I had a car accident in California, other guy's fault, car totaled, but the driver's insurance company will not cover all of my costs. What are my options now?

When you are involved in an auto accident with another driver who is at fault, either he or his insurance company is responsible for making you "whole". That means that you are entitled to be put back into the same position you were in prior to the accident, financially speaking. No better, no worse. Suppose, for example, your 2005 Honda Civic was totaled in the accident. It was in very good condition and was worth (Kelly Blue Book value) $14,000, but it was dented before the accident, so the insurance company is deducting $1500 from its value and they are willing to pay $12,500. If the insurance company is going to get the salvage, you should get that $12,500. In addition, you should not be out-of-pocket for any other costs resulting from the accident such as the cost of storage, a rental car both while you're waiting for settlement and while you're shopping (for a reasonable time) for a replacement vehicle, sales tax, title fees, registration on your new vehicle, etc.

If the insurance company for the at-fault driver is refusing to pay "all costs", find out why -- and get it in writing. There are many reasons why an insurance company might refuse to pay all costs. Perhaps they don't think your costs are reasonable, maybe you rented an expensive car, kept the rental way too long, or perhaps liability is an issue. In any event, speculating won't help you. You need to find out from the adjuster why they will not pay all your costs, and, specifically, what specific costs they are unwilling to pay.

In California your own insurance company is not required to pay for your sales tax, registration and title fees associated with purchasing a new or used car to replace your totaled vehicle under your Collision coverage. If, however, another motorist is at fault for the crash, public policy dictates that you can collect from that person's insurer all costs you incur directly because of the car wreck, including the costs associated with purchasing a new car after your old one is totaled. The bottom line is that you have the right to recoup the costs related to fixing the life disruption you experience as a result of the accident.

What can you do?

If the reason for not paying all costs has to do with liability not being clear, and you have collision coverage and rental car coverage on your own policy, have your insurance company take care of paying you for your totaled car and a rental car. However, they may or may not cover storage and the other fees since they are not contractually liable to do so unless your policy specifically includes it. Therefore, you would still be out-of-pocket for those fees.

If liability is not the issue, but they won't pay the fees because they say they don't owe it, you will need to take some legal action. In California, you can sue the insured and the insurance company in small claims court for up to $7500, or in superior court for higher amounts. Make sure you have documentation for all the fees that you had to pay as a result of the auto accident in order to ensure your likelihood of success.

For more information on California auto accidents, click on the following articles:

How much can I get for my auto accident claim and injury in California? How much is my case worth?

Can I be liable if my car is rear-ended in California?

How is responsibility in California determined after a car crash? Who is at fault?

My car, driven by a relative, was involved in a car crash in California. Am I liable for injuries and damage to the other person if my relative is negligent?

How do I protect my rights when I'm involved in a car accident in California?

The other driver involved in the car accident in California had no insurance. What is my recourse?