on an estimate prepared by or for the insurance company
  • Pay for repair services and products based on the "prevailing competitive price," or the typical price charged by body shops in your area.
  • Assume all reasonable costs are sufficient to pay for your car repairs, minus any applicable deductible or reduction for your own partial fault
  • Furnish the notice required by §10-4-120 C.R.S. to you for each claim
  • Promptly pay the cost of the repair minus the deductible according to the terms of the insurance policy at no less than the prevailing competitive market price in the same geographic area
  • Disclose any ownership interest in, or affiliation with, a recommended repair business.

This information is available in more detail in the Colorado Insurance Bulletins on the DORA website, www.colorado.gov. Bulletin No. B-5.4

OTHER PROPERTY

Your property damage claim can include items other than the vehicle itself. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing child safety seats and boosters after a moderate to severe accident. While many insurance companies will replace the seat without question, they may require you to purchase the new seat and submit a receipt for reimbursement. Other items that may need to be replaced after an accident include motorcycle helmets, after-market wheels and accessories, speakers, stereo equipment, and other vehicle additions. Check your policy to be certain of what items will be covered, and what is required to have these items replaced. This entire process is determined strictly by the terms of the insurance policy.

MY CAR WAS TOTALED. NOW WHAT?

When your car is damaged in a car accident, you are entitled to recover either (1) the cost of repairs required to return your car to the condition it was in immediately before the crash, or (2) the market value of your car. If the cost to repair your car is more than a given percentage of the value of your car, it will be declared a total loss ("totaled"). The adjuster will then offer you a payment for the value of your car, minus any deductibles or other expenses. You can obtain the market value of your vehicle by consulting a recognized price guide, such as the Kelley Blue Book or NADA. You can obtain written repair estimates from body shops and mechanics. You can also search car sale websites for the asking price of other comparable vehicles. If the offer from the adjuster is lower than the amounts shown in these resources, you can negotiate with the adjuster to try and reach a more reasonable settlement vale for your car.

If your car is totaled, you again have a choice. You can (1) accept the offer from the insurance company and sign the title over to them, or (2) keep your car. If you do this, the insurance company will reduce its payment by the car's salvage value.

SIGNING THE RELEASE

Once you've finalized a settlement for your property damage, the insurance company may require you to sign a release. If you were injured in the accident, you have two separate claims - one for property damage and one for bodily injury. The first is for damage to your property, the other is for damage to your body. Settling your property damage claim should not and usually does not include any possible bodily injury claim. However, it is important to always review documents carefully before you sign them. If you are not certain if the release includes your bodily injury claim, consult an attorney.

WHAT IF THE AT-FAULT DRIVER HAS NO INSURANCE?

If the other driver has no insurance, you can pursue the claim through your own insurance, assuming you have Uninsured Motorist Coverage on your policy. This will require you to pay your deductible. You can recover the deducible from the other driver, but this will most likely require a lawsuit. In Colorado, you can bring a claim in Small Claims Court for any case valued at less than $7,500.00. More information about the small claims process is available on the Denver District Court website. These kinds of claims are often too small to justify the expense of a lawyer, and small claims court is a good alternative because of the simplified procedures and relaxed rules of evidence.

WHAT IF THE AT-FAULT DRIVER DOESN'T HAVE ENOUGH INSURANCE?

The insurance company is not required to pay more than the coverage limits that are set out in the insurance policy. The cost to repair or replace your car is sometimes more than the available funds under the policy. For example, if the at-fault driver has $15,000 in property damage coverage, and your brand-new Tesla was totaled, the insurance is only required to pay $15,000. In this case, the at-fault driver is Underinsured. If you have Underinsured Motorist Coverage (and you should), then your insurance will cover the difference between what your car is worth, and what the other driver's insurance paid.

In most cases, property damage claims can be handled without the aid of an attorney. However, if you also have personal injuries as a result of the incident that damaged your car, contact a reputable personal injury attorney and schedule a free consultation.

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