Property Damage Releases Are Final

Before we consider the details involved in property damage insurance claims, I offer a word of caution about signing property damage releases. Most insurance carriers will pay for personal property damage and vehicle damage claims without asking the victim/claimant to sign a release. A property damage release is a contract where the claimant agrees to accept the proposed payment as full and final payment for all property damage claims arising from the subject collision. As long as the terms of the release are limited to property damage only, this type of release will not bar you from later presenting claims for personal injury. However, the property damage release would end any future right to receive additional payment for any other type of property loss claims.

If the insurance carrier asks that you sign a property damage release, you should not execute this document until you are absolutely certain that all property damage claims have been paid, including vehicle damage, damage to clothing and other personal property, injury to pets, financial loss arising from vehicle damage, diminution of value, unpaid towing, and unpaid rental charges. Make sure you have documented all property loss claims, and make sure that all claims are paid in full and to your satisfaction before you sign the release.

Personal Property Loss Other than Vehicle

If the auto accident was your fault, the only claims you can present for damage to personal property would be those specifically covered through the endorsements on your collision policy. In most cases, you will find no such coverage. Homeowner’s policies will occasionally provide coverage for damage/loss to expensive personal items. However, most non-vehicle personal property losses are not insured when the owner of the personal property caused the accident.

Innocent drivers and guest passengers can collect for damaged personal property through all liability insurance policies covering the at-fault vehicle and/or the at-fault driver. Typical items damaged include clothing, cell phones, items carried in the trunk or passenger compartment, and other personal items, such as eyeglasses or jewelry.

Non-vehicle personal property claims are paid only at fair market value. This is the value of the item as a used piece of clothing or personal property. Insurers do not owe replacement value. Further, insurers owe the lesser of repair versus replacement. They cannot be compelled to pay for repairs if the fair market value of the item is less than the estimated repair cost. Unfortunately, sentimental value also is not covered. If your personal property is unique or collectible, stand ready to provide thorough proof of full open-market value of the item. For rare items, you should seek the assistance of a professional appraiser who can provide the evidence necessary to secure the full value of items like antiques, jewelry, artwork, and other rarities. The responsible parties and their insurance carriers truly owe every penny your personal property loss is worth.

We occasionally encounter collisions that cause injuries to family pets. In these cases, liability insurers typically will pay all veterinary bills incurred following the accident. Technically, a pet is legally considered an item of “chattel,” or personal property. As such, the true legal obligation in fatal pet injury cases is simply to pay the fair market value that the pet would sell for in the pet market. Thus, whether the animal was a rare breed, whether the animal was used for breeding purposes to produce income, and the pet’s age and other qualities would be relevant to value determination. Frankly, the law should allow more compensation in these cases. Pet owners should be able to recover for emotional loss when pets are injured, but the law simply treats pet injury as a category of personal property loss.

Auto collisions also commonly cause damage to land and buildings. These items are also covered under the liability insurance policy. Landscaping, trees, and shrubbery are covered at the full, fair cost of labor and materials to repair the damage. The same rule applies for damages to building and structures. Some counties and municipalities will also present claims against the at-fault driver for damage to road signs and traffic controls.

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