The Law in South Carolina Regarding Property Damage
In general, the law in South Carolina in regards to property damage is designed to put you back in the same position you were in before the accident occurred. For example, let’s say your car is worth $10,000.00 before your accident. If you are involved in a car accident with property damage worth $3,000.00, the law says you are entitled to the $3,000.00 in damages. If you can prove that your car is now worth less money after the accident, you may also have a “diminution in value” claim worth the difference in market value before and after the accident. Thus, if your car is now only worth $8,000.00 because it has been wrecked, you are also entitled to the $2,000.00 loss in property value due to the accident.
Many people do not know about diminution in value claims and an insurance company will not teach you your rights (even your own insurance company). This is why it is important to educate yourself and know your rights before negotiating with the insurance company and signing any documents. You are not entitled to recover for pain and suffering or inconvenience for property damage claims. You are not entitled to a rental car unless your insurance policy provides that coverage. Punitive damages can be recovered in a property damage claim under egregious circumstances – i.e., the driver was intoxicated or your car was stolen. However, in my experience, it is very rare for an insurance company to pay out punitive damages in settling a property damage claim. You would likely have to proceed to arbitration and get an award for that compensation.
For these reasons, it is not usually in your best interest to hire an attorney to handle your property damage claim. Most attorneys get paid on a contingency fee or hourly basis. If you were forced to pay an attorney to handle your property damage claim, you would essentially be walking away with less money because you would be out of pocket for attorney expenses. Unfortunately, you are not entitled to recover your attorney fees in a property damage settlement.
Moreover, in most situations it is not necessary to hire an attorney to handle your property damage claim. Often times if you have an accident report, you can submit the report to the at-fault insurance company and their agent will contact you in an attempt to resolve your claim. Since your damages will be easily calculated through the repair estimates and the market value of your vehicle can be determined through online resources such as Kelley Blue Book or NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association), you usually will not need a lawyer to reach an amicable settlement with the insurance company. With that said, there are times when the insurance company may dispute liability (even when you have an accident report indicating who contributed to the accident), or the value of your damages or vehicle may be disputed. In these situations, you should consult with an attorney about your claim and legal rights.
The Claims Process Following Your Car Accident
Following an auto accident involving property damage, you should immediately contact the police to receive an accident report. You MUST have an accident report if you expect the at-fault driver’s insurance company (or even your own insurance company) to compensate you for your damages. The accident report will contain the at-fault driver’s insurance information. You should submit your Form FR-309 to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles within fifteen (15) days of the accident. You should then submit these documents to the at-fault driver’s insurance company within the fifteen (15) day time period. If the at-fault driver is uninsured, your own insurance will cover your property damage and you should submit the documentation to them within the same time period.
If the insurance company is unwilling to compensate you for your property damage, you will have to proceed to arbitration. In South Carolina, a judge or jury does not decide your property damage claim but, rather, the claim is handled through a process called arbitration. Arbitration is simply an informal process where an independent third-party panel will hear your case, along with a representative of the at-fault insurance company, and decide your damages. The rules of evidence do not apply and you do not need to be a licensed attorney to proceed with the process.
You can start the arbitration process by contacting the Clerk of Court for Common Pleas (Civil Division) in the county where you reside. They will be able to help you fill out the necessary paperwork to request your arbitration. Be sure to bring with you all necessary paperwork you might have regarding your property damage – including the accident report, Form FR-309, pictures, repair estimates, bluebook estimates, etc. Once the paperwork is submitted, you will receive a date to have your claim heard before the arbitrating body. Most arbitrators are current or former judges and attorneys and, in my experience, are sympathetic to pro se individuals who are attempting to resolve their property damage claim in good faith.
Let Us Know If You Have Any Questions
Although you shouldn’t necessarily need an attorney to handle your property damage claim, the Law Office of Jared C. Williams, LLC, helps clients with their property damage claim for no extra charge when we represent them in a personal injury claim. Even if you do not have a personal injury claim and are pursing your property damage on your own, you can always contact our Charleston office if you have any questions about your claim. While we cannot provide legal advice without entering into a formal attorney-client relationship with a signed contract, we may be able to point you in the right direction or tell you if it would be in your best interest to hire an experienced car accident attorney.