Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Evaluating an Insurance Company's Salvage Value Offer for your South Carolina Vehicle

As noted in other blog posts, a monetary offer for the true value your vehicle should be made when it is totaled in a crash. A related offer is always included in this deal--the offer to buy your wrecked vehicle. This post discusses how you should evaluate this offer.

Salvage Title

First, you need to consider that South Carolina requires a salvage title when a property damages adjuster determines that a vehicle is a total loss. This is true even in cases when the car is still a good car and when the repair costs may be far less than the vehicle value.  In fact, the DMV mandates a salvage title when the estimated repair cost to a vehicle exceed 75% of its value, or when an insurer delares the vehicle totaled . (See South Carolina Salvage Titles

When a car is declared a total loss, the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles marks the title with a "salvage brand." The salvage brand is permanent and can never be removed. In addition, an owner who wishes to keep driving the vehicle must demonstrate to the DMV (with repair receipts) that the vehicle was adequately repaired.  

Of course, a salvage title will substantially decrease the fair market value of the vehicle. Individuals must factor the substantial loss in value of owning a car with a salvage title, as well as the inherent difficulty associated with selling it. Keeping a total loss car is not for the feint of heart.

Do you want to unload it ?

Second, if you intend to sell the wrecked vehicle, you need a plan for how you will do so. As noted above, you need to undertake repairs and obtain clearance from the DMV before a clear title can be issued. 

You don't need to decide right away. Ask for a few days and try to call around your community to see if there are any salvage facilities or dealers willing to purchase the vehicle. In some situations, such as with antique or classic cars, it makes sense to hold onto the wrecked car and try to find a market. 

Do you intend to drive it?

If you plan to keep the vehicle and drive it after it is totaled, you should consider (1) safety and (2) mechanical issues. 

Safety is paramount. A car whose airbags have deployed will need recharged bags, and those are expensive to replace. You are taking a great risk driving around in a car with no airbags. Similarly, structural weakness caused by the metal fatigue will make the vehicle less crash-worthy. 

Increased mechanical issues are frequently associated with a car that has been totaled. It is often hard to correct alignment in cases where a automobile frame is bent. This can cause increased and rapid wear on tires and stress mechanical bits. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Prove the True Vehicle Value in Your Auto Insurance Claim

The key issue in a property damages dispute is proving value. This post explains how one establishes value in an automobile property damages case.

South Carolina law allows owners to provide testimony as to the value of their own property.

This principle is set forth in the S.C.L.R. v. HARRELSON JR. 262 S.C. 43 (1974) case.  Therefore, you should provide a written opinion on your vehicle's value as part of your insurance claim.

Insurance adjuster's typically attach little weight to an owner's testimony about value. This is because most people have no significant experience buying and selling used vehicles. On the other hand, the insurance company employs people whose only job is figuring out car value. Or they have software databases that spit out the valuation data to adjusters that lack deviation authority.

Fortunately, thorough research is available to you online. Be careful and accurately input data about your vehicle to obtain an estimated value document of your own. 

Print these reports and send them to the adjuster for the claim file. 

If you have something unique about your car that increases its value upwards from the online estimators, you need to show why it has an enhanced value. Think about what makes the vehicle special. Gather repair receipts, pictures, or comparable vehicle prices in your area to make your point and submit them. 

You will also need an expert witness to prove this kind of case. South Carolina allows expert opinions in court:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

The best experts are not fancy college professor types. Vehicle experts include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Used car sales people;
  • Mechanics;
  • Car club presidents; etc.
Do you have any friends of family with this expertise? I recommend you obtain an opinion from your expert. If he agrees with your views of the enhanced valuation, make a recorded video statement. The video doesn't need to be slick. Just use a cellular telephone to make a simple recording.  (See link.) 

Before starting the recording, your friend needs to review your online research about value, examine your vehicle, review your pictures, and check your repair receipts.  

When you make the recording use this outline:

  1. Ask your friend if he has an opinion of the value of your vehicle before the collision. (Yes)
  2. Ask your friend to provide his name, address, telephone number.
  3. Ask your friend briefly explain his expertise. 
  4. Ask him for his opinion on the value. ("I think that car was worth at least $xx,xxx").
  5. Ask him to review the research he did to arrive at the opinion.
  6. Ask him if he would testify under penalty of perjury about the opinion. 
Make sure your friend has notes so he can deliver his video statement concisely and quickly. It wouldn't hurt to practice first. Then, submit the statement to the adjuster.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Total Loss Property Damages Claims

How do you figure out the amount of compensation you are owed when a car is classified as a total loss? This blog post will show you how to establish a total loss property damages automobile insurance claim in South Carolina.

Pre-collision Value 

  • Opinions

The first step is acquiring expert opinions to prove the true value of your car before the crash. Below are two old standby Internet resources will get you started:

These are both well-recognized services and the opinion they attribute to value will carry weight at a trial.

To obtain an output, just accurately input the data about your vehicle into these websites. The estimated retail value for your vehicle is the approximate fair market value of your vehicle.  

Note: make sure you input the detailed information about your vehicle as accurately as possible. Mistakes will undermine the credibility of your results. Lean toward under-classifying your vehicle's condition. 

Get the data about your vehicle's value as quickly as possible because as your vehicle ages its value will decrease.

Print out the results and save copies of the estimates. If needed, you will want to mail them to the property damages adjuster for the claim file.

  • Comparable Data

Next, go to AutoTrader.Com (or similar service) and do a search for your vehicle (make, model, and year) within 100 miles of your zip code.  This search will typically yield a decent number of cars for sale in your area. Print out the list and submit it as documentation for your property claim.

Bear in mind that the price asking point in the advertisements may not be what the seller will actually take for the vehicle. But the list will give you a good sense of the market price for your car.  Make copies of your search results. If needed, you can submit the comparable data as part of your claim. 

  • Unique Vehicles

If you have a classic or unique vehicle, you probably need a way to prove that the car's value exceeds the typical comparable vehicle.  

Find receipts for recent improvements on the vehicle such as tires, wheels, paint, engine, or sound system. Add these to your file. 

Do you have pictures of your car to demonstrate how nice it was?These pictures, receipts, if recent, can help bolster your car's value and help you prove it was worth more than the estimated normal comparable value.

Submit these documents to the property damages adjuster.  

Salvage Value Considerations

When your car is totaled, you always have the option of keeping the vehicle. If you choose to keep it, the total compensation will be reduced by the estimated value of the vehicle salvage. (See the formula above).

The automobile insurance company will offer to buy the title for the cost of the vehicle salvage value. For a newer model vehicle, the salvage value can be surprisingly high. Older model cars are typically a lot lower, maybe $300. 

Generally, most people would prefer not to have a wrecked car towed out to the front of their homes. This is why the insurance company often requests that you sign over the Title, or to give them a Power of Attorney to deal with the lien-holder. The insurance company will sell the salvaged vehicle to recoup partially the expense of paying you for the total loss of the vehicle. 

If you have a unique vehicle, figure out the estimated salvage value before you agree to the insurance company offer. A unique vehicle will often be worth substantially more than the salvage value estimate of the insurance company. 

Taxes and Tags

When your car is totaled the insurance company must pay the cost of replacing it. This includes the cost of paying State sales tax and buying new tags for the replacement vehicle.  

Rules of the Road: School Buses

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What Three Factors Determine When an Insurance Company will Declare A Wrecked Vehicle as a Total Loss?

When your car is heavily damaged in a South Carolina motor vehicle collision it sucks. I know this from personal experience.

The automobile insurance company responsible for paying the damages claim will have to make some quick decisions. 

This post explains the insurance decision-making thought process in determining whether to declare a vehicle as a total loss.

1. Assess the Pre-collision Value of the Damaged Vehicle

The first factor an insurance company adjuster is going to quickly assess is the approximate value of the damaged vehicle. Insurance companies can make this preliminary assessment based upon the vehicle's age, make, and model. 

2. Cost to Repair

The second factor it will assess is the cost of repairing the vehicle. The adjuster should interview the owner and find out where the vehicle was damaged in the crash.  

To finish the repair cost assessment, most insurance companies employ a property damages repair expert. This person will go to the vehicle and thoroughly inspect it. Afterwards, he will send a written repair estimate and pictures to the property damages adjuster. 

In some cases, an insurance company may have the vehicle inspected by a repair facility. In such cases, the facility will provide an estimate of the repair cost. 

The more expensive the repair estimate, the more likely it is that there will be cost over-runs. Once repairs are underway, it is not unusual for a repair facility to realize that more parts were broken in the crash. Or, while repairing the vehicle, a mechanic may determine that the frame was damaged. 

3. Weighing The Factors (Fifty Percent) 

The final factor made is a comparison of the first two factors. It can be expressed as a formula that looks like this: 

It is an easy decision to total a vehicle when the repair costs exceed the market value. Here is the example expressed as the formula:

Once it clear the repair costs will exceed the value, the insurance company will just declare the vehicle a total loss and pay the value ($8,000) instead of undertaking repairs ($10,000). 

Even when repair costs are less than the value, smart insurance companies will usually total a vehicle when costs exceeds 50% of value. Here is an example:

This is somewhat surprising. At first glance most people assume that if a vehicle can be repaired for less than its value, then fixing it is economically justified. However, there are other damages compensation due that make repairing such damage a risky option. When extensive repairs are made to a wrecked vehicle, supplemental property claims for more money can and should be made. These supplemental claims include the following: (1) Loss of use claims; (2) Repair cost over-runs; and (3) Diminution in value. 

South Carolina law requires a salvage title when the repair costs exceed seventy-five percent of the vehicle's fair market value.  (See South Carolina Salvage Titles) Salvage titles will drastically and negatively affect the resale value of your vehicle.

Don't expect an insurance company to voluntarily tell you about the extra money to which you may be entitled. Be alert! A sneaky or dumb insurance company may try to repair a damaged vehicle even when the estimated repair costs exceed fifty or even seventy-five percent

The insurance company is hoping you don't realize you are being under-compensated.  That's what this blog is about. Education.

If you encounter a dumb insurance company, visit the links below to read about how to make the additional compensatory damages claims so you can get all the money you deserve. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How To Maximize Your S.C. Property Damages Insurance Claim Money

When your car is wrecked but not totaled you can recover the cost to repair the vehicle from the liability insurance company. Everyone knows that. If the damage to your car is significant, you can also get substantial money damages for two other kinds of loss: the loss of use and the loss in value of your vehicle because it was in a wreck. Read on to see how to gather evidence in support of these supplemental property damages claims.

Loss of Use.

When your car is being repaired, you are entitled to damages caused by the loss of use. This is normally equal to the cost of a rental car, or around $12 - $15 per day depending on your location. 

If you had a special vehicle, like a truck used for your small business, or a larger vehicle needed to transport a large family, then you are eligible to a replacement vehicle that is suitable for your purposes.  If you car is repaired in just a couple days, it is probably not worth quibbling over this element of your claim. On the other hand, if you do have to litigate the dispute, then you should seek full compensation. 

To make a claim for a special loss of use, you need to establish the cost of replacing your specialty vehicle. You need documentation to establish the additional cost of renting a specialty vehicle.

If the liability insurance company refuses to provide a replacement vehicle while yours is being repaired, you have options. 

First, you should rent one yourself. The out of pocket cost of the rental should be fully reimbursed. If you need to replace a specialty vehicle, make sure that the invoice indicates why the rental cost is higher than $10-$15 per day. Also, shop around so you can prove later you have mitigated the damages by finding the most reasonable rental cost in your market. 

When you cannot rent a vehicle, then you can negotiate to rent a vehicle from a friend of family member. I am an Uber fan. If you live in a city and have a smart phone, this is a great option.  Use the Uber application to purchase your rides around town. You can request Uber to print an invoice showing all purchases during the period you were without a vehicle. You should be able to make a full recovery of Uber costs.

Alternatively, you may agree to just reimburse your friends for rides based on the mileage driven. If you choose this option, keep a contemporaneous log book of all trips. You can use the log to prove the mileage reimbursement at the government rate.

If you have to bring your vehicle to the repair facility on more than one occasion, then you are eligible for loss of use damages each time you are without.

Diminution in Value

Anytime your car is in a wreck, there is a probability it will lose value. The amount of diminution depends on the extent of the damages and the age and quality of your car. 

We recommend obtaining some key documents to prove your diminution in value damages. 

a. Figure Out Your Car's Pre-Collision Value

First, as quickly as you can, determine your car's pre-collision estimated fair market value. You can use several services on the Internet to help you. Here are two we recommend:

Figure out the fair market value quickly because as your car ages the car value will decrease. Print a copy of the reports and save a copy of the reports for future evidence of your car's pre-collision true value. Establishing your car's true value is a key element of any property compensation claim.

b. Where's the  Car Fax

A few weeks after the repair work is finished, buy a Car Fax report. Sometimes it might take a while for the collision to show up so it does not hurt to wait for a few months before seeking this information. 

Car Fax reports are helpful because most used car buyers use them to investigate vehicle history. If your vehicle report shows your car was in a collision, then the value of the car will be less than the value of a car that was not in a collision. Car Fax also characterizes the severity of the collisions so it can make a pretty big difference in value.

c. Sell the Car On the Open Market

We recommend you first take your fully repaired car to Car Max. The Car Max will inspect your car and make a written offer to buy it. Keep the written offer. Technically, the written offer by Car Max is not hearsay. This offer is typically low. You should be allowed to introduce the written offer into evidence as a "verbal act."  The offer from Car Max is evidence of the fair value of your vehicle after the collision. 

When you subtract the the Car Max offer from the pre-crash true market value of the vehicle, the product is the maximum amount of your diminution of value claim. However, an insurance lawyer or adjuster will typically argue Car Max offer was not a fair price for your repaired car.  

To neutralize this position, try to sell the car on Craigs List for what the insurance company claims is the true value. So, if the insurance company offered you anything for your car's post-crash diminution in value, subtract that amount from the pre-crash tue value you figured earlier. That is the price point you shoot for when you try and sell it on Craig's list.  Clean your car up and use good pictures when you advertise the car on Craigs List. You should also upload your Car Fax report.

Keep track of all offers made and all all calls received in your logbook.  Later, you will testify about these calls and offers (or the absence of offers and calls) to prove the amount the insurance company value was too high to sell the car on the market. If at any point, you do get an offer you like, take it! 

If you do sell your car, the actual amount you sell it for is strong evidence of its actual true value post collision. Just make sure you do a good job of trying to get the best price you can before you sell so you can explain it in court that you have mitigated damages. 

If you cannot sell the car, your monetary damages for its loss in value is likely somewhere between the low Car Max offer and the insurance company offer. The quality and extent of your efforts to sell the car on the open market will determine whether the damages are closer to the Car Max number or the insurance company offer at a trial. 

Please read this post about getting more out of your property damages claim.  

Later, I will post more on how to file a South Carolina arbitration claim.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

List of Resources for Traumatic Brain Injuries

I put together this list of resources for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, their families, or attorneys who represent them. This is a South Carolina centric list but has useful information for other states as well. I hope that this information will help.