Negotiating a Total Loss Settlement in Massachusetts

The overwhelming majority of the millions of car accidents and motor vehicle collisions that occur each year in the U.S. result in property damage only.  If this was the situation in your case and your vehicle was totaled, then your insurer will make an offer for your car but it may be one that you did not expect – lower, not higher. 

What Does “Totaled’ Mean?

A vehicle that is “totaled” means that the repairs exceed the ACV or actual cash value of your car.  Your insurer has the right to take possession of your car once you accept their settlement offer, though you do have the option of retaining it at a reduced offer.  Also, everyone knows that what will be offered by the insurer will be nowhere near what you paid for your car and may even be less than the remaining loan due on it. 

Insurance companies also differ on what they mean by “totaled,” with some totaling it if the damage is at least 51% of its pre-accident value, while others will only total it if it is 80% of that value.  In any event, after you receive an offer from your insurer and are not satisfied with it, you have the right to ask how they arrived at the offer.

You also can ask that the vehicle be totaled, especially if it is inoperable following the accident and requires substantial repairs.  For safety reasons and to avoid future problems with your car, it is often recommended that you ask that a vehicle in this condition be considered totaled. 

Tips on Handling a Disputed Property Damage Claim

But if you are disappointed with an offer from your insurer, there are some things you can do to convince your insurer to make a satisfactory offer:

  1. Retain your own appraiser.  If you are on good terms with a local car repair facility or body shop, ask a mechanic with years of experience to give you an estimate of the ACV. Many will do this free of charge or for a nominal fee.  If it differs significantly from the insurer’s offer, then investigate further as to what the insurer may have missed. 
  2. Ask for a copy of the offer that should have a CCC report or Certified Collateral Corporation report that will tell you how your insurer arrived at its valuation figure.  If your car had extra features, like a high end stereo, upgraded tires, etc., that you had installed or has other features that the insurance appraiser neglected to include, then be sure to point that out. The dealer where you purchased your vehicle will have a list of your auto’s features. 
  3. Google and include the data on your car to get the retail value of your auto and not the trade-in since your insurer is actually buying your car from you. There is also Autotrader or that lists the value of used cars that are similar to yours in terms of age, mileage, and features.
  4. If you recently installed new tires or had it customized, produce receipts for the work and products.
  5. Prepare a counteroffer with your own appraisal, list of what features the insurer’s appraiser missed, and printouts from and other sites that support your counteroffer.

If the insurer refuses to offer more, you might suggest mediation or arbitration to resolve the matter. Consult with an experienced car accident attorney on how to handle this situation.   Often we suggest filing suit in your local Small Claims Court – they have jurisdiction on motor vehicle property damage claims, without a maximum dollar amount of damages.  And, you get a quick hearing, it’s local, and you don’t need to pay a lawyer!

In the event you also have an injury claim associated with the property damage, your car accident attorney will generally handle this aspect of your claim as part of your retainer agreement. 

In some cases, your insurer may raise your premiums even if the accident was not your fault or if you were deemed partially liable. If so, contact other insurers since it is highly likely you can find another insurer who will charge you lower premiums for the same coverage you had with your original insurer. 

Retain a Car Accident Attorney from Burns and Jain  

If you only have a property damage offer from your insurer that is unsatisfactory, call our firm to discuss what steps you can take to get a better offer.  Should you also have an injury claim, we highly recommend that you retain our firm to handle all aspects of your claim. Statistics consistently show that injury claims settle for amounts significantly higher if claimants retain legal counsel, even accounting for legal fees. 

Call us today at (617) 277-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.