How do I file a claim?
Depending upon whether you have bought your insurance through an agent or directly from an insurance company will determine the first step in filing a claim. If you have an agent, notify your agent as soon as possible. Your agent will take your claim information, file it with the company to start the claim process and advise you what to expect next. If you do not have an agent, the company will have a toll-free claims number to call to report your claim. If you or your passengers were injured, or you believe you may have been injured (even if slightly), call your agent or company. Under North Dakota law, your auto’s no-fault coverage is primary, regardless of fault.
To make a claim against another party, contact the agent or company for that party to put them on notice. They will take your claim information and file it with their company to start the claim process.
What happens next, after I have filed a claim?
The type of accident will determine what steps the claims department of your company will take next. If the claim involves personal injury to you or your passengers, you will be required to complete a claim form. A claim form requires you to provide a detailed description of the accident, the extent and type of injuries, employer information if work will be affected, the name of the treating physician and a medical release to allow the company to receive pertinent medical evidence. If the claim involves physical damage to your vehicle under the comprehensive or collision coverage, your agent or company may give you the opportunity to meet with an adjuster to see the vehicle and prepare a damage estimate, ask you to submit estimates of damage from auto repair facilities or take the damaged vehicle to a preferred shop to obtain a repair estimate and fix the damage. If the claim is against another insurance company involving bodily injury to you or physical damage to your vehicle you will be required to complete a claim form or to make arrangements to have their adjuster meet with you to see the vehicle and prepare an estimate.
Can a company require me to have a car repaired at a specific repair shop?
No. You may have your vehicle repaired at the shop of your choice. The company may use one of three methods. The company may elect to settle your claim based upon the lowest of the estimates you have provided them. However, if you have the repairs done at the shop with the higher estimate, you could be responsible for the additional costs. The second method of settlement is to have the company adjuster prepare an estimate that you may take to any shop you desire. Generally, a body shop will honor the company’s estimate. The third method involves you voluntarily agreeing to take the vehicle to a shop that your company has a special agreement with, known as a preferred shop. The company has agreed to let the preferred shop prepare the estimate and complete the repairs.
What is the difference between a damage appraiser and an adjuster?
A damage appraiser is trained to evaluate the cost of repairing damage to a vehicle. An adjuster can do damage appraisals, but generally also has the authority to make claim settlement offers.
Can a company require a certain number of estimates?
The law does not require a certain number of estimates, nor does it prohibit the company from requesting estimates. It is reasonable for a company to have you obtain two estimates of damage. Companies may vary on their needs from as few as one to as many as three.
Does the company have a right to examine a damaged vehicle?
Yes. In order to determine the extent of damage, it is important that the company be permitted to see the vehicle before repairs are made.
Can I require the company to replace my vehicle?
No. The personal auto policy is not a replacement policy. The policy is based upon the actual cash value (ACV) of the automobile. ACV is the replacement cost less depreciation, which most often is the current market value at the time of loss. Therefore, the company’s obligation is to repair the car or pay based upon its ACV, not its replacement cost.
How do you determine the ACV of a vehicle?
ACV is what your car (rust, dents and all) was worth on the open market the moment before the accident. It is not what you owe on the car. It is not what you paid for it or for its parts. The insurance company can calculate your car’s ACV by using any of the following:
- The average cost of two or more comparable cars (make, model, year, condition, etc.) available in your area within a reasonable timeframe.
- The average of two or more quotes from local dealers.
- A pricing service that has information about auto prices in the local market (NADA, Kelly Blue Book, etc.)
What is a total loss?
By law, a vehicle that is damaged in excess of 75 percent of the vehicle’s retail value must be reported to the Department of Transportation and a salvage certificate of title is issued. Insurance companies often consider this a total loss. The payment on a total loss would be the ACV less the deductible. Should you decide to keep your vehicle rather than turning it over to the company, the company would also deduct the salvage value of the vehicle from the ACV payment.
Can I choose to repair my car even if my company considers it to be totaled?
If the company has determined the vehicle is to be totaled it will make a settlement in one of two ways: payment of ACV less deductible and take the car, or payment of ACV less deductible, less salvage value and you keep the car. You would be free to repair the vehicle with your payment but generally the payment would not be sufficient to cover all repairs. The company would not be obligated to pay any more.
Can I still carry full coverage on my totaled vehicle?
Most companies will let you continue to carry full coverage on your car even after a total loss settlement where you have kept the car. This is based upon the fact that there is still some residual value even without repairs and the fact you will be paying a premium. In some instances, your lender may still require you to carry full coverage as well.
Can I require all new parts on my vehicle?
Usual automobile policy language states that the insurance company’s obligation for damage is the least of the cost to repair, replace or the ACV. If the damage is not repairable and instead requires replacement of the part, there is nothing in the policy, nor is there anything currently in state law, that requires the parts used to be new or original manufacturer’s equipment (OEM).
What are after-market parts?
After-market parts are vehicle replacement body parts manufactured by a company other than the original manufacturer. Companies are permitted to use these parts, as long as the quality is comparable to the manufacturer’s parts.
What is the paintless dent repair method?
The paintless dent repair method is an alternative way for skilled technicians to pop out minor hail dents. When done this way, no painting is required, thereby resulting in dramatically lower claims costs. This method does not work on major dents, older paint faded cars and certain areas of cars where the technician cannot get access to. Company adjusters will use this method where appropriate. Many repair estimates will use both paintless and conventional methods to achieve a total repair.
How does the insurance company handle prior damage when processing a new claim?
The insurance policy does not cover damage that occurred prior to the effective date of your policy. Your insurance policy provides coverage based on an occurrence that takes place while the policy is in force. Therefore, each different occurrence is handled separately. For example, if your bumper was previously damaged before the accident, the company will deduct the cost of the bumper from your current claim settlement. In the event of a total loss, the insurance company will deduct any unrepaired damage left from a previous occurrence.
Can I take cash instead of repairing my car?
The policy provisions for loss settlement generally require the company to pay for the cost to repair. Many companies will pay you the cost even if you choose not to repair the vehicle.
What happens if the company adjuster misses something on the repair estimate/order?
In the event the repair shop finds that the company adjuster failed to take into consideration something at the time of the estimate, the repair shop should immediately contact the adjuster. The adjuster would meet with the repair shop to determine whether or not the damage is covered. If it is covered, the company would then issue a supplementary check for this additional cost.
Why does the company make the check for repairs out to me and the body shop?
The insurance company is under contract with you through the auto policy to repair your vehicle. To assure that the repairs are done, and to avoid any future claim problems (unrepaired damage), the company makes the check out to both of you. In addition, the company generally continues to insure your vehicle.
What is a branded title?
If you have had an accident with your vehicle and the damage exceeds $8,000 or 40 percent of the total value (this does not include hail or normal wear and tear), the law requires that you report this when you sell or trade the vehicle. The vehicle title is then marked to show that it was previously damaged.
What is the loss of value?
A loss of value is simply a reduction in the ACV of your vehicle. A loss of value may occur when you sell or trade a vehicle with a branded title. In some instances, the owner of the vehicle with a branded title may receive less for the vehicle than he or she would have had the vehicle not had a branded title, despite the fact that the vehicle has been repaired. Current state law does not require the payment by insurance companies of this loss in value if you have been paid for the cost of repairs or the vehicles ACV.
What are my car rental rights?
If you carry full coverage on the vehicle that is damaged, some companies will cover the cost of renting a replacement vehicle for the time that your vehicle is in the repair shop and unavailable to you. Some companies require that you have a rental reimbursement endorsement on your policy before they will pay. Check with your agent on how your policy would respond.
If you have a claim against a third party for damage to your car then the cost of renting a replacement vehicle while your car is unavailable to you will generally be covered by the other party if the other party is found to be liable. In these situations, it is important to inform the claims personnel handling the claim that you are renting a vehicle. This will help avoid any misunderstandings and potential gaps in coverage or payment.
What is comparative fault?
North Dakota law provides that the degree of fault or responsibility for an accident can be apportioned on a percentage basis among all the parties involved. This percentage is the amount each party contributed to causing the accident. The amount either party can recover in damages is reduced by the percentage of fault attributable to that party. However, a party cannot recover any damages if the percentage of fault he or she is assessed for the accident is as great as the combined fault of all other parties who contributed to the accident.
Comparative fault example 1: Two drivers collide at an open intersection. It is determined that driver #1 is 80 percent responsible and driver #2 is 20 percent responsible. Driver #2 may recover 80 percent of his damages from driver #1 but driver #1 would receive no payment from driver #2.
Exception: (N.D.C.C. § 32-03.2-02.1) The damages recovered may not be diminished in proportion to the amount of contributing fault if the party seeking damages:
- Is involved in a motor vehicle accident in which two parties are at fault;
- Is seeking direct physical property damage of not more than $5,000 and indirect damages (such as rental or storage) of not more than $1,000; and
- Is seeking damages against a party whose percentage of fault exceeds 50 percent.
Comparative fault example 2: Two drivers collide in an open intersection. Driver #1 receives $2,000 in direct property damage. Driver #2 receives $4,000 in direct physical property damage and $1,000 in indirect damages. It is determined that driver #1 is 55 percent responsible and driver #2 is 45 percent responsible. Driver #2 can recover $5,000 from driver #1 without a reduction for the percentage of fault attributable to driver #2. However, driver #1 cannot recover any damages from driver #2.
How soon must a company settle a claim?
There is not a set time provided for the settlement of liability or physical damage claim, as many factors must be considered when investigating an accident. It is in the best interest of the company to investigate any loss promptly so that valuable evidence is not lost or destroyed and so that incurred costs, such as storage and any loss-of-use obligations, do not become excessive.
What should I do if I am having a disagreement with my company over a claim?
If you have made every attempt to work with company claims department personnel and continue to have a disagreement, you should then discuss the matter with your agent to determine if any further resolution can be made. If unsuccessful, contact the North Dakota Insurance Department. We will determine whether we can be of assistance to you and will advise you of the available alternatives.
What is insurance fraud?
Some examples of fraud are:
- Collecting or trying to collect from an insurance company for a loss that never occurred.
- Including the right fender in a claim for an accident that only involved the left fender.
- Inflating a theft claim by exaggerating the value of the stereo in your car.
- Filing a claim for damages that you deliberately caused to your car.
- Providing false information about your driving record, address, car or other details on an insurance application.
What should I do if I am involved in an auto accident?
- Call for medical help if needed.
- Call the police and remain at the scene.
- Get the name, address, phone number, driver’s license number and insurance company of any individuals involved in the accident.
- Get the names and addresses of any witnesses.
- Write down the details of the accident.
- Notify your agent or company of the accident.