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Major auto insurers looking at claims involving Toyotas

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Posted: 2 pm ET

If you've paid out-of-pocket for auto expenses or insurance deductibles as a result of the recent Toyota safety recall, your auto insurance company may have your back -- and a check. That is, if it can prove that your Toyota's runaway accelerator caused the damage to your wallet.

According to the Associated Press, at least six major car insurance companies, including Allstate, State Farm and Geico, are combing through past claims that involve the recalled Toyotas.

Under a longstanding insurance industry practice known as subrogation, automakers usually agree to reimburse auto insurers for claims that were a direct result of a defect in one of their vehicles.

Toyota's fortunes in the U.S. market began unfolding like a damp origami figure with its initial floor-mat recall in September 2007. The automaker eventually expanded its pull-the-mat recall and a gas pedal recall that affected 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S.

Despite a televised castigation of Toyota Chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda by Congress, it remains unclear exactly what causes the suspect vehicles to suddenly accelerate out of control. More than 100 wrongful death lawsuits are stacked up in court, many of which contend that the defect runs deeper than floor mats and gas pedals.

What is known is that 5.3 million Toyotas have been recalled in the U.S. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked the safety defect(s) to 52 deaths to date.

What sort of windfall can owners of the recalled Toyotas expect should the automaker agree to pony up for their car repair bills? Typically, auto insurance companies will refund the deductible amount that the policy holder paid before their coverage kicked in, but only if it's abundantly clear that the defect played a role in the accident. 

Kudos to the auto insurers for watching the backs of their customers. That said, don't hold your breath waiting on the check. Given the speed at which this rocky road trip has unfolded thus far, there is little reason to expect a sudden acceleration in compensation for its victims.

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