There is usually one of two ways to go about this; either seeking payment from your insurance company or from the other person’s insurance company. If you had liability coverage only and did not carry collision coverage, then you would not have the opportunity to go through your own, so this assumes you carried full coverage.
The biggest issue in going through your own insurance company is the fact you will have to pay a deductible, whatever that amount is. If your car is deemed a total loss in the car accident and the insurance company is making you a Fair Market Value offer, then your company will subtract your deductible from the offer. You would have to pursue the other carrier to get the deductible amount. If you owe more than the car is worth, in addition to the deductible, you will have to pay the difference on the loan amount.
The challenge with going through the other person’s carrier is simply the fact that sometimes you don’t know who that carrier is. You were either on a gurney in an ambulance or you simply never got the chance to get the information as the police officer was doing all the interviewing at the car accident scene. Thus, you need to wait until the car accident report is ready for you to get that information. This can take a couple of weeks. Even if you did get the info at the car accident scene, that carrier always wants to wait until the police report is ready and/or get a statement from their insured or any witnesses before agreeing to anything. Thus, there are time delays.
While waiting for the car accident police report to be prepared, your car is possibly in the tow yard, or it is not safe to drive, and you need transportation to get to work, get groceries for the kids, etc. This is a loss of use that is challenging for most. And, while in the tow yard, storage charges accumulate daily, charges that the carrier claims they should not be responsible for and refuse to pay, possibly sending you into collections. Thus, it is best to go through your own carrier, if an option, and find a way to deal with the deductible (hopefully when your carrier sees there is another insurance company involved and there is no dispute as to how the incident occurred, they will waive your deductible. Always ask them to waive your deductible as they will be seeking repayment from the other carrier).
If you have to go through the other person’s carrier do you best to accelerate the process. Usually if you go to the counter at CHP you can get a cover page to the car accident report. The cover page has the pertinent information, including name of insurance company. You can start setting up the car accident claim using this info and if fault is clear (i.e. rear-end auto accident), then the carrier may be more willing to discuss repairing your vehicle or totaling it out prior to the full report being ready.
In a car accident case, a vehicle is considered a total if repairs to the vehicle will exceed 80% of the value of the vehicle. The insurance company only has the obligation to “make you whole” and that is either by fixing your vehicle or by paying you its market value. If your car is totaled, regardless of who is making the offer on it, make sure the offer is accurate. The measure of the market value of a vehicle is the average of three same/similar vehicles being sold in your market region by private parties. This is private v. dealership as the measure is using wholesale rates. If you are intending on keeping the vehicle, the carrier will deduct salvage value from the total loss offer. Salvage value is what a company would pay for the parts on the vehicle. What we have been seeing lately is grossly distorted values assigned to this salvage value so as to greatly reduce the amount that the insurance carrier would have to pay you.
If your car is to be repaired, depending on the amount of the repairs, it is possible to also submit a Diminution in Value claim, that is, the difference in value before the accident than after. We all know that a vehicle has lower value after it has been involved in a car accident and you are entitled to that difference under California law.
Navigating these waters can be tricky and difficult. As always, consulting with a qualified personal injury attorney is a terrific option if you find yourself in these circumstances.