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How do I get my deductible back from the at-fault driver?


Question: I was hit by someone who did not have insurance on their car. I had full coverage so I was covered, but I had to pay my deductible for an accident that was entirely the other driver’s fault.  How do I get my $1,000 deductible back?

Answer:  I understand your frustration over your situation.  A deductible of $1,000 is a lot to pay when you weren’t at fault for damaging your vehicle, but luckily you did have full coverage so that you weren’t left holding the bag for the full cost of repairs (or total loss of your vehicle).

Typically, in instances where you have to use your own collision car insurance though you weren’t at fault, there are two ways in which to try and recoup your deductible amount.

The first is to let your own auto insurance company do the work.  Your insurance company will subrogate (legally pursue) the at-fault driver for the money it paid out for the repair of your vehicle. 

Your insurance company may automatically offer to try to recover your deductible as part its subrogation process.  If it fails to offer, then make your own request -- and ask how long it can take.  In many cases, it can take months or more for an insurance company to receive any type of payment from the at-fault party.

It could be that your insurance company will determine the at-fault party has no assets to pursue and won’t be able to recover all of the money it paid out, let alone your deductible amount.  The insurance company’s primary objective is to get its own money back; your deductible being repaid is secondary.  So, don’t be surprised if the company tells you in a few months that it was unable to recover your $1,000.

The second option is to legally pursue the at-fault party yourself by filing a  small claims lawsuit against the individual. 

Small claims courts have simplified procedures so that people can file and present their cases (without a lawyer) relatively quickly and inexpensively.   You normally must be 18 to file a claim, and there are certain rules about where to file the case, the time frame in which you have to do so, and the monetary limit that you can sue for, which all vary by state.

If you want to file a lawsuit against the other party to recover your deductible, contact a local clerk of the court for information, or go online.  Most state courts have their own website that explains the procedures for small claims cases, such as this New Jersey court site, or there will be state consumer site, like in California, where the Department of Consumer Affairs details small claim procedures.

It appears you may be located in North Carolina; here the Legal Aid of North Carolina site carries the guide to small claims.

If you do prevail in court and receive your $1,000 (plus court costs), then notify your car insurance company so that if it is still subrogating the claim it will no longer pursue your deductible amount.  You cannot be reimbursed twice for the one deductible you paid out.

Also, if the $1,000 deductible was hard to come up with, you may want to think about lowering your car insurance deductibles, though that would raise your car insurance rates.  (See “Will higher deductibles save you money?”) After comparing quotes for different deductible amounts, you can decide what amount is right for your financial situation.

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