5 steps to take if your car is wrecked and you’re not at fault


1. Determine if you are in a no-fault or no-fault state

Auto accident law is complicated, as some states use fault as a factor in determining whether drivers should be fully, partially, or not compensated for injuries sustained. In most states, one party is generally considered “at-fault” for the collision and therefore must cover the cost of the other driver’s injuries and damages.

Some states use a “no-fault” system, where each driver’s medical bills are covered by each individual’s “personal injury protection” (PIP) coverage instead of the at-fault driver’s insurance. There are currently 12 no-fault states:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah

Of those 12, three are “no-fault choice” states (Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), meaning drivers have the option of purchasing no-fault insurance or participating in the more common liability system.

2. Prepare for the adjuster

An adjuster will assess the details of the accident and determine the damages. It can be a daunting process, but in these “car totaled, not at fault” situations, your main goal is to tell the truth and stay calm.

There is no reason to go into excessive detail with adjusters. If they ask you about injuries, you might want to hold off on disclosing too much information, as some injuries won’t come to light until later.

3. Tips for determining if your car is totaled

Being totaled from a collision means your car is a total loss. The adjuster will determine the value of your car. They will consider the “actual cash value” of the car, which they will calculate based on factors such as your car’s make and model, age, condition, upgrades, and mileage. Next, they’ll look at the “salvage value” to determine if any parts of the car, like the tires or the engine, are still serviceable and have resale potential.

Then, the expert will determine an estimate of the cost of repairing your vehicle. If the repair cost combined with the salvage value is more than the actual cash value, the car will most likely be considered totaled.

If your car is totaled and you are not at fault, you will want to make sure your adjuster’s estimate is fair by doing research to determine your car’s pre-accident value.

4. File your insurance claim

If your car was destroyed but you are not at fault, your first step should be to contact your insurance company immediately after the accident. Your insurer may even require it in its policy. After you make contact, your insurer will review your cover details to help you pursue any damages you are entitled to.

In a no-fault condition, your PIP policy will be the one to pay your damages, so you should notify them immediately.

In an at-fault state, you can file a third-party claim against the other driver’s insurance. Your insurer can guide you through this process. Before you separate, make sure you get from the other driver:

  • Full name
  • Contact information
  • Insurance company and policy information

5. Negotiate a higher settlement offer

Sometimes insurance companies are known to try to settle for the lowest monetary sum possible. You don’t have to accept the first offer if you think it’s insufficient. You can try to negotiate a higher settlement in a total, not-at-fault car accident.

If your claim seems weak, ask the adjuster to explain the offer and how he arrived at the sum. When negotiating, you may want to focus on the emotional aspects of the incident, including the fact that you weren’t at fault. In the end, you may be able to get a higher sum.

What to do if you need expert legal assistance

If you feel that you are not being treated fairly by the insurance company for the total car accident, you have the option of hiring an attorney to help you navigate the situation. An experienced lawyer can help you both deal with adjusters and get you the compensation you’re owed.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have any legal questions, you should seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

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