If you discover your car has been stolen, it can be an incredibly stressful and frustrating situation.
As a former licensed car dealer, I’ve helped a few friends and customers through the steps of reporting their stolen vehicle, managing insurance claims, and even pursuing legal action in certain cases.
Based on my experience, here is my guide on exactly what to do next and when you may need to consult an auto theft attorney.
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The first few hours are critical for recovering your stolen car and minimizing potential damage or loss. Follow these initial steps:
- File a police report immediately. Provide all relevant details about your car, license plate, VIN, and theft location. Faster reporting increases chances of recovery.
- Contact your insurance within 24 hours to submit a claim. Supply police report case numbers, theft details, and any other information requested.
- Inform friends and family and post on social media. Additional eyes in the community aid police searches.
- Consider rental car coverage if your policy includes it until the car is recovered.
Unfortunately statistics show less than half of stolen vehicles are returned. So additionally:
- Discuss replacement or reimbursement options with insurance if not found after 2-3 weeks. If unsatisfied, consult an attorney.
- Thoroughly inspect the car if recovered, noting any damage to inform authorities and insurance.
While straightforward theft claims usually don’t require legal help, you may benefit by hiring an attorney if:
Falsely Accused of Fraud
- Up to 20% of stolen vehicle claims face fraud accusations often without merit according to insurance lawyers.
- But charges for false police reports or insurance fraud carry serious fines and jail time.
- An attorney defending you can contest wrongful allegations or negligence claims if not involved.
Stolen Car Caused Other Damages
- Car thieves frequently commit other crimes with stolen vehicles.
- If your stolen car injured others or caused property damage, accident lawyers can advise if you carry any liability.
- An attorney can also represent victims correctly pursuing restitution from the perpetrator rather than falsely accusing you if not at fault.
Disputes Receiving Fair Insurance Settlements
- Conflicts occasionally arise between owners and insurers over stolen vehicle payouts.
- Specific lawyers focusing on car insurance claims and policies can better negotiate on your behalf if the insurer undervalues your reimbursement.
- Legal expertise maximizes replacement cost recovery in disputed or total loss settlements.
For straightforward stolen car cases, legal costs often provide more value concentrating efforts on police and insurance processes instead. But in complex or contested situations, don’t hesitate to enlist an attorney protecting your interests and rights.
Understanding Laws and Penalties Around Auto Theft Crimes
While hoping car theft never personally impacts you, it still helps knowing state laws defining related criminal and civil violations. Punishments vary based on type:
Grand Theft Auto
- Charged when stealing another’s vehicle either temporarily or permanently.
- Typically a felony with over 1 year in prison plus fines and license suspension possible penalties.
- Involves briefly borrowing a vehicle without permission but returning.
- Usually a misdemeanor with fines and possibly up to 1 year in jail.
Receiving or Reselling Stolen Vehicles
- Knowingly accepting stolen property carries separate legal consequences.
- Can be either misdemeanors or felonies depending on car value and state.
- Fines, multi-year prison sentences, and license revocation all possibilities if convicted.
Passengers in an unknowingly stolen vehicle rarely face charges unless clearly aware. But safety should still come first disengaging from suspected criminal plans with indemnity guarantees applied contextually.
Finding the Right Criminal or Insurance Lawyer If Needed
If facing accusations around a stolen vehicle or wish to pursue civil damages from an identified perpetrator, specialized legal experts can advocate for your rights. Consult an attorney if:
- Falsely charged for filing a false report, insurance fraud, or stealing your own car. A criminal defense lawyer challenges questionable allegations.
- The stolen car was involved in an injury accident or damaged others’ property. Personal injury lawyers determine liability.
- Not adequately compensated by insurance settlements over a total loss. An insurance attorney better negotiates payout disputes.
When interviewing attorneys, ask specific questions about their experience with auto theft cases to assess sufficient expertise. And many lawyers offer free initial case evaluations to determine how they can assist you.
Can I Sue the Person Who Stole My Car?
Beyond criminal charges, you may also take legal action seeking compensation from the identified car thief through a civil lawsuit.
Proving liability connects damages suffered directly to the defendants’ illegal actions. Types of potential stolen vehicle losses claimed often include:
- Loss of transportation, earnings, rental car costs
- Repair bills for recovered vehicles
- Total loss coverage gaps between settlement and replacement value
- Personal property stolen from the vehicle
- Emotional distress
To successfully sue for a stolen car, key elements include:
- Naming the at-fault party responsible
- Documenting financial and personal damages
- Proving culpability ties damages directly to the theft
- Filing within statute of limitations (often 2-3 years)
Having an attorney represents your interests navigating litigation complexities and facilitating appropriate restitution recovery. And they work maximizing compensation through settlements before needing to go to trial.
So beyond just criminal consequences, civil courts provide an avenue seeking lost asset reimbursements and punitive redresses from those who stole your car in some cases. Let me know if you need any other details on potentially suing auto theft offenders.
My Final Thoughts
Taking prompt actions, knowing legal rights, and securing representation (if warranted) help remedy stressful car theft predicaments. Let me know if any other questions come up!
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Instead, all information is for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Furthermore, the law differs in each legal jurisdiction and may be subject to interpretation by different courts. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney to obtain accurate legal advice with respect to any particular issue or problem you may have.