The Common Law

My car was wrecked – now what?

My vehicle was damaged in a wreck. Now what?

Two questions guide your actions: 1) Will your vehicle be repaired or is it totaled? and 2) Did the party that hit you have insurance?

When the vehicle will be repaired, obtain estimates from at least one reputable body shop (you are not obligated to use the insurance company's recommendation). Once you find a shop, arrange repairs. Body shops routinely work with insurance companies, and they usually reach an agreement on the scope and costs of repair.

If the other driver has insurance, they are obligated to provide a rental car for a reasonable period. As long as everyone stays reasonable about the type of vehicle rented, stays in communication about the status of repairs, and you make sure the shop is repairing your vehicle in a timely manner, there likely won't be any disputes.

If the other party does not have insurance, your insurance company is not required to provide a rental unless you have purchased rental insurance or if you have uninsured motorist coverage.

If the car is totaled, the insurance companies "buy" the vehicle from you by paying the value of the vehicle, plus tax, title, and license. To negotiate, you must know the value of your vehicle. Use dealer Web sites, eBay or AutoTrader.com to learn what vehicles similar to yours now cost. Armed with the research, you will likely get a reasonable settlement.

If your car is totaled, insurance companies are not required to provide a rental. However, many will provide a rental until they write you a check. Communicate with them on whether they will provide a car, and if so, for how long, so you do not get stuck with a large bill.

Be careful when signing a release. Do not sign a property damage release until you are satisfied, and do not sign a personal injury release as part of the property-damage claim.

If the other party's insurance is not cooperating, you may make a claim on your policy and let the companies sort it out.

And, finally, if a dispute arises, contact an attorney.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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