Question: My car was recently caught in an evacuation zone of a tremendous Texas wildfire. I filed a claim in good faith, which was fast-tracked based on the last known location of the car being engulfed in the fires hot zone. The company quickly paid the claim, sight unseen with the weeklong wildfire keeping them, myself, and authorities from locating it. Several days after the claim was settled, paid, check cashed, and title signed over, the car was located in the midst of the fire zone, but with minimal damage once the fires were under control. Can the insurance carrier demand repayment and force me to take back my vehicle? Or, do I have the right to keep the already deposited settlement money, and force them to retain the vehicle?
Answer: No, your car insurance company cannot demand repayment and force you to take back your vehicle, which they already declared a total loss and paid you actual cash value (ACV) for as a settlement.
Your auto insurance provider is the one that decided to take such quick action on the claim before finding out what had happened to the vehicle. Now that it's been found with minimal damage, the vehicle should be your car insurance company’s property.
Your situation is similar to that of someone whose car has been stolen, their insurance company pays out for the vehicle's loss and then the car is recovered with minimal damage.
With car insurance, once the insurer has settled the claim, you sign over the title to the insurance company, and it becomes the property of the insurance company. Then if, the car is recovered with no damage, minimal damage or completely destroyed, the vehicle is the car insurance company's property to do with what they want.
Your auto insurance claim should have been closed out when your insurer settled with you. Since the vehicles has been found, your car insurance company should take possession of the vehicle, to sell and recoup the monies they paid out to you on your comprehensive claim. We haven't seen, in our many years of insurance, an auto insurance company that made the policyholder repay the settlement and take the car back.
The only way we would believe it would be possible is that there was some misrepresentation about the claim, such as the car was parked in the fire area when really it was many miles away in a safe zone. Since this is not what happened in your situation, you should be able to keep the settlement money and go on to buy a replacement car with it.
There are some car owners that would prefer to get their car back, instead of keeping the settlement money and buying a different vehicle. If that were the case, then you would negotiate, with your insurance company, to pay them for the return of your vehicle.