Property Damage Only
Not all automobile accidents result in injuries. In fact, the safer cars become, the more protected the occupants will be. After many accidents, it probably isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer. You will probably be able to handle a property damage claim (a type of claim that only deals with attempting to repair the damage done to your vehicle or other personal property in an auto accident) on your own.
However, it is always a good idea to see your doctor shortly after you were involved in an accident – even if you don’t believe that you were injured. That’s because a trained medical professional will know what types of injuries results from car accidents, and your doctor will be able to determine whether you will have problems down the road. This is important to find out before you start dealing with the insurance company, because not seeking medical treatment soon enough or saying the wrong thing to the insurance company could make it difficult – if not impossible – to seek compensation for injuries that were legitimately sustained in an accident. If it turns out you have suffered injuries – even minor ones – call a lawyer. If nothing else, the law firm can give you legal advice on your best course of action, and can help you make the best decision possible for you and your family.
If you are lucky enough to escape injuries after your car accident, here is what you need to know about handling your property damage claim:
What if I Have Collision Insurance Coverage?
First, we recommend making a claim with your own insurance company. Your insurance company, who wants to save as much money as possible, may assist you in filing the property damage claim with the other driver’s insurance company.
How Do I File a Property Damage Claim?
You need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, if one has not been submitted. The name and insurance policy is generally on the accident report. In order to contact that insurance company, you can locate the right number to call in a local phone book or from an Internet search. As a last resort, you can call the Arkansas Insurance Department at 1-800-282-9134 for more information.
How do I Determine the Amount of My Property Damage?
If the vehicle is drivable, take it to a body shop and obtain a written estimate. We recommend having two estimates on any claim.
If the vehicle is not drivable and you have collision coverage, your insurance company will send an adjuster to the vehicle to determine the amount of damage.
If the vehicle is not drivable and you do not have collision coverage, you should attempt to have an auto body shop inspect the vehicle to provide you with an estimate.
How Can I Determine If My Car is a Total Loss?
What If My Car is a Total Loss?
If the vehicle is a total loss, and the insurance company uses someone other than NADA or Kelley Blue book you should ask how it was determined. Some insurance companies will use CCC Information Services to provide the value of your vehicle. Have them put this information in writing and present it to you. Be prepared to challenge the value of the vehicle if another company is used.
The best method is to obtain a written statement from an automobile dealer (preferably the one where you purchased it) stating the value of your vehicle before and after the accident. Have this information in writing and supply it to the insurance company.
What If the Insurance Company Uses “CCC Information” to Value My Car?
After your vehicle is totaled in an accident, you will have to prove its cash value in order to get reimbursed by the insurance company. CCC Information Services is a company that most insurance companies prefer to use to value your vehicle. They can get you a written copy of the valuation, often called a “CCC Valuescope” report. You should compare that valuation to other services like NADA (http://www.nada.com). That’s because CCC values are often well below NADA valuations. That’s why the insurance companies like them so much – they help save them a lot of money!
CCC provides a valuation based on what it claims are comparable vehicles. These will generally be vehicles of the same type, same year, comparably equipped in the same geographical area. Call the listed telephone numbers on the CCC valuation to see if comparable vehicles are available for purchase. If they are not available at the time, you need to inform the insurance company of this.
If you are told a comparable vehicle is several hundred miles away, you should challenge the vehicle as being comparable. It would be unfair for you to travel the distance without being compensated both for your time, and your expenses to retrieve the comparable vehicle.
What About My Other Damages?
In addition to the cost of repair, you may be entitled to additional damages.
Sales Tax if Your Vehicle is a Total Loss. If your vehicle is a total loss, you are entitled to the value of sales tax on your vehicle. The easiest way to determine sales tax is to call the Revenue Office, http://www.state.ar.us/dfa/osra/osra_revenue.php. Ask for the amount of sales tax you’d pay if you were purchasing a vehicle equal to the estimated value of the damaged vehicle.
Loss of Use. You are entitled to compensation for the number of days your vehicle cannot be used. If the damage was minor and you can continue using it until repairs are made, then the loss of use will be from the time the car goes in for repair until it is finished. If the vehicle is a total loss, then you are compensated for the value of the vehicle. Most insurance companies will arrange for a rental car at no cost to you, rather than agreeing to pay a value for loss of use.
It can be difficult to determine the value of lost. So, just in case you need to file a lawsuit to obtain rightful compensation, we recommend a keeping a written record of the daily cost of a car rental. We recommend you using Enterprise Rent-A-Car, as it appears to be the most widely used car rental agency for insurance claims in Arkansas.
Summary of Damages
Cost of Repair or Vale of your Vehicle if a Total Loss. _________
+Value of Sales Tax, only if your vehicle is a Total Loss ________
+Loss of use $______ *_______ (Number of days until the vehicle is repaired or value of vehicle is paid)
TOTAL DAMAGES $_______________
What If the At-fault Driver’s Insurance Company Sends Me a Check?
We strongly caution DO NOT cash the check until all repairs are complete. Often initial repair estimates are inaccurate because not all damage is visible to the naked eye. ONLY if you have WRITTEN documentation that the insurance company will pay for the “hidden” damages should you consider cashing the check. We recommend however, you wait until all the work is complete.
If you receive adequate compensation and your vehicle is paid for, your claim will then be closed and you will not have to file a lawsuit. However, if you did not receive adequate compensation, you will have to move forward and file a lawsuit.
How Do I File a Lawsuit?
Arkansas law does not permit you to sue the other driver’s insurance company. Instead, if the at-fault driver’s insurance company does not pay for your damages and you desire to pursue a claim, you must file a lawsuit against the negligent driver.
If the amount of damage to your vehicle is $5,000 or less, you can file the suit yourself in the Small Claims Division of the District Court. When filing in the Small Claims Division, once again, it is extremely important to fill the document accurately and file with the Small Claims Division and NOT the Civil Division of District Court.
You can find more information regarding Small Claims Court at:
Arkansas Code Ann. § 16-17-706 states that small claims lawsuits for property damage must be in either the county where the accident occurred or where the other driver lived at the time of filing.
If there is more than one district court in the county, you should contact the district court to determine the geographical jurisdiction (what court covers that area) to make sure you are filing in the correct court.
It is pertinent to note that if you are suing in Sebastian County, the Small Claims Division of the Fort Smith District Court covers Fort Smith only. If your claim arose in Sebastian County anywhere outside Fort Smith, you will file at the Small Claims Division of the Greenwood District Court.
Small Claims Forms
Take the time to fill the Small Claims Court accurately. In order to sue the at-fault driver, it is necessary that you have the evidence to show the driver was negligent. In Arkansas, negligence is the failure to do or not do something a reasonably careful person would do. If the other driver disobeyed traffic laws, such as following too close or running a red light, then this is considered to be evidence of negligence.
You should be aware, however, that if you were also negligent, the amount of your judgment will decrease based on how much at-fault you were. If your negligence is equal or greater than that of the other at-fault driver, you cannot recover anything.
Change from Small Claims Division to Civil Division of the District Court
The insurance company may have the case transferred from the Small Claims Division to the Civil Division of the District Court. Whether the case is in the Small Claims Division or Civil Division, you are allowed to represent yourself. Should you choose to, there are things you need to know.
If the other driver is represented by an attorney, the attorney may send you Interrogatories to answer or ask you to produce documents. You must respond to the Interrogatories or Requests for Production of Documents, in writing, within 30 days.
The other driver’s attorney may also send you Requests for Admission to answer. You must respond to the request within 30 days, or they will be admitted.
- If the attorney asks you to admit something that you know to be inaccurate, simply deny the request for admission.
- If the attorney asks you to admit something and you do not know whether it is accurate or not, you are required to make an investigation and obtain the answers. If, after investigating, you cannot determine whether the matter is accurate, you should state that you have made an investigation and can neither admit nor deny the matter.
- If the attorney asks you to admit something that is accurate, you are required to admit the matter.
- Unscrupulous attorneys may ask you to admit matters that will destroy your case. Asking you to admit that the other driver was not negligent, that you were negligent, or that you were more negligent than the other drive are common events. Some insurance company attorneys do this to try to trick people representing themselves, hoping that you just won’t answer the Request for Admission. Remember, if you don’t answer the Request for Admission, the information will be deemed admitted.
Arkansas has Rules of Evidence that apply to all litigation. In Small Claims cases, the District Court Judge may relax the requirements of the Rules of Evidence. There are a few things that you should know.
The Arkansas Model Jury Instructions sets forth the measure of damages, or the way to calculate damages, for property damage in a motor vehicle accident:
“The difference in the fair market value of [your] automobile or truck immediately before and immediately after the occurrence plus a reasonable amount for loss of use. In determining any difference in market value, [the judge] may take into consideration the reasonable cost of repairs.”
Notice that the instruction does not contain the requirement that the insurance company has to pay for your sales tax on a vehicle that is a total loss. However, Ark. Const. Ark. Const. Art. 2, § 13 provides that:
“Every person is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries or wrongs he may receive in his person, property or character; he ought to obtain justice freely, and without purchase, completely, and without denial, promptly and without delay, conformably to the laws.”
This provision of the Arkansas Constitution provides that all persons are entitled to be completely compensated for all injuries or wrongs. Therefore, most judges will allow recover of the sales tax value as an element of damages.
Important Information that is Not Admissible in a Trial: Liability Insurance, the Accident Report, and Who Got the Ticket
When a case goes to trial before a judge or jury there are specific information they can hear, this is what is known as rules of evidence. You can find these rules at http://courts.arkansas.gov/rules/rules_of_evidence/index.cfm. This website is part of the Arkansas Supreme Court. However, case law clearly establishes that evidence of liability insurance is not admissible. In fact, if even the mentioning of liability insurance occurs before a jury, a mistrial will generally be required which means that the trial will have to start all over again with a new jury. As antiquated as it sounds, the jury is not permitted to know that the other driver has liability insurance.
Evidence of who got a ticket is also inadmissible. The jury is not permitted to hear, in most instances, who the investigating police officer believed to be at fault or who got the ticket. The Accident Report is also, for the most part, inadmissible.
How Do I Prove My Damages?
If you are planning to introduce an estimate or written statement from a car rental agency, it is always best to have the person who prepared the estimate or statement at Court ready to testify and to be cross-examined about the validity of the estimate. If the person cannot appear in Court, you can prepare an Affidavit for the records of the business which prepared the estimate or statement. If the estimate or statement is a business record, Arkansas Code Ann. § 16-46-108 (Small Claims Form), must be prepared and signed under oath in front of a Notary Public. This document must be filed with the Court two weeks before trial. A copy of this document must also be provided to the Defendant.
As the owner of the vehicle, Arkansas law permits you to give your opinion as to the value of the vehicle. The Judge does not have to agree with your opinion, but it is your right to offer it. If the Judge questions you in regards to your statement of the value of the vehicle, you can review the case of Zhan v Sherman, 323 Ark.172,913 S.W.2d 776 (1996).