Disputes over the values of automobiles and trucks involved in total loss claims are common. There are three points of view to consider – the car owner’s opinion, the insurance company’s opinion and the findings of an umpire who is hired when an impasse occurs. Resolution of total loss disputes by invoking what is known as The Appraisal Clause is becoming more common as insurers tighten purse strings. What is the appraisal clause? It is simply an insurance provision allowing either the insurer or the vehicle owner to demand a binding appraisal of damaged property in the event of a dispute as to its value. An independent appraiser is hired by both sides. If they can’t agree, The Appraisal Clause can be invoked by either party. One would hope that this process produces equitable settlement amounts but it doesn’t always work that way. Both retail and fair market value can be subjective. Insurance companies place certain roadblocks such as only recognizing comparable vehicles from tight geographic areas. Insurers disallow recognized sources of book values such as NADA, preferring to use the CCC valuation method which was developed for the insurance industry. Often misrepresentations of prior damage and conditioning or inadequate allowances for mileage differences occur. Even more complicated and arbitrary are Appraisal Clause proceedings involving diminished value.
TOTAL LOSS DISPUTES – THE APPRAISAL CLAUSE
If the car owner and the insurance company disagree on the value of the vehicle, either may make a written demand to invoke The Appraisal Clause. Each party will select a competent and impartial appraiser. It is preferable that both are licensed appraisers in at least one state and that both comply with USPAP guidelines. The two appraisers, if in disagreement over the value, will select an umpire. If the appraisers do not agree on an umpire, the matter goes to a judge of the court having jurisdiction.
In the event that The Appraisal Clause is invoked and an umpire is necessary, each party will pay its chosen appraiser and bear the expenses of the umpire equally. This means of alternative dispute resolution is designed to effectively and cost efficiently resolve disputes by avoiding the typical legal process. Arbitration, also known as mediation, acknowledges the existence of a dispute. Each party has the right to specify the credentials of the umpire. The naming of a third-party to serve as an umpire is not a selection until the other has agreed to accept him. He must be both competent and disinterested. Independent appraisers being considered as umpires that receive most of their work from insurance companies have often been considered “advocates” rather than disinterested parties and subsequently disqualified. The same would apply to independent appraisers who derive most of their work from, for example, a large automobile leasing company or network of dealerships.
In order to trigger The Appraisal Clause, both parties must be unable to agree on the value of the property or amount of the loss.The umpire should be free of undue influences and not have prior relationships with any party involved. This strengthens the expectation of good faith in the selection process. The umpire’s authority is usually limited to determining the value of the property. Issues such as coverage, liability, causation and exclusions should be determined before The Appraisal Clause in invoked. Appraisal awards are most often made by umpires who are not experts in law or the judicial process but their rulings are typically enforceable. Umpires are not free to disregard pertinent evidence lest their awards be set aside by magistrates. Both the claimant and the insurance company are bound by the obligation to exercise good faith and fair dealing in the context of The Appraisal Clause. It is not permissible for either the claimant or insurance company to engage in any tactics designed to defeat the appraisal process from its objectives. Neither party may engage in conduct designed to unreasonably postpone, delay or prevent The Appraisal Clause and the subsequent settlement.
The Appraisal Clause in total loss disputes has become the methodology of choice for resolving disputes over the values of automobiles and trucks. The St. Lucie Appraisal Company is an expert in the field of valuation appraisals for all types of motor vehicles in all 50 states. Our clients are assured of competent reporting and, of course, credible participation in the arbitration and mediation process.
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