Car Totaled But Not at Fault? Here’s What To Do

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car totaled but not at fault

Although all drivers have a responsibility to use reasonable caution behind the wheel, Georgia auto accidents occur when one least expects. Not only do these collisions put you at risk of severe injury or death, they can put motorists at financial and legal jeopardy too.

It’s a smart idea for all drivers to recognize their rights and responsibilities well in advance of a car accident wherein an insurer declares a vehicle “totaled.” Preparing for the worst-case scenario will reduce your stress and worry after a crash. Recognize that even if you aren’t at-fault and even if you have insurance, a crash that totals your vehicle is likely to cost you. Working with a personal injury attorney experienced in crash-related insurance claims can help minimize your losses and improve the chances you’ll receive a full and fair recovery.

It’s important in the immediate aftermath of a crash that you remain on scene, be polite, offer assistance to those in the other vehicle (but avoid admitting fault) and refrain from leaving before the other parties do/ prior to police arrival.

Required Auto Insurance in Georgia

Georgia is as tort state when it comes to auto insurance, meaning if the crash wasn’t your fault, claims for crash-related damages are typically filed directly against the at-fault driver, rather than your own insurer. Unlike in no-fault states, there is no option for personal injury protection coverage from your own insurer.  

O.C.G.A. 33-34-4 requires vehicle owners purchase minimum auto insurance coverage to register, operate or authorize operation of a vehicle. In Georgia, those minimums are:

  • $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage;
  • $25,000 per person for property damage liability (with a UM deductible of somewhere between $250 and $1,000);
  • $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident of uninsured motorist bodily injury (though this may be rejected in writing by insured).

The law does not require collision coverage insurance BUT many banks mandate it if they’re going to finance your purchase of the vehicle. (it’s often required for leased vehicles as well.) Unlike property damage liability, paid when you cause a crash that damages someone else’s vehicle, collision coverage helps you pay for damages to your own car.

Collision coverage typically doesn’t come with limits, but instead pays the actual cash value of your vehicle, minus whatever your deductible – which can vary anywhere from $100 to $2,500. (Higher deductibles will lower your monthly premiums, but increase the amount you must pay out-of-pocket for your collision benefits to kick in.)

If you weren’t at-fault for the crash, you may have the option of suing the other driver for damages related to the crash – including for property damage. You should consult with a car accident attorney about this. If the other driver wasn’t insured, didn’t have enough insurance or fled the scene, you may consider filing a claim for uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage through your own insurer.

When is a Crashed Car Considered a Total Loss?

CCC Information Services (which tracks auto insurance claims for the industry) reports roughly 15 to 20 percent of collision claims in the U.S. result in vehicles being totaled.

As noted by Insurance.com, your auto insurer may determine your damaged vehicle is a total loss if:

  • It can’t be repaired safely.
  • Repairing the car will cost more than it’s worth.
  • State laws mandate the company is a total loss based on the amount of damages. For example, O.C.G.A. § 120-2-52-.06 allows an auto insurer to pay a cash equivalent settlement or else replace an insured vehicle based on either the cash equivalent method or the replacement vehicle method, as outlined in statute.  

Different auto insurers may have different guidelines; for example, some will conclude total damages if damages or at or above 51 percent of the car’s pre-accident value. Other insurers won’t total a car until damages are estimated at or above 80 percent of the pre-crash value. The insurer also weighs the cost of those repairs plus the expense to reimburse you for a rental car until the vehicle is repaired or replaced. That’s why a 15-year-old vehicle can be “totaled” even though it’s only sustained minor damage. The insurer also gets to keep whatever is collected if the vehicle is salvaged for parts.

Those who disagree with that assessment or really want to keep their own care may have a few options but are typically limited. Most disputes about this more often center on the insurer’s assessment of their vehicle cost. Motorists can hire an appraiser to conduct an independent valuation at their own expense, but if you still can’t agree, your options are limited to arbitration or litigation (and usually when you factor in legal costs, pursuing this isn’t worth it).

Being Prepared for a Georgia Auto Accident

Getting into an accident – regardless of fault – can be expensive, even if you have insurance. However, if you don’t have insurance, it’s going to be a lot more expensive.

At minimum, you should have an insurance policy that protects you from costs associated from auto accident property damages of at least $25,000. It’s important not only to secure coverage, but also to keep current on it. Any lapse of payment could jeopardize your coverage.

To avoid being in the red if your auto insurer decides to pay less than what you owe for a totaled vehicle, you can save yourself grief by purchasing gap coverage.

The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta car accident attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at steve@aa-legal.com.