What can I do if the at-fault driver's insurance company won't pay for the damage to my car?
UPDATED: July 31, 2017
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You can sue the at-fault driver for your costs or losses, not the insurer, since the driver is one who may be liable to you. If you can prove in court that the other driver was in fact at fault in causing the accident and also prove the cost to repair your car, you should have a successful outcome.
When a car accident was the fault of the other driver, you are entitled to compensation for the damage caused by his or her negligence, or unreasonable carelessness. When the at-fault driver’s insurer is unwilling (or is slow) to pay for damages to your vehicle, you have a couple of options to get compensation for the accident.
You can choose to have your own insurance company pay the repair bills if you carry collision coverage on your own auto insurance policy. Often, this may be the preferable approach, because your own insurer is easier to deal with and likely to settle with you faster than the other driver or their insurance company. Whatever the reason might be that the other driver’s insurance is stalling, it may be less hassle and quicker to go through your insurer—this is why you are paying for insurance in the first place, after all. (If you are not going to use your insurance, why have it?) There is a disadvantage, however, to submitting a claim to your own insurer: you will not recover the amount of the collision coverage deductible (you have to pay the deductible out of pocket), which reduces the amount of your insurance payout. For example, if you have $7,200 of damage, but a $1,000 deductible, you will only receive $6,200 from your insurer—though you would have the option of suing the at-fault driver for the deductible later (see below).
If you carry no collision coverage on your auto policy, or you decide to refuse an unreasonably low settlement offer from the other driver’s insurer (assuming they make any offer), you have only one option: sue the driver who was at fault for your accident (not his or her insurer) for the full amount of your costs and losses, which may include any towing charges and reasonable car rental payments while your car is in the shop. The reason you sue the driver, not the insurer, is that his/her insurer has no obligation directly to you—their obligation is to their insured, to defend him/her in court and then pay any amounts the insured ends up being ordered to pay. If you decide to pursue this course of action, you will have to prove the other driver was in fact at fault for the collision, as well as prove (such as with written repair estimates from a reliable mechanic) the cost of the damage. (If it would cost more to repair the car then it is worth—i.e., more than its then-current fair market or “blue book” value—then the most you can get is the car’s current value. The law will give you more money than the car was worth, but will “total” it instead.) The drawback to turning to the courts is that lawsuits can be expensive, time-consuming, and the result never guaranteed. Balance whether your case is worth the effort and expense, especially if the person does not appear to have sufficient assets to cover the damages.
You can sue for any amounts not paid by your own insurer, so you could combine the two approaches: get as much as you can from your insurer, then sue the other driver, such as in small claims court, for the deductible. However, you cannot “double collect” for an accident: to the extent you settle the accident claim under your own insurer, you cannot also collect compensation from the other driver’s insurer for the same damages.