Navigating the perilous pitfalls of a vehicle property damage claim

So you were minding your own business carefully and properly turning at that stop sign in frorussnt of Starbucks when a guy who looks like Moe from the Three Stooges took the light from the other direction and sideswiped your two-month-old Fiat. Worse yet, Larry from his insurance company says they’re taking $900 off of your $5,000 settlement for “prior damage” and another $1,100 claiming that you were partly at fault for not seeing him coming. Worse still, Curly from your insurance company says they’ll take the claim but you’ll have to pay a $1,000 deductible. Wiseguys, hey? Here’s some advice:

1) Insurers will often play games with questions of fault or damage hoping you won’t fight – Just because the insurer says that’s all they’ll pay doesn’t mean that you have to accept their decision if it’s wrong. Insurers often count on you tiring and going away but know that a small claims lawsuit against the other driver will force the insurer to hire lawyers and keep an adjuster on the claim. That means, it may no longer be “cost-effective” for the insurer to drag its feet with your clam. Vehicle photos, witness statements and a police report will help you support your claim.

2) If you have comprehensive/collision coverage use it! – If you bought optional “comprehensive\collision” coverage that insures your car damage regardless of fault, you may want to submit the claim to your own insurer. The upside is that they will likely pay it quickly (because the policy covers you regardless of whose fault and they will chase down the driver who hit you to get the money back from that driver’s policy). The downsides are: 1) there may be a deductible as high as $1,000 that you’ll have to advance (though your insurer should try to recover this for you later) 2) your rental car might not be covered depending on your policy, and

3) if the other guy who hit you has the same insurance company they may be less motivated to look out for you as a customer. Still, it’s a better option.

Remember, Florida has more than a few “Stooges” taking streetlights and adjusting claims. Be sure you’re covered and ready to handle them.

Russel Lazega is an attorney and author of two of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law. He also represents accident victims and consumers at war with their insurance companies and is based in North Miami, Dania Beach, Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Questions? Contact:

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