If another driver has crashed into and totaled a vehicle that you were driving on a Georgia street or highway, an auto insurer will make a settlement offer for the total loss. What will you be offered for a vehicle that is a complete loss? In many cases, it may be less than you think. You may have to reject the insurance company’s initial offer and negotiate a more acceptable settlement with a total loss claims adjuster.

Wikipedia defines a claims adjuster as an insurance company representative who “investigates insurance claims by interviewing the claimant and witnesses, consulting police and hospital records, and inspecting property damage to determine the extent of the company’s liability.” A claims adjuster identifies the damages that a policy covers and negotiates settlements with claimants.

If you are seeking reimbursement for a total loss, which insurance company is supposed to pay you: the other driver’s company or your own? Because Georgia is a “fault” state rather than a no-fault state, after an accident where the other driver was at fault, you should first file a claim for a total loss with that driver’s insurance company. You might get lucky, be treated respectfully and professionally, and offered a fair and just settlement.

HOW DO SOME INSURANCE COMPANIES OPERATE?

On the other hand, an at-fault motorist’s insurance company might offer you a sum that’s worth far less than the real value of your claim. This is how some auto insurance companies keep pay-outs to a minimum.

Many people just aren’t willing – or don’t know how – to negotiate for a better settlement. Don’t let an insurer treat you that way. If that insurance company evades you or delays and does not negotiate with you in good faith, you have several options.

According to experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Theodore Spaulding at the Law Offices of Boling Rice, “Oftentimes it is easier to handle your total loss claim with your own insurance company and let your company ‘go after’ the at-fault insurance company to be reimbursed for what it paid you. I often tell clients to first try with the at-fault insurance company, but if you are not getting the attention you deserve to get the claim resolved quickly, don’t feel you are stuck; switch gears and run the claim through your own insurance company.”

Attorney Spaulding adds that the only catch with running a damage claim for a vehicle’s complete loss through your own insurance company “is that you will have to pay your deductible up front (you get the total loss minus your deductible) and wait to get reimbursed for your deductible when your insurance company receives payment from the at-fault insurance company.”

HOW IS A TOTAL LOSS DETERMINED?

How does an insurance company determine that a vehicle is a total loss? In the state of Georgia, when repairing a vehicle will cost more than that vehicle is worth, it’s deemed a complete loss. If you are unhappy with the insurance company’s appraisal – either the other driver’s company or your own – and you believe that your vehicle was worth more, you can accept an insufficient offer, negotiate by yourself or through an attorney for a more acceptable settlement, or hire a lawyer to represent your claim in court.

If you negotiate with a total loss claims adjuster, by yourself or with a lawyer’s help, you must offer something to back up your position that the insurance company’s offer is insufficient. This might be photographs of the car, truck, or SUV before the crash, receipts for improvements and repairs, and valuations from other qualified appraisers or adjusters. That’s fine when an insurance company operates in good faith, but if you are being treated unfairly or unjustly, seek an attorney’s help.

If you’ve been injured by a negligent Georgia driver, it’s better to bypass the insurance company completely and take your case directly to an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney. An injured victim of negligence in the state of Georgia is entitled by law to full compensation for all medical expenses and lost wages arising from an accident caused by negligence, but to obtain that compensation, that victim will need an experienced injury attorney’s help.

CAN YOU NEGOTIATE WITHOUT A LAWYER’S HELP?

But if you are only dealing with property damage, and you believe that you are being treated fairly, there’s nothing wrong with conducting your own negotiations with an insurance company. Understand too that total loss adjusters have little negotiating authority on their own and must answer to senior adjusters and supervisors who make the important coverage, liability, and negotiating decisions.

Total loss adjusters are typically told to settle a claim for a particular amount – or for less if possible. An adjuster may tell you that the company’s first offer is the most that the company can pay you, but that just isn’t true. If you have evidence which proves that your vehicle was worth significantly more than the adjuster’s offer, a total loss adjuster can take the claim to his or her manager to authorize a better settlement – provided that you are negotiating with honest and reasonable insurance professionals.

In the most egregious situations of unfair treatment regarding a total loss, you may have grounds for filing a bad faith claim against an insurance company that simply fails to meet its clear legal obligation to you. In such circumstances, an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney can examine the details of your situation and provide you with sound legal guidance about how best to proceed.

When you’re negotiating for a total loss, remember that a total loss claims adjuster has an exceedingly stressful job. They are individuals under pressure from the company and the boss, and as a customer, you’re another potential source of stress. Simply remember that a total loss claims adjuster is somewhat like a paid spokesperson who must work from a script and answer to others “behind the scenes.”

If you have any questions or concerns regarding liability or compensation after a traffic collision in Georgia, and especially if you’ve sustained any injuries, don’t hesitate to seek sound legal advice from an experienced Georgia personal injury attorney. Most insurance companies in Georgia provide consumers with fair, prompt, and professional service. Some do not, but don’t give up or cave into intimidation if you are negotiating for a total loss. Instead, get legal help. It’s your right.