Auto Accident Attorney FAQs: Who Decides if My Car Is Totaled?

Car accidents can create a big question mark when it comes to the fate of your damaged car. Will the car be repaired, or will it be considered a total wreck? Who gets to decide, and how will you know if the amount of money you are offered in a settlement is fair? Working with an auto accident attorney in Houston, TX can give you clarity and support as you work through these issues.

Who Decides If the Car Should Be Totaled?

After an accident, you will most likely submit a claim to the insurance company that is responsible for covering the cost of the damage. After you have filed a claim and the insurance company has accepted it, they will either pay for repairs or give you an amount equal to its actual cash value. To make this determination, they will send a claims adjuster to examine your vehicle and assess the extent of the damage.

At the outset, it might appear as though the insurance company has the final say in whether your car will be repaired or totaled. However, you can push back against the initial settlement offer you receive. Working with an auto accident attorney can increase your chances of getting more money from the settlement. If it is a close call and you would like the car to be totaled rather than repaired, your attorney can negotiate with the insurance company on that point.

Collison Claims vs. Property Damage Claims

There are two types of car accident claims that involve damage to a vehicle. If you are filing a claim with your own insurance company for damages that you caused, you are filing a collision claim.

If another driver was responsible for the damage, you would file a property damage claim with his or her insurance company. Whether you are filing a collision claim or a property damage claim, working with an attorney of your own is the best way to get the settlement you want.

Determining the Extent of the Damage

The Role of the Adjuster

The claims adjuster plays an important role in determining whether your car will be repaired or totaled. After you have filed your claim, you can expect a visit from the adjuster within a few days.

What the Adjuster Does

The claims adjuster will make an appointment to see your car wherever it is, whether it is at your home or a storage facility. He or she will document the damage by taking notes and photographs. In addition to recording the damage, he or she will attempt to determine what markings on the vehicle were caused by the accident in question and which predated the incident.

The Adjuster’s Relationship With the Insurance Company

It is important to remember that the adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. While it is assumed that he or she will make every reasonable attempt to record the damage accurately, it is in his or her best interest to save the insurance company money. For that reason, certain elements of the damage might be overlooked or attributed to a previous accident.

Determining the Value of Your Car

Actual Cash Value

The insurance company will compare the cost of the necessary repairs against the actual cash value of your car. The actual cash value is a number that represents how much money your car was worth right before the accident occurred, according to an insurance company standard.

Factors That Influence the Actual Cash Value

When determining the actual cash value of your car, the insurance company considers:

  • Model
  • Make
  • Year
  • Color
  • Dealer add-ons
  • Customization
  • Miles driven
  • Options packages
  • Overall condition, including evidence of previous repairs or claims

Repair or Total?

Insurance companies use computer programs to estimate what it would cost to repair the damages the adjuster found on your vehicle. If the cost to repair it ends up being more than the actual cash value of the car, it will be totaled. However, insurance companies often total cars when the cost to repair them is found to be 50%-75% of the actual cash value. The reason for this practice is that in many situations, the fair market value of a car is less than its actual cash value.

The fair market value of a car is the amount which a reasonably well-informed buyer would purchase the vehicle. Likewise, it is also the amount at which a reasonable seller would part with the car. In many cases, the fair market value can give you a better indication of the true cost of replacing your car than the actual cash value. This allows for some wriggle room when negotiating with the insurance company on whether or not to consider the vehicle a total loss.

How Can You Get the Best Payout?

After a car crash, recovering the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle is probably one of your top concerns. While the insurance company will try to downplay the financial aspect of your accident as much as possible, staying informed about the claims process can help you act in your own interest. Here are some important steps you should take:

Contact a Lawyer As Soon as Possible

When you work with a car accident attorney, you will benefit from his or her knowledge of the laws surrounding car accidents and property damage. You will also gain the advantage of having someone on your side who is familiar with insurance company strategies. Your attorney can help you:

  • Gather evidence to show the cost of the damage
  • Submit your claim
  • Review a settlement offer
  • Negotiate for a higher settlement offer
  • Represent you according to correct legal protocols

Document the Crash

You can start building evidence immediately after the crash occurs. The first thing you should do is check yourself and your passengers for injuries. It is important to get the medical attention you need. If anything feels wrong, go to the emergency room. This will generate evidence of your injuries, which can be important if you need to submit a personal injury claim in addition to recovering property damage.

Your next concern should be recording the state of your car following the accident. Taking pictures of the crash from multiple angles will help show the extent of the damage. You should take some information from the other driver, including his or her

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Plate number
  • License number
  • Insurance information

Go Over the Damage With the Claims Adjuster

When the claims adjuster goes to examine your vehicle, you should go with them. As they walk around your car, you should point out any damage they do not note. Remember that the claims adjuster is reporting back to the insurance company, which will use the information to calculate the value of your settlement offer.

Protect Your Interest With an Auto Accident Attorney in Houston, TX

Whether you are comfortable having your vehicle repaired or would prefer to have it totaled, working with the right lawyer can help you with the claims process. A qualified attorney in Houston, TX will make sure that you understand your rights and your options so that you are not as vulnerable to the insurance company’s tactics. If you are ready to speak with a lawyer about how to get the most from your settlement, call Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner today.