Dealing with car accident claims procedure

Bit of a dull topic, I know, but when have just been hit, you need to know this.

I have just been driving (mostly slipping and sliding) outside on the A5 in a blizzard today so this is a well timed post for anyone who has just had a bump or worse. In fact I was late changing my tires this year and only did it yesterday which turned out to be amazingly good timing.

In case you don’t know yet, the basic rule is that you should change from summer to winter tires in October and back again in April. Your insurance may not be valid if you have the wrong tires on for the season. For many people this whole concept of changing tires with the season is a little odd. In the UK we kept the same all weather tires on all year. But once you live in a country with real mountains (no, the Peak district doesn’t count) and serious snowfall, you will begin to appreciate winter tires. Doesn’t mean I have to like paying to change them though (or remembering to do it on time).

Back to topic though. In Germany, there is a common practice of checking up on car insurance companies to make sure they don’t pull a fast one on the repairs. If you are the victim of an accident or have to claim repairs on your vehicle due to third-party damage then it is in the insurance company’s best interest to get your vehicle road worthy for as little money as they can get away with. Some companies have a good reputation but others, especially the cheap ones, often cut corners. Therefore, you are entitled/recommended to get an independent damage report from an independent engineer and not simply rely on the insurer’s offer.

It is worth noting at this point that if you caused the accident then the rules are different. You are not entitled to choose an independent assessor and you are bound by the terms of your insurance. This prevents fraud with people intentionally crashing their cars.

What happens if you are the victim in a crash is that you call one of the licenced independent assessors who provide a full assessment of what the insurance company should do to make your car perfect again and how much it should cost. They also provide a realistic quote for the current value of the car (without repair) in case it is a write-off. This report is sent directly to the insurance company who can either accept the new assessment or argue in court. In all cases, the insurance company has to pay the cost of the independent assessment and the legal costs. You have nothing to do or to pay.

There are lots of companies providing this independent service – even TÜV themselves offer this – but as far as I can see only one company offers this process, and lots of additional advice, entirely in English in the Frankfurt area: Sachverständigenbüro Hunger & Kock. The reports and assessments that are generated are heavy on technical terms so an English version and someone friendly to talk you through the whole process can save you hundreds of euros. You can also mandate a lawyer of your choice free of charge to complete the claim settlement for you. You can either ask Kock to arrange this for you or find one on your own.

There are a few possible outcomes from this process:

  • the insurance company agrees with the independent damage report and repairs are carried out
  • the cost of repairs is higher than the value of the car. In this case you are entitled to claim the full cost of repairs in cash as detailed in the report, minus the salvage value of the car (so that you can buy a similar car… or not)
  • the insurance company agrees with the report but you want to do the repairs yourself. You are entitle to take the full cash value, excl. VAT, of the repairs and carry out repairs independently (or not and just keep the cash)

Beyond just claiming the repair or salvage costs, here are a few other things you are entitled to claim:

  • loss in value of the car (even if the repairs are carried out, the value of the car goes down)
  • downtime/rental car costs (normally up to 14 days)
  • pain and suffering compensation (something that the lawyer needs to sort out)
  • €25 compensation for postage and phone costs
  • and in case you need to buy a replacement car, associated costs like travel, registration, license plates etc. are covered

But let’s just hope that you never need this info 🙂

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