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"Top Dollar" When Your Vehicle is a Total Loss

by Michael Burman

Years of
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This article is a must-read when your vehicle is a total loss after a collision caused by an at-fault driver whose insurance adjuster is trying to settle with you.  In this article you will learn:

  • First Steps to Take
  • “Top Dollar” Helpful Hacks
  • Communicating with the Adjuster
  • Dealing with the Adjuster's Reluctance to Pay
  • Understanding What You Sign

First Steps to Take for Your Property Damage Claim:

  • Print off the above Vehicle Appraisal Form here and fill it out to get started.
  • Determine if your vehicle is repairable or if your vehicle is a total loss because the cost of repair exceeds the fair market value of your automobile before the collision.  Most auto body shops can make this determination free of charge to you.  Your auto insurance company may help you with this determination.
  • If you have not done so, find the name and contact information for the at-fault party insurance company.  Contact that insurance company and ask to set up a claim for the property damage (total loss) of your vehicle.  Keep good notes.  The at-fault insurance company will assign an adjuster to contact you to discuss a settlement of your property damage (total loss) claim.  You can request a rental vehicle while you are discussing a settlement.
  • The person hired by the at-fault insurance company to settle with you is called an adjuster.  When you ask the adjuster to settle with you, you are making a property damage claim.  When you and the adjuster reach an agreement on what your claim is worth, that is called a settlement.   For a deeper dive into the world of insurance and claims involving automobiles, click here.

“Top Dollar” Helpful Hacks

To value your total loss, insurance adjusters use a database of some kind.  The database is usually composed of thousands of individual buy/sale transactions.  And so, the database compresses all those transactions into a “range of values” for a vehicle similar – but not exactly like – your vehicle.  To secure “top dollar” you must 1) be patient with the adjuster, and 2) offer evidence that proves the adjuster's value is lower than the actual value of your vehicle.  The database is based on the fair market value of thousands of willing  buyers purchasing from thousands of willing sellers.  buyers selling to willing buyers values similar to yours  Thus,   Patiently proving your vehicle is not  is better than will bring you to “top dollar” for your total loss.  What do I mean by patiently Proving claim is to show real value.  Here are some helpful hacks:

  • Recent photos showing your vehicle clean and polished
  • After collision photos free of trash in the floor board
  • Receipts for after-market improvements
  • Maintenance records you kept or the dealer
  • No.# 1 Hack…read the below section on Communicating with the Adjuster!

Communicating with the Adjuster

The golden rule is a pretty good way to live.  Treat people how you would like to be treated.  Yes, you did not ask to have your automobile destroyed by a careless driver, but the adjuster is not a fault for causing the collision, so be careful not to blame the adjuster for something done by the at-fault driver.  The adjuster is there to settle your claim, and by law, must work with you honestly and in good faith.  You should do the same.  Be honest and accurate.  Treat the adjuster with respect, even if the adjuster does not do the same to you.  Listen to what the adjuster says, and take good notes.  BE RESPECTFUL and in almost every case, this will result in a higher recovery on your claim.  An adjuster is not going to throw a pile of money at you just to make you happy.  But the adjuster will pay you for what you can prove with reasonable evidence, so send the adjuster the sources of fair market value to prove your property damage claims.  Over the years, I have found adjusters will favor people they like.  So be likable and patient with the adjuster.  If you cannot get the adjuster to call you back or communicate professionally, take notes of calls and dates and the unprofessional behavior and call the insurance company and ask to speak to the adjuster's supervisor, giving the supervisor the benefit of your notes and efforts.

Your Property Damage Claim Includes:

  • The fair market value for your vehicle,
  • plus the taxes and title on a vehicle of like value,
  • plus reasonable rental (loss of use),
  • plus personal property in your automobile destroyed by the collision/impact.

When you request a rental vehicle, see if your auto insurance provides insurance on your rental vehicle; otherwise, the rental car company will charge you for separate auto insurance which you want to have the at-fault insurance company agree to pay before you start driving the rental.  Usually, the length of your rental is equal to the time it takes to find a replacement vehicle, or, the time it takes to pay you a settlement for the total loss of your vehicle.  Property damage includes damage to your vehicle, or its contents, even clothing or glasses you were wearing.  Actual cash value is also commonly called fair market value or FMV.  The law defines fair market value as the amount of money a willing buyer will pay a willing seller for your vehicle before the crash occurred. The determination of FMV includes facts like the year, the make, the odometer mileage, any previous damage and the general condition of your vehicle before the crash.  Dealer service receipts, parts receipts and maintenance records are useful when trying to establish vehicle value.

Sources of Fair Market Value To Prove Property Damage Claims:

  • Kelly Blue Book
  • NADA Used Car Guide
  • Recent Sales of Similar Vehicles
  • Ads from Newspapers or Auto Trader websites
  • Internet search for “automobile appraiser” (be sure to know what you will be charged)
  • Statements from a dealer or car salesman familiar with your vehicle
  • Photographs of the vehicle in emails to the adjuster to show the condition of your vehicle

Tax, Title and License Fees in Kentucky and Tennessee:

For Christian County (and all other counties in Kentucky) the cost of a title is $9.00.  To license a vehicle, you pay a 6% sales tax on what Kentucky says the vehicle is worth.

For Montgomery County, Tennessee the title costs $16.00. To license a vehicle purchased from an individual, the cost is $94.00 for a title and plate plus sales tax, which is usually 9.5%. If there is another lien holder, there is an extra $11.00 charge. If purchased from a dealer in Tennessee, you pay $94.00 without having to pay the sales tax.

In Tennessee, each county has a different “wheel tax”, so you will need to contact the government body where you want to register your vehicle to get a full breakdown.

Dealing with the Adjuster's Reluctance to Pay

If an adjuster will not pay you fair market value for your loss, do not get mad…ask for reconsideration.  Remember that word…reconsideration.  Find out what facts the adjuster considered.  Ask the adjuster, “What facts did you consider in valuing my claim.  Help me understand all the facts you took into account.”  Carefully determine the facts where you and the adjuster have an agreement.  And make good notes during all this.  Write down the agreed facts, the date you agreed to these facts, and how much you agreed was fair.  Then, identify the facts you do not agree on.  Identify these disputed facts carefully.  The adjuster is required by law to have reasons for accepting certain facts and disputing others.  Find the reasons and write those down.  Provide the adjuster all documentation to support your facts, and ask the adjuster to do the same.  Do not give the adjuster any wiggle room because the adjuster claims “twenty years of experience,” rather ask the adjuster to back up all facts with documentation and evidence.  Tell the adjuster that “20 years of experience should be supported by documentation collected over 20 years.”  You can do this in a respectful but firm way.  As you go through this process of sifting out the facts that are in dispute, you will likely find the adjuster needs additional information.  When that happens, get the adjuster what is needed and ask the adjuster for reconsideration, and documentation to show why your facts are not accurate.

Understanding What You Sign

Read before you sign.  Make sure any documents you sign or checks deposited are for property damage claims ONLY.  Make sure the document you sign clearly intends to include property damage claims and nothing more.

Contact me if you have any questions.

About RedStone Law

Mike is a death and injury lawyer with 25+ years of experience helping hundreds of accident victims against at-fault drivers and commercial operators of all types. Other lawyers often call Mike for advice with their personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits. Once you begin your free case evaluation with Mike, you will know the legal advice is coming from an experienced attorney who knows the law and wants to help you overcome a difficult situation in your life.

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