Auto Insurance Claims/Bad Faith Settlement
QUESTION: Through a broker I contracted a transport co. to transport two cars from KY to CA. One was a family car and the second car is a classic car-1972 Chevy Corvette. I was charged $200 extra for the Corvette for the "special handling" it required. Both bill of ladens shows "few nicks" for the family car and nothing for the Corvette. When the cars arrived and before the cars were taken off the truck the driver said he had a problem with the Corvette and it had "slipped off the truck". Long story short the trucking insurance company first offered $1000 for the repairs. I refused that unreasonable offer and contacted two separate repair shops that specialize in repairing classic cars for estimates. One was $9800 which I felt was too high plus I didn't like the guy. Didn't feel he really knew what he was talking about. The second was for $7200. I sent that one to the ins. co. It was not only lower but I felt it was reasonable and I really thought the guy had the experience and knowledge to bring the car back to the condition in which they received the car. They notified me and told me they were going to send another adjuster to check the damage. The guy knew nothing about car repairs for a classic car. Today I received a check in the mail for $4200 for repairs. There is no way the car can be fixed for that amount. They also gave me a name of another repair shop 2 1/2 hours from where my car is (inoperable) and said I could call them. Well I did just to see if they could repair the car cheaper. The guy doesn't even have the experience to work on a classic car. I really would prefer to have someone who knows what they are doing. Bad body work depreciates the value of the car. Also the guys that gave me the estimates said their is no way the damage was caused by slipping off the truck. It had to be wrecked by driving it. My question is.. Do I have to accept the check they sent? This happened in July 2012 and I really just want it settled but I don't feel I should have out of pocket expenses to get my car back to the condition it was received. Ant advice would be greatly appreciated. The ins. co is located in Madison, WI.
ANSWER: Hello Jill,
There's one central point here - they damaged your car and now they are obligated to pay for those damages. In full. In addition, this is a liability carrier. They have no contract with you which specifies particular shops or particular types of repairs.
All insurance companies have an obligation to return you to the condition that existed prior to your loss. This does not allow for lowballing and/or inferior workmanship. And under no circumstances are you obligated to utilize their repair shop - especially one that is not qualified to make the required repairs.
As for the check, does it include a release? Meaning is it meant to represent the total amount for repairs? If it indicates "final payment" or if it includes a release for all further claims, do not endorse it and do not cash it. If it does not your first option would be to recontact your shop and ask them if they can work directly with the insurance company involved. What this means is that your shop would need to bring them in during the repair process to add supplemental payments as necessary. This process literally occurs every day in the insurance/body repair world. If the shop refuses to do this, I would suggest you need a new shop if for no other reason than they don't understand how insurance companies work. If the insurance company refuses to do this, then the insurer is not playing by the rules and you have to make more difficult choices.
I am going to assume that you do not have a policy of your own that covers the damages while your vehicle is being transported. So your next option would be to hire an attorney to prepare a very strong demand notice to be sent to the insurance company involved. This would probably work as most insurance companies involved in this type of lowballing are far less likely to be as abusive when there is an attorney involved. In short, this would probably work.
Finally, you could consider taking them to court. With the number in question, however, this might exceed a "routine" small claims proceeding. You would need a legal opinion on that.
So start in order. Have your shop contact the adjuster to arrange a supplemental process. This process is an industry standard. If the insurer balks, beware of their motives. You probably have no other option than to involve an attorney.
Hope this helps. Good luck.
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QUESTION: Just don't have the money for an attorney. We live on a fixed income. If I sent them a letter and refused the settlement with the voided check requesting the full amount of the estimate or telling them I will be filing a civil suit against them do you think they would be more likely just to reissue me another check? And if I do have to get an attorney would they be required to pay attorney fees? They did not send any release for me to sign or documented payment in full on check. Just date of occurrence, insured name and claim # on check.
Hi again Jill,
Don't refuse the check. Since there is no release, you have a good chance of working out an equitable settlement.
Do not send them a letter saying you will sue them. Without an attorney, no one will take it seriously. You would have to speak with an attorney to determine if they could be required to pay attorney's fees, but my gut feeling is no, at least not without a lawsuit where you prevailed.
Your best bet is to take the supplement route via your body shop. This is a traditional approach, it's done literally every day. If your shop will not agree - get a new shop. I don't see where you have any other choice.