Who Pays for Property Damage After a Car Accident?

November 27, 2023 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Once the whirlwind of activity that follows a car accident has settled down—the injured are cared for, the required reports are filed, and all the necessary information is exchanged—your thoughts may turn to your banged-up car. Is it totaled? How will I pay for repairs? What will I drive in the meantime? How do I handle a property damage claim?

Let’s break it down.

The At-Fault Driver Is Responsible

First, the at-fault driver is responsible (or liable) for property damage after a car accident. However, there are a variety of scenarios and parties that may end up paying for your property damage.

Who Is at Fault After a Car Accident?

You Are at Fault

If you are at fault, there are two main scenarios. You can:

  1. Pay out of pocket for car repairs.
  2. File a claim on the collision coverage on your insurance policy (if you have it). Collision is an optional coverage that pays for damage to your vehicle and its contents if you hit another vehicle or a stationary object (e.g., a mailbox or a telephone pole). Usually, you need to pay a deductible before this coverage kicks in—the amount varies depending on your policy.

The Other Driver Is at Fault

If another driver is at fault, you can:

  1. File a claim against the other driver’s property damage liability coverage.
  2. If the other driver does not have insurance or has insufficient property damage liability coverage to pay for your vehicle, you can file a claim on your uninsured (UI) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.
  3. You can file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver to collect compensation for your property damage.

The other driver’s insurance company may take a while to process your property damage claim. It might be faster to use your collision coverage (if you have it) to get your car repaired. Your insurer can collect from the at-fault party’s insurer later on.

What If More Than One Driver Is at Fault?

In California, the at-fault driver is liable for damages resulting from a car accident. However, there’s an additional factor to consider.

California uses a legal principle called pure comparative fault that divides damages among the responsible parties according to their degree of fault (measured as a percentage). For example:

  • If you are 100% at fault in an accident, you cannot collect any damages.
  • If you are 20% at fault, you can collect 80% of any damages you’re awarded. For example, if a jury awards you $10,000, you can collect $8,000.

Your share of fault in an accident is determined during insurance negotiations or by a judge or jury in trial deliberations. So, even if you are partly to blame for a car crash, you can still collect damages.

Property Damage FAQs

There are many facets and nuances of property damage claims from car accidents, so in this section, we’re answering some common questions to help you understand the claims process.

What’s the time limit for making a property damage claim?

The time limit (or statute of limitations) for making property damage claims in California is three years from when the damage occurred or when you learned about the damage.

You should be aware, however, that the time limits for other types of personal injury claims are shorter. For example, if you’re injured in a car accident that totals your car, you only have two years to make a claim regarding your injuries. Claims against government entities must be filed within six months.

As a rule, it’s best to file your claims as soon as possible after an accident. The attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark can assist you with all aspects of your case, whether it involves injuries, wrongful death, property damage, government entities—or all of the above.

What types of property are covered in property damage claims?

You can make a property damage claim after a car accident to recover any type of physical property lost, damaged, or destroyed in the accident. For example, this might include:

  • The fence in front of your house, if it was hit and damaged by another driver
  • Your clothing, if it was torn during the accident
  • Your groceries, if they were spilled or damaged in a collision
  • Your cellphone, if it was cracked or lost in a crash
  • Your child’s car seat
  • Damaged items belonging to your passengers

If you were not at fault in the accident, you can also claim:

  • Reimbursement for a rental car while your car is being repaired or while you’re looking for a replacement
  • Payment for aftermarket upgrades to your vehicle, like custom rims or lights or a new sound system

What does a property damage liability per accident limit mean?

When you buy car insurance, you purchase coverage with certain limits—the maximum amount the insurance company will pay for a covered item. You can find your coverage limits on your insurance policy’s declarations page.

Property damage liability coverage is capped at the amount listed on your policy for all the property damage sustained in one accident.

For example, suppose a reckless driver hits two cars—Driver A and Driver B. The reckless driver carries California’s minimum property damage liability coverage of $5,000. Driver A needs $5,000 in repairs, and Driver B needs $5,000 in repairs. However, the reckless driver’s policy is capped at $5,000 per accident—so it will only pay to repair one of the cars. Driver A and Driver B have two options:

  1. Use their underinsured motorist coverage to make up the difference between what the reckless driver’s policy will pay and what is needed to repair their cars.
  2. File a personal injury lawsuit against the reckless driver to collect the remaining damages from the reckless driver’s personal assets. A personal injury lawyer could help Driver A or Driver B determine whether this is a viable option.

Bakersfield Personal Injury Attorneys

We know how bewildering it can be to navigate an insurance claim after a car accident. Property damage may be just one part of your claim if you were injured in a car accident. Chain | Cohn | Clark’s personal injury lawyers can help relieve the pressure of negotiating a claim on your own. They’ll investigate your case, manage the complex paperwork, and handle all the interactions with the responsible driver’s insurance company or opposing attorneys. And above all, they’ll ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

For a no-cost, no-obligation review of your case, contact us today.