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How Vehicle Damage Impacts a Car Accident Claim

Thursday, January 12th, 2023 By

How Vehicle Damage Impacts a Car Accident Claim

In the aftermath of a car accident, determining who is at fault is a priority, as the answer dictates which party (or parties) may receive compensation. This question is even more critical in states like Maryland, Virginia, and DC, which follow the contributory negligence standard. In these states, a car accident victim is barred from collecting damages even if their share of fault is only 1%, so there’s a lot hanging in the balance.

Fault also dictates which insurer pays compensation. In Maryland and Virginia, the insurance company for the at-fault party pays for any resulting personal injuries or vehicle damage. Washington, DC, follows the no-fault rule, which means that injured drivers will file a claim with their own auto insurers, regardless of who was at fault. At the same time, injured passengers typically seek compensation from the no-fault policy of the driver they were traveling with.

While victim and eyewitness statements can help pinpoint liability, vehicle damage tells its own story. At DuBoff & Associates, Chartered, we have used crushed fenders, buckled passenger doors, and other types of impact damage to support client claims and help them win the compensation they need and deserve. This blog explains how damage to a vehicle can help determine fault as well as affect the value of your claim.

How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

When a crash occurs, investigators often use multiple forms of evidence to determine fault. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, this evidence may include the following:

  • Statements from the drivers involved, their passengers, and any eyewitnesses
  • Traffic camera footage
  • Police accident reports
  • Photos and video footage of the damaged vehicles and the accident site
  • Skid marks- the longer they are, the faster the vehicle was traveling just before the crash
  • The location and condition of signs or parking meters, which can indicate whether a car was parked or moving when the accident occurred

The vehicles themselves can provide the most compelling clues to liability. The location and extent of the damage can tell a lot about what each driver was doing just before the crash occurred as well as the context of the accident.

Using Vehicle Damage to Identify the At-Fault Driver(s)

When you look at the damage to a vehicle after a car accident, you can sometimes reconstruct what happened. For example:

  • An accident involving damage to the back of a vehicle strongly suggests that its driver was not at fault. There may be exceptions, such as a driver that leaves too little space to stop, but in most cases, rear-end car accidents are caused by the tailing driver.
  • If one car is T-boned at an intersection where the driver was not subject to a stop sign, it’s highly possible that the other vehicle ran the stop sign and caused the accident. 
  • Damage to the passenger side of a vehicle instead of the right front fender suggests that the other driver was distracted or otherwise not paying attention when they entered the roadway.
  • If a car is making a left turn and an oncoming driver hits the right rear corner, the damage can serve as evidence that the second driver was negligent.

In addition:

  • The faster a vehicle is going, the more damage it will sustain when it crashes into another car or object, such as a telephone pole or concrete barrier. 
  • If a crash at an intersection resulted in damage to the passenger side of the vehicle, the driver may have been turning left just before impact.
  • Certain safety devices, such as airbags, will only activate under certain conditions. When airbags deploy, anyone investigating the accident can assume those conditions existed during the crash.

Gathering Evidence After a Car Accident

When it comes to documenting what happened after a car accident, the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds especially true. If you’re able to move and your phone hasn’t been damaged, try to get pictures and video of the following:

  • Damage to all vehicles involved in the accident
  • Pictures of the accident scene, with special emphasis on skid marks and road debris

Taking photos of the accident scene is crucial not only for remembering what happened but also for proving your case against the other party. You can ask someone else to take pictures for you if you are hurt or unable to do so yourself. Tell them precisely what crash scene photos you need, and make sure they get clear images.

Who Determines Fault for a Car Accident?

In most accidents, the insurance company initially determines who was at fault for the crash. Investigations are usually conducted by claims adjusters who will:

  • Interview you and any other drivers or passengers involved in the accident
  • Speak to witnesses
  • Examine photos, video surveillance footage, and the police report
  • Look at car repair estimates

An accident investigation will typically begin with whatever the claims adjuster can accomplish from their office. If necessary, they will conduct some fieldwork to complete the investigation. This may include:

  • Visiting the accident scene
  • Reviewing vehicle damage

Getting compensation from the insurance company should be straightforward when you have expensive medical bills, vehicle damage, and maybe even a temporary loss of income. However, this isn’t always the case, even in a no-fault state like Washington, DC.

The reality is that insurance companies aren’t interested in helping you get the money you deserve. You can expect them to do whatever they can to prevent or limit your payout. Even when your vehicle damage claim is legitimate, many will deny it for reasons like the following:

  • Damage is supposedly excluded from coverage
  • Dispute over fault and liability
  • The extent of your injuries and vehicle damage is disputed
  • Bad faith practices such as failure to conduct a proper investigation

In the absence of a car accident claim lawyer, insurance companies will not hesitate to take advantage of you. They may unnecessarily delay your claim processing or make it difficult to contact the adjuster handling your case. By using these strategies, they intend to make you cave in under financial pressure and be eager to accept any lowball offer they may present. Hiring an attorney will protect your legal rights and ensure that your vehicle damage claim gets the attention it deserves.

How Does Vehicle Damage Affect Claim Value?

When you file a vehicle damage claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company (Maryland and Virginia) or with your own insurer (Washington, DC), you can include the value of the damage to your vehicle. In Maryland, the mandated minimum coverage for property damage is $15,000, while in Virginia it’s $20,000, and Washington, DC requires a minimum of $10,000. Adding repair costs and other expenses associated with restoring your damaged vehicle can increase the overall value of your car accident claim. 

How Long Does it Take to Settle a Car Accident Claim?

Every state has its own statute of limitations for property damage claims arising from a car accident. In Maryland and Washington, DC, the deadline is three years after the accident while Virginia requires claims to be brought within five years maximum. However, most car accident claims are brought and settled long before these timelines run out. 

There is no guaranteed timeline for settling a car accident claim. Some cases are resolved within a few weeks. Others take longer. Factors like the following tend to have the greatest impact on how long it takes to settle:

However, the following factors tend to have the greatest impact in most cases:

    • The amount of your claim. An insurance company will not be thrilled about paying out a six- or seven-figure settlement. Generally speaking, the more they stand to lose, the more carefully the claims adjuster will examine the case and look for opportunities to challenge your version of what happened.
  • The extent of your injuries. If you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, for example, resolution may take longer because such conditions are more expensive to treat and your future needs can be more challenging to calculate.
  • The details of the crash. The case is likely to settle faster if the other driver was clearly at fault. If you’re suspected of contributing to the accident in any way, the insurer will try to deny liability.

In most situations, faster is not always better-especially if the insurance company is refusing to pay you a reasonable amount for your claim. With our legal knowledge and investigative resources, DuBoff & Associates, Chartered is ready to help you get maximum compensation as quickly as possible.

Get a Free Consultation From a Car Accident Claim Lawyer

Gathering evidence is the first step in proving fault after an accident, and vehicle damage can provide compelling support for your side of the story. However, insurance companies are rarely eager to make a fair initial settlement offer and if they can assign any degree of blame to you, you can be barred from receiving compensation. 

For this reason, you should consult an experienced car accident claim lawyer who can help you build a strong case and pursue a fair outcome. At DuBoff & Associates, Chartered, we have been protecting the rights of injured clients for over three decades and will fight for the financial recovery you need to rebuild your life after a serious accident. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 866.210.6720.

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