If you’re involved in a car accident caused by someone else in South Carolina, you’re entitled to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your damages, which normally include:
- Medical expenses for treating your injuries
- Lost wages due to time off work
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage to your vehicle and/or personal items inside the car
Even if you have no immediate symptoms of injury, you should see a doctor right away to be sure you’re not hurt. Some injuries aren’t immediately apparent to the naked eye but can be revealed by a doctor’s exam and diagnostic tests.
Handling Property Damage Claims
If you are injured, you might need the help of an attorney to put a dollar amount on your pain and suffering, present your medical evidence, and negotiate with the insurance company for a fair settlement while you focus on your recovery. Your lawyer, who might also handle your property damage claim as a courtesy, will probably charge you no attorney fees upfront and take a contingency fee (a percentage of your total settlement) after you receive your award. In some cases, your legal fees might even be included in your settlement.
If the doctor gives you a clean bill of health, you may still file an insurance claim for damage to your vehicle. The most you’re likely to receive, however, is the cost of repair or replacement of the car, with nothing left over for an attorney’s fees, which you would have to pay out of pocket if you hired a lawyer. The good news is that you don’t always need an attorney to file a simple property damage claim.
The Process of Filing a Property Damage Claim
1. Police Report
If you’re involved in an accident, stay at the scene and call 911. When officers arrive, they will examine the scene and vehicles involved, ask you questions, and fill out an accident report. An accident report will:
- Prove that your accident occurred where and when you say it did.
- Include the at-fault driver’s insurance information.
- Include any evidence of fault that the police may find.
You should exchange information with the other driver and answer the officer’s questions honestly, but don’t discuss the accident, argue, or admit any fault.
2. Form FR-309
The police should give you this form, which you must submit both to the SC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the at-fault driver’s insurance company within 15 days after the wreck. If that driver is uninsured, submit the form to your own insurer. Your uninsured motorist (UM) protection should cover your property damage.
When you’re contacted by an insurance adjuster about the wreck, discuss only your costs for repair or replacement. Do not:
- Give a recorded statement.
- Admit any fault.
- Answer any unrelated questions.
The compensation you hope to receive for your property damage should include:
- Repair cost based on estimates (get more than one) if you’ve not yet had the car fixed or on actual costs/receipts if you have.
- Fair market value of the car if it’s totaled. This is based on the current value of the car according to the Kelley Blue Book, Carfax, or a similar publication, not on what you paid for the car when you bought it.
- Loss of use of the car while it’s damaged and/or being repaired (normally the cost of a rental car during this time).
- Diminished value, which is the difference between the vehicle’s worth before and after the wreck (also according to a recognized car evaluation publication). If it’s worth less than it was before it was wrecked and repaired, you should receive the difference in value along with reimbursement for your repair bills.
If the insurance company denies all or part of your claim, you may request court-ordered arbitration:
- Contact the Clerk of the Common Pleas Court in your county.
- Fill out the paperwork to request arbitration.
- Bring all your evidence related to the crash:
- Form FR-309
- Accident report
- Photos of your damaged vehicle and the scene of the accident
- Repair estimates
- Proof of Blue Book value if your car was totaled
You’ll be given a date for a hearing before an independent panel (made up of current or retired judges or attorneys) that will hear your side of the story, as well as the insurance company’s reasons for denial, in order to determine whether you’re entitled to compensation for your property damage. You don’t need a lawyer to enter the arbitration process. You may present your side of the story to the arbitration panel on your own and hope that it will recommend an acceptable award.
In some cases, though, the insurance company (whether your own or the at-fault driver’s) might dispute the liability of the negligent driver or question the validity of your repair/replacement costs despite your evidence. If arbitration does not result in a fair settlement offer to make you whole (in the same circumstances you’d be in but for the accident), you might want to consult a car accident attorney to see:
- What the estimated attorney fees would be in your case
- If the amount of money you’re seeking justifies the estimated attorney fees
How Comparative Negligence Can Affect Your Claim
Because South Carolina personal injury law follows a modified comparative negligence rule, you might be found partially responsible for your accident. This means you may still collect damages, but the amount will be reduced according to your percentage of fault as long as you’re no more than 50% responsible for the crash. If you’re found more than half responsible, you may collect no compensation at all.
If there is a shared fault for the crash, you might need a lawyer to help you prove you’re less than half responsible. It all depends on:
- The real or estimated cost to repair or replace your car
- The estimated attorney fees for handling your case
- How much you can afford
Have You Been Injured In A South Carolina Area Car Accident?
If you've been injured in a car accident you should speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.