What Should I Do if My Car is Totaled?
The first thing you should do if you have been involved in an accident is to seek immediate medical attention. Even if your injuries seem minor, it is imperative that you are examined by a skilled medical professional who can assess the severity of your injuries. If you do not get medical attention and you proceed with a personal injury claim, the insurance company may argue that your injuries must not be very serious if you did not find it necessary to go to hospital after the accident. After making sure that your injuries are attended to, you are urged to take the following steps:
Notify your insurance agent. This is also an important step if you plan to file a personal injury claim. The insurance adjuster will consider the value of your car and the estimated costs to have it repaired. If the repair costs exceed a certain percentage of the total value of the car, the insurance company will likely declare the car totaled. Some states, including Maryland, set a total-loss threshold, which is the number at which the vehicle must be considered a total loss. In Maryland, the total-loss threshold is 75 percent. In other words, if the cost to repair the damage is more than 75 percent of the car’s value, the insurance company will consider the car to be totaled.
Arrange for temporary transportation. It is possible that your insurance company will pay for a rental car after the accident, but this will likely be temporary. If your insurance does not cover this cost, you may have to use rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft, or rely on family or friends for rides. Be sure to obtain copies of credit card statements from rideshare services, as you may be reimbursed for these costs. This might also be a good time to consider what your next car might be based on what you can afford.
Consider hiring a car accident lawyer. The financial settlement you will receive from the insurance company will be limited by the policy’s maximum limits. However, you may be able to recover additional money by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. A car accident lawyer will recommend the best legal course of action and assist you with every step of the claims process.
What Happens if My Insurance Company Declares My Car Totaled?
You have several options if your insurance company determines that your car is a total loss. Assuming you have automobile insurance, you will be paid the actual cash value (ACV) of your car, minus the deductible associated with your policy. There are a number of different formulas that insurance companies use to calculate a vehicle’s ACV. Even if your car is new, you will not be reimbursed the same amount of money that you paid for the car. If you purchased new car replacement coverage, an optional insurance add-on, you will be paid enough to replace your totaled car with a vehicle that is a similar make and model.
If your insurance company declared your car totaled, but you disagree with that assessment, you may take the following steps:
Negotiate with your insurer. If you believe that your car is worth more than your insurance declared, you have every right to negotiate that amount with your insurance company. However, you will need to provide evidence to back up your claim that your car is worth more money. Evidence may include recent photos of your vehicle, proof that the car was well maintained, and detailed information about the sale price of cars sold for in your area that were a similar make and model.
Get an independent appraisal. You may take your vehicle to an experienced mechanic or repair shop and request an independent appraisal. If the appraisal amount is more than what the insurance company is offering you, provide a copy of the appraisal to your insurance agent. In some cases, they may increase the settlement offer.
Hire a car accident lawyer. If you are unsatisfied with your insurance settlement, an experienced car accident lawyer can assist you with the claims process and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.
What if the Loan for My Totaled Car is Not Paid Off?
Unfortunately, even if your car has been totaled in an accident, you are still responsible for satisfying that debt. In most cases, your insurance company will make the claim check payable to you and your lender, with the lender being reimbursed first, and any remaining money going to you. Depending on the amount of money you receive from the insurance company, it is possible that you may owe the lender more for the totaled car than the insurance payment you receive. For example, if you owe $20,000 on your car loan, but the value of the car has depreciated to $15,000 after it was totaled, assuming you have collision coverage, you will be reimbursed for the actual cash value of the car, which is $15,000. You will be responsible for paying the lender that amount, as well as the remaining $5,000 out of your own pocket.
However, if you have comprehensive coverage and collision coverage, they may cover the cost of replacing your totaled vehicle with a new car that is a comparable make and model. These are required if you are leasing or financing your vehicle. If the vehicle is paid off, these two separate coverages are optional.
Can I Drive My Car if It Has Been Totaled?
Motorists are advised against driving their car if it has been totaled in an accident, even if it seems safe to drive. However, it depends on the type of damage that the vehicle sustained. For example, if the steering wheel, transmission, engine, or brakes were damaged, and any of these systems fail while you are driving, this can have devastating consequences. If only the exterior of your vehicle was damaged, it may still be safe to drive, although it is highly recommended that you have your car inspected by a skilled mechanic who can confirm whether the vehicle is safe.
You do have other options if you want to keep your vehicle. For example, you can keep the car for its parts if you have another car that is a similar make and model. You can sell the parts to another person who has the same or a similar vehicle. Another option is to sell the car to a junkyard. In some cases, they may pick up the car free of charge. Finally, you may want to consider donating your car to a charitable organization.
What is Contributory Negligence, and How Will It Affect My Case?
Maryland is one of only a few states that follow the contributory negligence doctrine. The majority of states follow the doctrine of comparative negligence, which states that an injured party can collect damages from the at-fault driver. However, the compensation amount will be reduced by the percentage at which the injured victim contributed to the accident. Under the rule of contributory negligence, the injured party is barred from receiving financial compensation for an injury if he or she contributed to the accident in any way. Even if a jury finds that the victim was one percent at fault, he or she will not be eligible to recover damages from the driver who was 99 percent at fault. If you were injured in the accident that totaled your car and you were found to be partially liable, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to collect financial compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.
What Are My Options If My Car Is Totaled in an Accident in Maryland?
When someone tells you that their vehicle was totaled in a car accident, you might picture a vehicle that is mangled beyond repair. However, although some totaled vehicles may fit that description if the accident was very serious, the term “totaled” simply means that the insurance company believes it is not worth repairing. In other words, the costs associated with repairing the vehicle are more than the total value of the car. If your vehicle was totaled in a car accident, an experienced car accident lawyer will thoroughly explain the options that are available to you and ensure that you receive the financial compensation to which you are entitled.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bryan J. Chant, Esq.
Bryan J. Chant is an experienced trial attorney vindicating the rights of injured people in Maryland’s courts. He is an alumnus of the William Mitchell College of Law, where he served as an Assistant Editor on the William Mitchell Law Review. His practice areas include personal injury and Workers’ Compensation.
Copyright LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton, P.A.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.