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Car is wrecked, am I SOL?
March 2, 2012 8:53 AM   Subscribe

My car is wrecked. What should I do? My car was damaged in a complex situation. I was at work and my car was parked in my employer's parking lot. A car driven by an impaired driver hit our neighbor's car which was spun into my car.

The neighbor's car was totally destroyed (luckily he wasn't badly injured) and the driver who hit him went on to kill one pedestrian, and severely injure another. She also plowed through several bike racks with many bicycles attached, a bus stop bench, the side of a building and at least three street signs.

It was dark and in the horror of dealing with hurt and dying people and the trail of damage, I didn't realize my parked car had also been hit. My car was within the "crime scene" and I could not move it for over seven hours until the forensics team left. The next day I called the police and made a report. The police would only give me the name and insurance information of my neighbor whose car directly hit mine. I couldn't believe that my neighbor (and his insurance) is in any way responsible for the damage to my car. The impaired driver has been arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault.

I haven't slept very well since this all happened. It was devastating to see a man die and I grieve for his family and the other witnesses. I am so sorry that there wasn't anything I could do. I feel ashamed to be upset about something so trivial as my car when other people were hurt far worse.

My insurance company is aware of the case but wants to settle the claim with me under the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage that I carry. I suspect that the arrested driver will not have enough insurance to cover all the many claims she has racked up. The problem is that my car is 13 years old and the cost to repair my car is more that the "blue book" value. They want to "total" my car but the amount they would pay out is not enough to buy a decent replacement car. I am in a wheelchair and not just any old car will do. My damaged car had low milage and was in very good mechanical condition.

Misc. info: This is in Texas. My employer's insurance does not cover damages to cars. I have had no contact with the arrested driver's insurance company.

I would appreciate advise on any of these questions: Should I accept my insurance company's offer? Do I need an attorney? Should I try to contact the arrested driver's insurance company? Are there things I haven't mentioned that I should do? Thanks y'all.
posted by a humble nudibranch to Work & Money (25 answers total)
 
Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago, except in my case, the offending driver was talking on a cell phone, and there were no injuries or fatalities. My insurance "totaled" my 13 year old car as well, and although I got more for it than I expected to, it still wasn't anywhere near enough to buy another car.

I ended up using that money to lease a vehicle.

The wheelchair thing puts a spanner in the works, for sure. Some auto dealers lease wheelchair accessible or adapted vehicles. Could you do a little calling around to see what's available in your area?
posted by LN at 9:06 AM on March 2, 2012


How bad is the damage? You could buy back the vehicle and use what is left of the settlement after subtracting the buy back amount for repairs. This will also put a salvage title on the vehicle which will reduce its value if you sell it.

I've done this with a minivan. It is a pain to find a good used one, and they didn't make new ones anymore. I received a settlement from a sign hitting my vehicle. It demolished a fender, corner and headlight. I bought replacements from a junkyard, and replaced it all myself.
posted by narcoleptic at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2012


Bless your heart. I know of the accident and feel for anyone who was even remotely affected. Please don't feel badly for needing to tend to the practicalities of how you were impacted. It's all a part of a horrible whole, and every piece needs to be addressed in its own way. That you honour the weight of the more somber aspects of this horrible incident is toll enough.

That said, you should at least consult with a lawyer. No matter how reasonable your insurance adjusters may seem, an attorney can shed light on how much more reasonably they can be encouraged to respond with the proper approach. If there's no legal way to tie your vehicle's situation to the person who physically caused the accident, insurance-wise, the attorney will be honest about that. They don't really help with UUM very much, specifically, but there are dependencies in this case that might be applicable.

There's the annoying but feasible option of small claims court against the driver to recover the difference between your insurance payout and the value of your car, and an attorney could advise on that, too.

I'm sorry you're having to deal with this and wish you luck in navigating it.
posted by batmonkey at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


They want to "total" my car but the amount they would pay out is not enough to buy a decent replacement car.

That is, unfortunately, how that works. Auto insurance is provided on an "actual market value" not a "replacement cost value" basis. So you get paid for whatever your car was worth on the open market, not what it happened to be worth to you or what it would cost to buy a new one. The theory is that it's enough to buy a used car of like kind and quality.

Which, legally speaking, is likely all you're really entitled to here. If you were to sue the other drivers and win, your damages would be... the cost to purchase a used car of like kind and quality. Plus maybe the cost of a rental vehicle while you're getting a new one, which insurance should cover anyway.
posted by valkyryn at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


From my friend the auto insurance fraud investigator:

The problem is this: the insurance for the impaired driver, if the driver even has any, isn't going to cover this loss. Most insurance will not cover a loss if the driver is impaired (intoxication exclusion) or if the person is in the process of committing a felony (driving drunk and killing someone). If Texas is one of those states which does not have this exclusion (and it might well be, I don't know), the policy limits are for property damage are going to be exhausted very quickly. This means that the impaired driver's insurance will likely offer her even LESS than what her own insurer is offering her for UM/UIM coverage. The impaired driver's insurance is going to have to cover ALL of that damage, which means settling out at a pro-rata amount for each person. It is possible to go through the neighbor's car, because even though the neighbor isn't at fault for the loss, his car caused the damage to the writer's car, and the neighbor's insurance can then subrogate against the car operated by the impaired driver.

Unless she has a stated value policy, which she clearly doesn't, they're only going to pay what the car is worth. The appraiser takes into account that the vehicle is specially equipped and that the vehicle had low mileage. The insurance company is not going to pay more than what the car is worth (it says so right in the policy), and they're not responsible for giving the writer of the question more than what the car is worth simply because the totaled amount of the wrecked car isn't worth very much.

The insurer's responsibility is to reimburse the actual cash value of the vehicle lost. It is not there to put the writer in a newer car or to make sure she can afford a replacement vehicle. The insurer is not going to pay more than the ACV of the vehicle, and if she gets an attorney, they're going to take a bite out of that settlement.
posted by crankylex at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Valkyryn: Auto insurance is provided on an "actual market value" not a "replacement cost value" basis. So you get paid for whatever your car was worth on the open market, not what it happened to be worth to you or what it would cost to buy a new one.

Would you mind clarifying this? How can the value "on the open market" be different from the cost to buy another similar car?

(setting aside sales tax, that is)
posted by jon1270 at 9:52 AM on March 2, 2012


Assuming you want to keep the vehicle until it's no longer driveable (i.e. you don't really care about residual / resale value), I would take the insurance company's offer and then buy the car back with a salvage title, have it fixed up, and continue to drive it until it falls apart. If the vehicle was customized in some way (chair lift, etc.) and the adaptive equipment wasn't damaged, this could really put you ahead of what it would cost to replace the vehicle and have the equipment moved to the new car.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:52 AM on March 2, 2012


This would be a good time to start looking for equivalent cars (condition, mileage, proximity to you, and of course, of the same make and model) to see if the money they're offering you can buy you a new equivalent; after all, if it cannot, then the value they're offering you does not reflect the real-world value of the car. And, if it can, you're good to go.

Do the research right away (classified ads, carmax, and such), find three comparable vehicles and their asking price, and when you talk to the insurance adjuster, show them the comps. It's no guarantee, but if you can make a case for "that isn't the value of my car, THIS is the value of my car in this area in the same condition", then they might adjust accordingly. Depends on the insurance company, really.

Just make sure you're acting in good faith; don't cherry-pick the obviously overpriced cars on dealer lots. Yes, include one dealer/carmax vehicle in your comps, but try to find two that aren't...and if you can't, then that actually bolsters your case that the true value of the car is higher because you can't find them without paying retail prices.

Oh, and was your car equipped with adaptive equipment for your wheelchair? If so, presumably your insurance contains a provision for that, yes? If not, get that changed for the future.
posted by davejay at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This all sounds so horrible and you have every reason to be upset. I wonder if the damage to your car, or at least the cost of getting an appropriate replacement might be considered compensation for a victim of a crime. In Texas this office handles that. You might also consider talking with a disability rights advocate.
posted by mareli at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you considered talking to a therapist, even just for a session or two? You've had a hideous personal experience which has had serious, urgent personal repercussions, and you say you're not sleeping well and feeling guilty for "only" losing your personal transportation which you may not be able to replace.

It might be useful for you to have someone to talk to about those complicated feelings. It might even help with replacing the vehicle, because you'll be able to consider your options about your replacement separately from dealing with the trauma of seeing such a catastrophic event.
posted by endless_forms at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Auto insurance is provided on an "actual market value" not a "replacement cost value" basis. So you get paid for whatever your car was worth on the open market, not what it happened to be worth to you or what it would cost to buy a new one.

I was just rear-ended and had my car totaled and this was emphatically not the case with State Farm. I was pleased to find they gave me a very fair value plus reimbursement for things like sales tax and registration I had just paid. I was also told that I could negotiate the price with them if my car had any modifications that increased its value (as it sounds like yours may have).

Hope that helps, and sorry this happened.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:17 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Came to 2nd davejay - if the settlement they offered is supposedly the actual market value, but you can't find one or more truly comparable vehicles in that price range, you need to take that information back to the adjuster.

Also look into the option of finding a comparable vehicle in terms of age, condition, and mileage, then include the cost of making your necessary modifications. It may come out cheaper than finding a comp that already has those modifications, which provides a nice middle-ground for the insurance to agree to.

Just remember that insurance is a business like any other, and they don't profit from giving away the farm. You absolutely can negotiate on your settlement if you have data supporting your argument.
posted by trivia genius at 10:24 AM on March 2, 2012


How bad is the damage? You could buy back the vehicle and use what is left of the settlement after subtracting the buy back amount for repairs.
The damage is extensive. The frame is bent and the the muffler and hydraulic shocks area was compressed, plus extensive body damage. It would cost thousands more than the salvage settlement offer.

Have you considered talking to a therapist, even just for a session or two?

I and some other co-workers have talked to a counselor provided by our employer.

Oh, and was your car equipped with adaptive equipment for your wheelchair?

No, it had a hatchback that wide wide and low enough for me to fold and stow my wheelchair. I'd stow my chair then hop to the door. (I have one "good" foot.)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2012


Would you mind clarifying this? How can the value "on the open market" be different from the cost to buy another similar car?

Because you are, by definition, driving a used car. The insured amount of the vehicle should be the average price of a car of like kind and quality. So if you're driving a 2004 Ford Escort with 100,000 miles, your insurance company should give you enough money, minus your deductible, to buy another 2004 Ford Escort with 100,000 miles. They won't give you enough money to buy a 2012 Ford Escort new off the lot.

I was just rear-ended and had my car totaled and this was emphatically not the case with State Farm. . . I was also told that I could negotiate the price with them if my car had any modifications that increased its value (as it sounds like yours may have).

After-market additions can indeed add to the insured value of a car. They're property, just like the car is. So if the OP's car had had some kind of adaptive equipment, that would absolutely have been covered, increasing the value of the settlement offer. And because tax/tags/registration cost is part of any transaction, those can be included in the offer too.

But the fact remains that they aren't just going to give you enough money to go out and buy a new car. Maybe a nice used one, depending on what you're driving, and certainly with some credit for after-market equipment, but not the cost of a new vehicle.
posted by valkyryn at 10:44 AM on March 2, 2012


Lawyer up. I see two needs that you have that a lawyer will meet:

1 - Ensuring that your insurance company gives you the maximum amount that you deserve on your claim.

2 - Advising on the feasibility of a civil suit against the intoxicated driver to receover any damages you have over and above your insurance payout.
posted by de void at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2012


You have my sympathy. This must be an awful time for you. Pursue the neighbor's insurance. They will direct the incident in the path it needs to go. Your claim may not ultimately be settled through them, but you want to get the ball rolling. Yes, this is certainly the time to lawyer up, given the magnitude of confusion. I'm not sure it would be worth bringing a civil suit, but it's something that your lawyer would know.

You might also want to think about therapy to work through this. It's pretty awful to be in a situation where someone dies, and this kind of thing can have repercussions later in the form of PTSD if you don't deal with it now.

Don't be ashamed to pursue this. You are also an injured party, and it does negatively impact your life. I think that you should make sure your issues are taken into consideration, because yours might be the straw that breaks the camel's back with regard to sentencing. This person is a menace, and should be kept off the streets for as long as possible.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:52 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your neighbors insurance company will know the info on the drivers policy. Call and ask them. You don't have to file a claim just because you call to discuss it. And make sure you're clear on that with the rep.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2012


Your neighbors insurance company will know the info on the drivers policy.
I just talked with them. They have filed with their own insurance since the driver's policy has limit issues.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:17 PM on March 2, 2012


On my last total loss claim, I was able to negotiate with my adjuster up about 20%. They always lowball their total loss settlements. There are a few guides on the Internet on how to approach the negotiation. You are entitled to be made whole, which includes a comparable vehicle of similar condition that you can buy in your local area, and also extra costs like taxes and registration.

It's not over until you accept their settlement offer. You could try negotiating on your own, and then seek a lawyer if you hit a brick wall.
posted by colinshark at 12:19 PM on March 2, 2012


A lawyer may be of limited use, because you'll never get any money from the guilty driver. She is probably going to be bankrupt.

A lawyer might come in handy for negotiating with your own insurance company, but you may be able to do that on your own. Unfortunately this kind of payout is normal for car insurance.
posted by twblalock at 1:24 PM on March 2, 2012


There is no situation where I would deal with an insurance company who has already made a questionable offer without an attorney.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks to all of y'all for your help. This has helped me greatly in thinking through the situation calmly. I am still working with my insurance agent, who is being very helpful. I also appreciate the many kind expressions of sympathy.

Tomorrow we are holding a memorial to honor that dear man that was killed. I hope that seeing the place where he died filled with caring friends will help all of us in our community.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:47 PM on March 2, 2012


You need to get the public there aware of your situation. You need to have a benefit to help you.

This event has gotten huge attention, and you need the community to rally around and help you.

Reach out to everyone you know, get a Facebook buzz going about this. There are people who can help you, but this needs attention.

That and you need to fight like hell with every insurance company down the line to get your car replaced, or fixed.

Memail me, I know someone who works at the location this happened and saw the accident, and helped. You may know her.

This was an awful event, you should not have to suffer.
posted by roboton666 at 9:57 PM on March 2, 2012


That and lawyer up, pronto.
posted by roboton666 at 9:59 PM on March 2, 2012


They must give you fair value for your car. You can negotiate the price based on low mileage and unusually good condition. Let your insurance company work with the other insurance company.

You should also get some counseling; this should also be covered, since it a medical expense directly attributable to the accident.

Lawyers are expensive. Your state has an attorney general's office; they have an insurance office. They can assist you with information, and possibly advocacy. Worth contacting, in any case.

I'm so sorry you had to be part of a terrible tragedy; your compassion is obviously sincere.
posted by theora55 at 12:05 PM on March 3, 2012


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