How to Handle Total Loss Claims After Car Accidents in California

Accidents happen! That’s why you have auto insurance. Yet car accidents are incredibly scary and stressful, even when no one is injured. This article will explain total loss claims in California: what they are, who to call, who determines if it’s a total loss and how to handle it. Insurance topics can get complicated. Don’t hesitate to contact RA & Associates if you need professional legal help.

What Exactly is a Total Loss?

  • A total loss occurs when it would cost more to fix a vehicle than the actual cash value of a car. If you drive a car worth $15,000 and you get in an accident and the damage to the car is $15,001, an insurance company will “total it out”. That’s the idea in a nutshell, that an insurance company isn’t going to pay any more to fix a car than what it’s worth.
  • If you own the car outright (you don’t make payments to a bank) the insurer will just cut you a check for the value of the car. It will get towed away to a junkyard. If someone wants to resurrect that car in the future it will have a “salvage title”; insurance companies, buyers and sellers will all know this car has been totaled out.
  • But what if you’re still paying for the car? Hopefully you purchased GAP insurance when you bought the vehicle. The whole purpose of this coverage is to cover the difference between what an insurance company will pay and what you owe.
  • It can get tricky if you are “upside down” on a car and owe more than the car is worth and don’t have GAP insurance. You’ll probably need legal help!

How to Handle Auto Insurance Claims in California

The first thing you do after a car accident (assuming you’re not hurt and not blocking highway traffic) is swap license and insurance information with the other driver. Never make statements about whose fault it was, even if you think it might be your fault. California has specific laws about fault and compensation in auto accidents.

Then you immediately call your insurer. Call your local agent or a toll free number on your insurance paperwork. They’ll start the claims process by asking you for details like:

  • Location
  • Information about you and your passengers (is anyone hurt, how many passengers)
  • Information about the other vehicle: model, make, color, damage you can see
  • Information about the other driver and passengers
  • Was anybody drinking?

It’s a good idea to call the police too, just to get everything on record.

Your Insurance Agent is Not a Claims Professional.

They can get a claim started for you, but it’s a whole different department that handles claims. Claims professionals have special training that covers car values, car damage, repair costs and the like. You will be working with a claims adjuster, not your agent, during your claims process. It is ultimately up to the claims adjuster to determine the cost of damage to your vehicle and get a check to you.

My Car is Trashed and the Other Driver is Uninsured!

You might need legal help! There are millions of people in California who are uninsured right now, possibly as many as 15% of all California drivers have no insurance. Hopefully you have full coverage or uninsured/underinsured coverage. If not, call a lawyer.

Another problem is under-insurance. While that’s really a deep topic that deserves it’s own article, to summarize:

California auto insurance minimums are nowhere near enough to cover damages in most accidents. As of 2019, the average price of a new car in California is over $34,000. If someone pulls out in front of your new $34,000 ride and they only have the state minimums for coverage… well you’d better have good uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage of your own.

As you can see, total loss claims after an accident in California can get tricky, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help.

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