Resolving Property Damage Claims in Georgia

CAVEAT: THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS GENERAL INFORMATION AND DISCUSSION AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE FOR ANY SPECIFIC LEGAL SITUATION. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR LEGAL SITUATION, THEN CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY. THE LAW OFFICE OF P. CHARLES SCHOLLE ONLY ACCEPTS SERIOUS INJURY AND DEATH CASES, AND ONLY ASSISTS IN PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIMS FOR ITS SERIOUSLY INJURED CLIENTS. WE DO NOT HANDLE PROPERTY DAMAGE CASES WHICH ARE NOT ASSOCIATED WITH INJURY OR DEATH CLAIMS, SO PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT US FOR GENERAL LEGAL ADVICE ON THIS TOPIC UNLESS YOU SEEK OUR REPRESENTATION FOR AN ASSOCIATED PERSONAL INJURY OR WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM.

We do not represent claimants in property damage cases generally because it is cost prohibitive for the claimant, as we do not take a percentage fee on the property damage component of their case. Nonetheless, our seriously injured clients sometimes ask us to assist them with their property damage claims. We generally help as a service, especially if the insurance company is being unreasonable, which is often the case.

There are a couple “Rules of Thumb” for Georgia automobile property damage claims. First, it is unlikely that you will be made whole on your property damage claim, considering the inconvenience, expense and wasted time spent in trying to resolve an accident that was not your fault. Second, the liability insurance company possesses overwhelming advantages when adjusting property damage cases that they do not possess in adjusting your personal injury claim. Accordingly, it is easier to obtain justice on your personal injury claim than your property damage claim.

To make an insurance claim for property damage, you should first obtain a copy of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Report. This is drafted by the investigating police officer and is distributed by the police department for whom the officer worked. It should be available within a week of the accident at the appropriate police station. Once obtained, look to see who was cited and how the narrative reads with respect to fault. If another party was at fault, then look to their insurance company (as shown on the accident report) to report the claim. Google the toll free claims number for that insurance company and call with your claim. If you were at fault, report the claim to your insurance company. Within a day or two, the insurance company should assign a claims adjuster, who will contact you to try to resolve the matter.

Expect frustrating delays and stalling tactics from the adjuster. Insurance companies are profit-seeking businesses, and they seek to pay out as little as possible to you. The adjuster might claim that he or she a) needs to talk to all parties before they can make a decision; b) needs to talk to the officer; c) does not have a copy of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Report; d) cannot resolve your claim unless you give a recorded statement; e) needs to investigate whether there is valid coverage. Some insurance companies and adjusters are more scrupulous than others. It is possible that you will have a good, hassle-free experience. However, this is more an exception than the rule. Typically, the property damage claims process is made intentionally intimidating and frustrating as a way to “soften you up” for a low settlement.

One more thing, I advise against giving any recorded statements to an insurance company. These are never designed to discover the truth. Rather, they are designed to try to get you to say something against your interests, so that your case is weakened. I cannot tell you how many cases I have handled which have been hurt, sometimes destroyed, by interviews (that took place before I became involved in the case) in which an adjuster led my client to say something that suggested culpability in an accident that was, objectively, the fault of the other party. The accident report should speak for itself, especially if the other driver was cited. There should be no need for a recorded statement. After retaining my services, no client I have represented has ever given a recorded statement to an adjuster. In all of these cases, the property damage claim has been resolved satisfactorily.

There are two insurance settlement possibilities in a property damage claim: 1) that the vehicle will be considered a total loss; or 2) that the vehicle will be fixable.

If the vehicle is deemed a total loss, then the insurer is liable for the fair market value of the vehicle. If the vehicle is financed, it is possible that the owner will not receive enough insurance proceeds to pay off the debt. “Gap Insurance” is an insurance policy that protects against this. Check with your leasing or finance company to find out whether you have Gap Insurance. The insurance company will try to lowball the fair market value and will threaten to stop paying for a rental car as a kind of threat to get the case settled. The client should seek evidence for a higher fair market value and send that to the insurance adjuster. The client should visit sites like the Kelly Bluebook, Autotrader.com, Craigslist and the classified ads and send printouts to the adjuster showing how vehicles of the same make and model are worth more. This is all the Client can do short of filing suit. If the offer is within a few hundred dollars, I would advise that the Client accept it and try to make it up on the personal injury settlement.

If the vehicle is fixable, the client should make sure that the insurance company uses genuine manufacturer parts and have the finished vehicle inspected by an auto body technician of their choice before accepting the vehicle and signing a release. In addition to getting their car fixed, they are entitled to “diminution in value” of the vehicle because a wrecked car is worth less than one that has never been wrecked. There is no set formula for the amount of diminution in value, so the client should use their best judgment and ask the adjuster what is the basis for their offer.

As a last resort, if you are displeased with the property damage tactics of the insurance company, you can do three things: (1) Call your own insurance company and ask for assistance. However, this may entail making a separate claim and one can never be sure if this will increase the premiums; (2) Call the Georgia Insurance Commissioner and make a claim against the insurance company. The GIC is a state-run agency formed to regulate insurance companies and assist consumers. The GIC has a reputation as being friendly with insurance companies, but there are many good people there who will intervene to help if an insurance company is acting unreasonably; and (3) File suit in Georgia Magistrate Court or another Georgia civil court for damages and bad faith.

Beware in your property damage negotiations with the insurance company. You can harm your personal injury case by saying the wrong thing or by giving too much information. These adjusters are experienced, and they work for the insurance company, not you. Use common sense and do no harm.

From a main office in Gwinnett County, attorney Charles Scholle serves clients from offices in Buckhead and the Perimeter andrepresents victims throughout Atlanta and Georgia. To set up your free consultation, you can send the firm a message online or call toll-free at 1-866-972-5287 or in Atlanta at 770-717-5100.

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