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Resolving your automobile property damage claim

March 13, 2017

In Oklahoma, one who asserts a claim against another for vehicle damage caused by an accident should include three elements of damages: 1) The cost to repair or replace the vehicle; 2) diminution in value; and 3) loss of use.  Let’s look at each issue. 

Repair or Replace the Vehicle. First, the at-fault party is responsible for the cost to repair or replace the vehicle.  Before assuming the vehicle should be repaired, stop to consider if it should be repaired.  Many body shops will provide a repair estimate based upon a limited cursory inspection of the vehicle.  This inspection may not identify problems that are not apparent without removing paneling, and the resulting estimate will frequently be less than the final bill.  There are good reasons to not assume that repairing the vehicle is the way to go.  First, a vehicle is never the same after it has been in an accident.  Second, even if a vehicle is repaired, its resale value will be less because of the accident and the obligation to disclose the damage.  Finally, arguments can arise over the scope and nature of repairs.  These factors may weigh against repairs and in favor of deeming the vehicle a total loss. 

If the vehicle is a “total loss”, then search for comparable vehicles of the same model, year, and mileage on resale websites in order to identify the value of your vehicle.  You do not need to rely upon Kelley Blue Book or NADA if you find more favorable results in a search of actual vehicles for sale. 

Diminution in Value.  Oklahoma law also recognizes a claim for diminution in value, or “DIV.”  This claim recognizes the decreased value in a vehicle caused by the need to disclose to a prospective purchaser that a vehicle has been involved in an accident.  Determining the amount of the decrease in value must consider factors such as the age and condition of the vehicle prior to the accident, the nature and extent of the damage caused by the accident, and the condition of the vehicle after the repairs.

Loss of Use.  Oklahoma law also recognizes a claim for loss of use.  In property damage claims, this is typically the cost of renting a replacement vehicle while your vehicle is in the shop or while you are waiting for an insurance payment to purchase a new vehicle.  Many insurance carriers have policies limiting payments for a rental vehicle, and will insist it is their policy to pay for nothing more.  These are merely internal company policies, and are not binding law. 

In conclusion, many automobile insurance carriers will not offer to pay an adverse claimant the full amount of damages to which they are entitled for a property damage claim.  Carriers will also use the claimant’s temporary lack of a vehicle as a means to leverage a favorable settlement.  In these cases, it may be necessary to retain legal counsel to recover the full amount of damages available under Oklahoma.