After a car accident in Illinois, people typically have two concerns: Who is paying for my car to be fixed and did I suffer any injury to my body from the car accident?
This article will focus on the repairs to your car, which is handled separately from the personal injury aspect of the same car accident. You cannot receive one lump settlement to include both the vehicle and bodily injuries. Hopefully you were lucky enough to have not been seriously hurt, in which case you are only dealing with the financial mess between insurance companies.
Minimum Insurance Requirements in Illinois Won’t Help
In the State of Illinois, everyone is required to have liability insurance under Illinois’ Mandatory Insurance Law. Liability insurance protects other people from personal injury or auto damage caused by you or caused by someone driving your car. Liability policies also include coverage to you, but only if the accident was caused by an uninsured driver and you got hurt.
If you have purchased only liability insurance, as legally required, this is not going to help you to get your car fixed. If the accident was all or mostly someone else’s fault, their liability insurance should cover at least $20,000 worth of property damage to your vehicle. As you can probably imagine, this process is not automatic.
Which Insurance Company Will Pay?
Hopefully both yourself and the other driver had insurance. If using your own policy, you will have to pay your deductible. If your insurance company believes the other driver to be at fault, they may go after the other driver later, in what is known as a subrogation action. They will try to recover what they had to pay out on your claim and try to recover your deductible for you. If you use the other driver’s insurance, they are going to first need to accept responsibility and have a reasonable basis to believe that the accident was the fault of their insured.
Getting Your Car Repairs Paid by the other Insurance Company
Before another driver’s insurance company will consider paying for your car to be fixed, they need to accept responsibility (fault) for the accident. This is not easy, and most insurance companies will operate from a starting point of denying liability. Once they do accept responsibility, they will make you an offer. You are not required to automatically accept the first amount offered.
Report the Accident
Accidents which cause more than $1,500 in property damage to any vehicle are legally required to be reported to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). This number goes down to $500 if any driver does not have insurance. Aside from it being the law, you also will want to file a police report so that the accident can be properly documented. This will also help to ensure that you are provided with everyone else’s information. It is impossible for most people to accurately evaluate the dollar amount of damage from the scene of the accident, and repairs can be surprisingly expensive. Call the police.
What You’re Entitled to in Illinois for Property Damage to your Car
The responsible party needs to either have your car repaired back into the condition that it was in before the accident (or pay you), or if your car was totaled, to give you the fair market value pre-accident.
Tips for Negotiating A Property Damage Settlement
Know Your Facts and Exude Confidence
Having your facts straight is a great starting point. You are dealing with an insurance company and they have likely already done a preliminary investigation. Be sure that the insurance company understands that you also know the facts about what happened and are speaking from a place of confidence. This will send a silent but powerful message that you are not relying on what they tell you or what they feel is right. The insurance company will never start off on your side, regardless of ridiculous marketing slogans that say “trust us”. They are less likely to try and rip you off if you are organized.
Gather the following information:
- Location of the Accident. This includes street names, intersecting roads (if any), town or city.
- Direction of travel of all vehicles involved
- Day and Date of the Accident
- Insurance Information for all parties
- Witness Information
- Location of Damage on your vehicle
Know Your Numbers
Most property damage claims come down to math. There are published estimates as to a vehicle’s value. These values are based upon:
- Make and model
- Age of the Vehicle
- Features or Options (is your car the basic or does it have all the bells and whistles?)
- Overall condition of your vehicle before the accident. This is based upon a visual inspection. Be ready to push back if you think that the condition was rated as “poor”, if you disagree with it.
Run your own numbers, independent of the insurance company’s valuation, and then decide privately what dollar amount would be acceptable to you in terms of a settlement. One good way to calculate the estimate is to take your vehicle to your own body shop or mechanic, and ask for them to prepare a written estimate. Even if you use the insurance company´s body shop, you still have the right to obtain an independent estimate. This might not always be feasible, especially if your car had to be towed and is no longer driveable.
Make the Insurance Company Justify their Numbers
Sometimes it feels like insurance adjusters are pulling numbers out of the air, without rhyme or reason. Just like you are expected to justify your numbers, ask the insurance company where they are getting their figures from. If they want you to accept it, they should be able to explain it. Review what they have done. The insurance company has valuation software which they use, and can see what other comparable cars have recently sold for. Kelly Blue Book or Autotrader are reliable resources.
Sometimes legitimate mistakes are made. For example, was your car properly listed as a 2018, or mistakenly as a 2008?
Remove From Storage
If your car was towed to a storage facility after the accident, storage fees will become costly. You have an obligation to mitigate your damages. This means that if there is something that you can reasonably do to reduce the overall costs, you are expected to do it. This would include not letting the car sit.
What if My Car Was Totaled?
If your car is totaled and you still owe money on it, if you bought GAP (Guaranteed Asset Protection) insurance, it will cover the difference. When your car is totalled, it means that the cost to repair it will be more than what it is worth, within a certain percentage. Typically the insurance companies will total a car if the cost of repair is over 70% of its value. If your car is totaled out, the insurance company will sell the scrap. They are allowed to sell it for scrap since they paid the fair market value to you. This also means that you have to transfer the title over to them.
Time Frames for Property Damage Cases
Do not delay in your property damage claims, or it could be too late. These cases work a lot faster than personal injury claims, where you generally have more time as you are treated for your injuries.
Be Aware if you were also Injured in the Car Crash
Insurance Adjusters can be sneaky. Do not let your property damage claim hurt your claim for injuries. While an adjuster can’t hold your car repairs hostage until you settle your claim for injury, the fine print of anything that you are signing needs to be very carefully reviewed so that you do not sign away your rights to bring a claim for injuries. Injuries from an accident sometimes show up later, so be vigilant.
When asking about your accident, the insurance adjuster will ask if anyone was hurt. This question is not coming from genuine concern about anyone’s well being. If you are having this conversation very soon after the accident, be careful because sometimes the pain does not set in for a few days. It is best to insist upon talking only about the damage to your car. Also, be careful about answering questions on behalf of your passengers or anyone else.
Do I need a lawyer to help with Car Repairs?
If you were not injured and only have a property damage claim, you might not need a lawyer if you are willing to do the work outlined above. Insurance adjusters are not going to play hardball over a property damage claim to the same extent that they will over an injury, as the numbers are the numbers, without human pain and suffering involved. If you are satisfied with the justification of the insurance adjuster on the property damage claim, you may want to just go with it. If your claim is only for property damage (no one was hurt), and if they are close to your number, it probably does not make sense to hire a lawyer. However, If you do not feel that the amount is fair, contact an attorney. Please note that at O’Connor Cadiz Law, we do not handle property damage only claims, but in limited circumstances will handle these matters for existing injury clients at our Elgin office, when it makes sense to do so.