Question: Last winter I totaled my car in a single-car accident. Even though all the reports stated it was due to road conditions and weather, my insurance company found me 100 percent at fault. I appealed the decision and was just finally found not at fault. I paid the $1,000 deductible at the time of the incident so I could receive payment for my totaled vehicle. Should my insurer have to return my deductible now that I've been found not at fault? I live in Massachusetts.
Answer: We commend you on going through the appeals process and obtaining an outcome in your favor. It can be a time-consuming activity, but saving yourself from a surcharge for the next three to five years is certainly worth it.
But you won’t get your deductible back. After all, you did make a claim against your collision coverage.
What you won is a clean record. You avoided a surcharge for this accident, and you are also much less vulnerable to higher insurance rates if you were to have another one. Some insurance companies will overlook a single fender-bender, but two at-fault claims is a big black mark on anyone’s insurance history.
If you ever decide to compare car insurance companies to find cheaper car insurance rates, you just made your work a whole lot easier. And we’re impressed that you found the value in working through the Massachusetts appeals board to remove a designation of fault. Given the number of wintertime crashes, more people should investigate the process.
Not all states have appeal boards. In Massachusetts, however, if you believe that you were not at fault at all, or not as much to blame as the insurance company says, then you can choose to go through an appeals process. The insurance regulator explains that you'll get hearing to explain your side of the accident and then receive a final determination of fault. The Massachusetts insurance division of the consumer affairs bureau has more information on appeals.
Car insurance companies in Massachusetts that follow the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) can issue a surcharge if you are involved in an auto accident in which your auto insurer:
- Determines that you are more than 50 percent at fault
- Pays out more than $500 out in claims, and
- You fall into one of the standard of fault categories (mentioned in the Code of Massachusetts, known as the CMR)
Single-car accidents, defined as when operating the only vehicle involved in a collision, is named as one of the standards of fault in 211 CMR 74.04 and says the driver shall be presumed to be more than 50 percent at fault. The good news for you and other winter drivers is that severe weather conditions can be taken into account by the appeals board and the surcharge can be overturned, as in your case.
When the Massachusetts appeals board finds that you are not at fault, then your car insurance company is required to refund any premiums it has collected that were associated with that accident -- but not your deductible.