Getting your vehicle declared a total loss after an accident is often an frustrating and stressful process. You have to go through your insurance company’s evaluation to determine if your car is repairable or not.
If they do deem your vehicle a total loss, you then have to negotiate a fair settlement amount with the claims adjuster. This involves assessing things like the car’s pre-crash value and local sales prices for similar models.
It’s common for policyholders to end up disagreeing with the adjuster on their total loss assessment. You may think the insurer set too low of a valuation or shouldn’t have declared it a total loss at all. So what recourse do you have if you don’t agree with the adjuster’s decision?
Here are the steps to take if you want to dispute a total loss adjuster’s assessment:
If You Disagree With the Valuation
If the core issue is that you believe the insurer’s settlement offer is too low, here is the process to potentially get them to increase it:
Review the offer details – Make sure you understand exactly how the adjuster calculated the value and check for any errors.
Gather evidence – Compile proof about your vehicle’s pre-crash value, such as dealer quotes, pricing guides, and receipts showing upgrades.
Send a counteroffer – Write to the adjuster explaining why you believe the car is worth more, including all your supporting evidence. Provide a specific dollar amount you are seeking.
Escalate the dispute – If the adjuster rejects your counter and won’t negotiate further, reach out to their supervisor. You can also contact your state insurance regulator.
Seek legal help – An attorney experienced with total loss settlements can provide guidance on any additional options, like demanding appraisal or taking the insurer to court.
The key is constructing a well-documented case the insurer cannot easily dismiss. Force them to justify paying below your evidence-backed estimate.
If You Disagree It’s a Total Loss
In some cases, policyholders don’t think the car is so damaged that it should be declared a total loss. But can you actually fight the decision if it meets your state’s total loss threshold?
Unfortunately, there is little recourse in most cases here. State laws give clear formulas for when a vehicle gets branded a total loss. For example, once repairs exceed 70% of the car’s pre-accident value in a state using that threshold.
Some steps that may potentially work:
Double check the math – Review all the adjuster’s calculations to ensure they correctly applied your state’s total loss rule. Look for any erroneous data.
Negotiate on the threshold – Some states allow you to come to an agreement with the insurer to repair the car even above the total loss threshold. But there is no guarantee they will do this.
File a complaint – If you have evidence the insurer is intentionally inflating the repair costs to reach the threshold, you can complain to insurance regulators.
But in many cases, you likely have to accept the total loss decision if it technically meets the state’s criteria. The insurer is just following the rules set out by law.
Getting an Independent Appraisal
A professional appraisal from an impartial auto damage expert can strengthen your position if disputing the adjuster’s decision. They can provide an unbiased assessment of both the repair costs and the vehicle’s pre-crash value.
Your own appraisal has more validity than the adjuster’s, since the insurer’s evaluation is inherently biased in their own favor. An independent expert shows you have objective data backing you up.
Look for an appraiser approved by your state’s department of insurance. Cost is usually $100-$200 on average depending on your location. The insurer may eventually reimburse you for the appraisal cost if it leads to increasing the claim settlement.
Negotiating with Adjusters 101
Here are some key strategies for negotiating total loss claims with insurance adjusters:
Start high – Your initial ask should exceed what you actually expect to receive. This leaves room for the adjuster to talk you down during haggling.
Highlight flaws – Politely point out any errors, faulty assumptions, or questionable data in the insurer’s valuation analysis.
Use third-party data – Back up your counteroffer with objective pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book and NADA. Avoid emotional appeals.
Take your time – There are no legal deadlines for resolving a total loss settlement in most states. Move slowly and don’t rush into accepting an unfair offer.
Stay firm – Refuse to budge from your asking price until the insurer can convince you their lower valuation is justified. Make them work to earn your agreement.
With preparation and determination, you can often negotiate a significantly higher total loss payout than the original offer.
When to Lawyer Up
If you’ve exhausted all attempts at getting the insurer to raise their offer but remain far apart in valuation, it may be smart to have a lawyer advocate for you.
A total loss attorney has experience dealing with lowball insurers and compelling them to make fair settlements. They know what legal actions can pressure a resistant company.
Specifically consider hiring counsel if the insurer’s valuation seems intentionally and unreasonably low based on the tangible evidence. This type of deceptive tactic warrants legal threats to protect unknowing policyholders.
Don’t waste time fighting a uphill battle yourself against a insurer acting in clear bad faith. Turn it over to a professional.
Take Control of the Total Loss Process
The car insurance company holds most of the power during the claims process after an accident. But you have rights and negotiating leverage too as a policyholder.
Do your homework, stand your ground, and don’t let a adjuster force you into accepting less than you deserve. With persistence and documentation, you can often achieve a substantially better total loss settlement.
No matter what, don’t cave to a lowball valuation or let your insurer shortcut the total loss criteria. Hold them accountable by following the proper dispute procedures. Don’t be afraid to threaten or actually contact your insurance regulator if warranted.
With the right strategic approach, you can gain control and obtain a fair payout for your totaled vehicle. Know your options and don’t make the adjuster’s job easy if they are being unreasonable.
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