(This information in not intended to be used as legal advice. For legal advice, ALWAYS consult with an attorney.)
As with all communications with an insurance company, keep your communications in writing (email or fax). If you do choose to discuss the matter on the phone, be sure to immediately recreate the conversation in bullet points and IMMEDIATELY send (fax or email) the document to the insurance company.
Establish the true market value (Actual Cash Value, or ACV) of your vehicle by looking online at www.nadaguides.com, www.kbb.com, www.autotrader.com, www.craigslist.com or another resource. Look for vehicles that are in the same condition, similar mileage and options to establish ACV. Print or save a copy of the comparables obtained on line or take photos if the vehicle is on a car lot or with a private party. Your work product should include photos, VIN #, price, options, and mileage and be date stamped in some manor.
If the insurance company offers you a fair value for you vehicle, you will be informed and know that you have a fair offer.
If an insurance company offers you a low value, you can dispute the offer. Request the insurers appraisal in writing and then review the comparables they are using (this document can typically be emailed). Most of the time when the value is low, we find that the report from the insurance company is not accurate. Remember that you are owed the value of the vehicle plus sales tax, license and title transfer fee (that’s called a “loaded number,” unloaded is just the value of the vehicle). Make sure that you are clear as to which numbers that you are talking about (loaded or unloaded) with your insurance company when you are settling.
Submit your valuation research to the insurance company along with any other documentation that supports your value including receipts for work performed or modifications to your vehicle.
If you disagree with your Insurance Company about the value of the loss, use the Appraisal Clause in your policy. Note that this is only available if you have filed a claim with your own insurance company. The appraisal clause will usually be structured like this:
If we and the insured do not agree on the amount of loss, either may demand an appraisal of the loss. In that event, we and insured will each select a competent appraiser. The appraisers will select a competent and disinterested umpire. The appraisers will state separately the actual cash value and the amount of the loss. If they fail to agree, they will submit the dispute to the umpire. An award in writing of any two will determine the amount of loss. We and the insured will each pay his chosen appraiser and will bear equally the other expenses of the appraisal and umpire.
Here are the codes in Washington relative to total loss settlement:
WAC 284.30.391 – Methods and standards of practice for settlement of total loss vehicle claims.
Unless an agreed value is reached, the insurer must adjust and settle vehicle total losses using the methods set forth in subsections (1) through (3) of this section. Subsections (4) through (6) of this section establish standards of practice for the settlement of total loss vehicle claims. If an agreed value or methodology is reached between the claimant and the insurer using an evaluation that varies from the methods described in subsections (1) through (3) of this section, the agreement must be documented in the claim file. The insurer must take reasonable steps to ensure that the agreed value is accurate and representative of the actual cash value of a comparable motor vehicle in the principally garaged area.
(1) Replacing the loss vehicle: The insurer may settle a total loss claim by offering to replace the loss vehicle with a comparable motor vehicle that is available for inspection within a reasonable distance from where the loss vehicle is principally garaged.
(2) Cash settlement: The insurer may settle a total loss claim by offering a cash settlement based on the actual cash value of a comparable motor vehicle, less any applicable deductible provided for in the policy.
(a) Only a vehicle identified as a comparable motor vehicle may be used to determine the actual cash value.
(b) The insurer must determine the actual cash value of the loss vehicle by using any one or more of the following methods:
(i) Comparable motor vehicle: The actual cash value of a comparable motor vehicle based on current data obtained in the area where the loss vehicle is principally garaged.
(ii) Licensed dealer quotes: Quotations for the cost of a comparable motor vehicle obtained from two or more licensed dealers within a reasonable distance of the principally garaged area not to exceed one hundred fifty miles (except where there are no licensed dealers having comparable motor vehicles within one hundred fifty miles).
(iii) Advertised data comparison: The actual cash value of two or more comparable motor vehicles advertised for sale in the local media if the advertisements meet the definition of current data as defined in WAC 284-30-320(4). The vehicles must be located within a reasonable distance of the principally garaged area not to exceed one hundred fifty miles.
(iv) Computerized source: The insurer may use a computerized source to establish a statistically valid actual cash value of the loss vehicle. The source used must meet all of the following criteria:
(A) The source’s data base must produce values for at least eighty-five percent of all makes and models for a minimum of fifteen years taking into account the values of all major options for such motor vehicles.
(B) The source must produce actual cash values based on current data within a reasonable distance of the principally garaged area, not to exceed one hundred fifty miles.
(C) The source must rely upon the actual cash value of comparable motor vehicles that are currently available or were available in the market place within ninety days prior to or after the date of loss.
(D) The source must provide a list of comparable motor vehicles used to determine the actual cash value. If more than thirty comparable motor vehicles are located, the insurer need list only thirty but may list more.
(v) Cash settlement search area: If none of the methods in subsection (2)(b)(i) through (iv) of this section produce a comparable motor vehicle to establish an actual cash value within a reasonable distance of the principally garaged area, the search area may be expanded in increasing circles of twenty-five mile increments, up to one hundred and fifty miles, until two or more comparable motor vehicles are located. If no comparable motor vehicles can be located within one hundred fifty miles, the search area may be expanded with the agreement of the first party claimant.
(3) Appraisal: If the first party claimant and the insurer fail to agree on the actual cash value of the loss vehicle and the insurance policy has an appraisal provision, either the insurer or the first party claimant may invoke the appraisal provision of the policy to resolve disputes concerning the actual cash value.
(4) Settlement requirements: When settling a total loss vehicle claim using methods in subsections (1) through (3) of this section, the insurer must:
(a) Communicate its settlement offer to the claimant by phone or in writing and information about this communication must be documented in the claim file, including the date, time, and name of the person to whom the offer was made.
(b) Base all offers on itemized and verifiable dollar amounts for vehicles that are currently available, or were available within ninety days of the date of loss, using appropriate deductions or additions for options, mileage or condition when determining comparability.
(c) Consider relevant information supplied by the claimant when determining appropriate deductions or additions.
(d) Provide a true and accurate copy of any “valuation report,” as described in WAC 284-30-392, if requested.
(e) As part of the settlement amount, include all applicable government taxes and fees that would have been incurred by the claimant if the claimant had purchased the loss vehicle immediately prior to the loss. These taxes and fees must be included in the settlement amount whether or not the claimant retains or subsequently transfers ownership of the loss vehicle.
(5) Settlement adjustments: Insurers may adjust a total loss settlement through the following methods only:
(a) The insurer may deduct from a first party claim the amount of another claim payment (including the applicable deductible) previously made to an insured for prior unrepaired damage to the same vehicle.
(b) Deductions other than those made pursuant to (a) of this subsection may be made for other unrepaired damage as long as the amount of deduction is no greater than the decrease in the actual cash value due to prior damage.
(c) If the claimant retains the total loss vehicle, the insurer may deduct the salvage value from the settlement amount, as described in subsection (4)(e) of this section. Upon a request by the claimant, the insurer must provide the name and address of a salvage entity or dismantler who will purchase the salvage for the amount deducted with no additional charge. This purchase option must remain available for at least thirty days after the settlement agreement is reached and the claimant must be advised that the salvage entity may not honor its offer if the condition of the salvage has changed.
(d) Any additions or deductions from the actual cash value must be explained to the claimant and must be itemized showing specific dollar amounts.
(6) Reopening a claim file:
(a) The insurer must reopen the claim file if within the first thirty-five days after the date final payment is sent to the first party claimant, lienholder, or both, the claimant is not able to purchase a comparable motor vehicle for the agreed amount but was able to locate, but did not purchase a comparable motor vehicle that costs more than the agreed settlement amount.
(b) If the claimant has satisfied (a) of this subsection, and if the appraisal section of the policy has not been utilized, the insurer must do one of the following:
(i) Locate a comparable motor vehicle that is currently available for the agreed settlement amount;
(ii) Pay the claimant the difference between the agreed settlement amount and the cost of the comparable motor vehicle;
(iii) Purchase the comparable motor vehicle for the claimant; or
(iv) Conclude the loss settlement in the manner provided in the appraisal section of the insurance policy in force at the time of the loss.
(c) The insurer is not required to reopen the claim file if:
(i) The claimant received written notification of the location of a specific comparable motor vehicle available for purchase for the agreed settlement amount and the claimant did not purchase this vehicle within five business days after the date final payment is sent to the claimant, lienholder, or both; or
(ii) The appraisal provision was previously exercised.
The insurer’s total loss vehicle valuation report must include:
(1) All information collected during the initial inspection assessing the condition, equipment, and mileage of the loss vehicle;
(2) All information the insurer used to determine the actual cash value of the loss vehicle;
(3) A list of the comparable motor vehicles used by the insurer to arrive at the actual cash value. This list must include:
(a) The source of the information used;
(b) The date of the information;
(c) The contact information for the seller, the comparable motor vehicle’s vehicle identification number, or both;
(d) The seller’s asking price;
(e) The sold price, if available; and
(f) The location or contact information for each comparable motor vehicle at the time of the valuation.
(4) When the insurer uses a computerized source for determining statistically valid actual cash values after meeting the requirements of WAC 284-30-391 (2)(b)(iv):
(a) The source must provide a list of comparable motor vehicles used to determine the actual cash value. If more than thirty comparable motor vehicles are used, only thirty must be listed.
(b) Any supplemental information must be clearly identified with a separate heading.
(c) Any weighting of identified vehicles to arrive at an average must be documented and explained.
(1) “Actual cash value” means the fair market value of the loss vehicle immediately prior to the loss.
(2) “Claimant” means, depending upon the circumstance, either a first party claimant, a third party claimant, or both and includes a claimant’s designated legal representative and a member of the claimant’s immediate family designated by the claimant.
(3) “Comparable motor vehicle” means a vehicle that is the same make and model, of the same or newer model year, similar body style, with similar options and mileage as the loss vehicle and in similar overall condition, as established by current data. To achieve comparability, deductions or additions for options, mileage or condition may be made if they are itemized and appropriate in dollar amount.
(4) “Current data” means data within ninety days prior to or after the date of loss.
(5) “File” means a record in any retrievable format, and unless otherwise specified, includes paper and electronic formats.
(6) “First party claimant” means an individual, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity asserting a right as a covered person to payment under an insurance policy or insurance contract arising out of the occurrence of the contingency or loss covered by a policy or contract.
(7) “Insurance policy” or “insurance contract” mean any contract of insurance, indemnity, suretyship, or annuity issued, proposed for issuance, or intended for issuance by any insurer.
(8) “Insurer” means any individual, corporation, association, partnership, reciprocal exchange, interinsurer, Lloyds insurer, fraternal mutual insurer, fraternal mutual life insurer, and any other legal entity engaged in the business of insurance, authorized or licensed to issue or who issues any insurance policy or insurance contract in this state. “Insurer” does not include health care service contractors, as defined in RCW 48.44.010, and health maintenance organizations, as defined in RCW 48.46.020.
(9) “Investigation” means all activities of the insurer directly or indirectly related to the determination of liabilities under coverages afforded by an insurance policy or insurance contract.
(10) “Loss vehicle” means the damaged motor vehicle or a motor vehicle that the insurer determines is a “total loss.”
(11) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle subject to registration under chapter 46.16 RCW.
(12) “Notification of claim” means any notification, whether in writing or other means acceptable under the terms of an insurance policy or insurance contract, to the insurer or its agent, by a claimant, which reasonably apprises the insurer of the facts pertinent to a claim.
(13) “Principally garaged area” means the place where the loss vehicle is normally kept, consistent with the applicable policy of insurance.
(14) “Third party claimant” means any individual, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity asserting a claim against any individual, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity insured under an insurance policy or insurance contract of the insurer.
(15) “Total loss” means that the insurer has determined that the cost of parts and labor, plus the salvage value, meets or exceeds, or is likely to meet or exceed, the “actual cash value” of the loss vehicle. Other factors may be considered in reaching the total loss determination, such as the existence of a biohazard or a death in the vehicle resulting from the loss.
(16) “Written” or “in writing” means any retrievable method of recording an agreement or document, and, unless otherwise specified, includes paper and electronic formats.
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