If you suffered property damage from a car accident, whether you can be compensated for that damage depends not only on who caused the car accident and whether that person was negligent, but also on what type of insurance coverage you have.
If someone negligently hits your car or crashes into your house, that person is liable for any and all damages that he/she caused. However, an insurance company is only required to pay up to its policy limits for any particular coverage. Let's look at a couple of examples to see how this can affect you.
Let's say that someone negligently hit your car and totaled it. Let's say that your car was worth $25,000, and that the defendant had $50,000 of property damage coverage. In that case, the defendant's insurer will simply send you a check for your vehicle damage claim (assuming that it agrees that your car was indeed worth $25,000).
In a property damage claim, you must remember that the amount of the claim is based on the car's value at the moment of the collision. The claim is not based on how much you paid for the car. The usual way to determine a car's value is by looking at the published and/or online guides to car valuation. It is generally a good idea to look at several of those guides and take the average of their estimates.
Let's take another example. Let's now say that the defendant only had $20,000 of property damage coverage. In that case, the defendant's insurer will only pay you $20,000 toward your property damage. It won't matter whether you file a lawsuit or not. The insurer is never obligated to pay more than its coverage. So how can you get compensated for the remaining $5,000 of property damage?
The way to do it is to make a claim under your own collision coverage, if you have collision coverage and if your coverage amount is sufficient. In most states, collision coverage covers any damage to your vehicle up to the policy limits, less your deductible, no matter who caused the damage. However, in general, when you're trying to add your collision coverage to the defendant's property damage coverage, your collision coverage must be greater than the defendant's property damage coverage. So, in this case, you would only be able to collect from your collision coverage if you had more than $20,000 in collision coverage.
If, however, the defendant crashed his/her car into your house or garage and his/her property damage coverage was insufficient, your automobile insurance policy would not cover that damage. You would have to look at your homeowner's insurance policy to see if that policy covered damage from motor vehicles.
You could also make a claim under your comprehensive coverage if your car was parked at the time of the collision. Comprehensive coverage generally only applies to parked cars. The same rules for collision coverage apply to comprehensive claims. You can only make a claim against your comprehensive coverage in this situation if your comprehensive coverage is greater than the defendant's property damage coverage. Again, like collision coverage, comprehensive coverage only covers cars, not houses.
In the above examples, we have been talking about someone who negligently crashed into your car or house. But what happens when you crash your own car into a tree or even into your own garage or house? This is called a one- vehicle accident. The only way to recover any damages in that situation would be through your own collision coverage, and that would cover only damage to your car. As previously stated, collision coverage covers any damage to your vehicle no matter who caused the damage.
As for damage to your house or garage, your automobile insurance policy would not cover that damage. Only your homeowner's insurance policy might cover damage from motor vehicles, but, this time, you would have to see if it covered damage due to the insured's (i.e. your) own negligence.
This is where you may need a lawyer if the dispute is substantial. Insurers don't generally negotiate much (or at all) on the valuation of damaged cars. If you don't like their figure, you generally will have to file suit. Learn more about Disputes Over Vehicle Repairs After a Car Accident.
Have you been in a car accident?
Take our free car accident quiz to find out if you're likely to get a settlement.