Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: May 3, 2022

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Key takeaways...

  • Insurance is a financial product that protects your assets and income when you’re involved in a loss
  • If you hit a pole and have a liability-only plan, your plan will only pay to repair the property that you damage
  • You must carry collision coverage under your policy for your insurance to pay for your own vehicle repairs
  • Damage to your car must exceed your collision deductible, or you will be on the line to pay for all of your repairs
  • If you file a single-car accident claim, you will have an at-fault accident claim on your record for three years

Making mistakes is part of life. The key is to make your mistakes and learn from the experience.

When it comes to driving, a single mistake behind the wheel could result in both damage and injuries. It makes sense then why states require applicants to meet certain experience and training requirements before anyone is granted a driver’s license.

Even the most cautious drivers get into accidents.

While hitting a pole with a car may not fit the definition of accident in your mind, your insurer will classify this single-car incident the same way that a multi-car collision is classified.

You never want to get into a collision, but if it happens, it’s reassuring to know how the claims process works.

If you have recently gotten into a car accident, or you hit a pole and need better coverage, compare at least three to four policies today! Enter your ZIP code above to begin!

Will your insurance pay for damage if you have basic coverage?

Auto insurance isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of product. By law, everyone who owns a car is required to maintain basic liability coverage, but each of these policyholders also has the option to purchase a broader range of coverage for more protection.

What you need under your policy might differ from what others need and can afford.

When you carry strictly what’s required under a financial responsibility law, your insurance will not pay for damage to your car after you’re involved in a run-in with a pole.

A basic policy strictly covers the damage that you’re liable to pay for after you’re negligent in an accident. Only damage to property that you don’t own will be covered.

Collision coverage covers repairs to your car in the event of a collision with another vehicle or an inanimate object like a pole. It’s a good idea to add this insurance coverage to your policy. If you hit a pole, the first thing to do is call your insurance agent or company to file a claim. They will investigate the accident and determine if they should cover the incident.

The insurance company will cover all the damage to your vehicle up to your limit, minus your collision deductible. The amount of your deductible will depend on your policy and coverage.

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Can you be billed for damaging public property?

Your bumper may be mangled, but you have more important things to worry about when you hit a pole on public property. Anytime you own a vehicle, you are at risk of being liable for damage each time the vehicle is taken for a ride.

It doesn’t even matter if you’re the one who’s driving the car as long as it is registered in your name.

You may see yourself as lucky that you didn’t hit another vehicle, but you’re still liable to pay for the damage to the pole.

Just a few years ago, the Department of Transportation started invoicing drivers who were cited for damaging stop signs and other poles. In fact, more than two million dollars in invoices were sent by the Indiana Department of Transportation alone.

Each state uses a different billing method when sending drivers bills to cover damage to public property sustained in an auto accident.

Some states will simply bill the legal owner the full cost of the replacement item. Other states will charge the cost of the item plus engineering, labor, and administrative expenses.

Will your basic insurance pay for property that you damage?

You should call your insurer to file a claim immediately after you are involved in any collision where property is damaged.

You aren’t required to report a claim if only your own vehicle is damaged, but for the sake of protecting yourself, you should always notify your insurer you could have a potential claim on your hands.

Under a basic insurance policy, you have coverage for property that you damage.

You could damage someone else’s vehicle, a bench, a fence, a building, or a pole. As long as you have no legal interest in the property, your insurer will pay up to your Property Damage Liability limits to repair or replace the property.

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When should you file your property damage liability insurance claim?

By filing your Property Damage claim right away, your insurer can negotiate with the state or city to issue sufficient payment for the pole.

If you wind up waiting to file the claim in hopes of avoiding a rate increase, there’s a chance the insurer could deny the claim. It all depends on how long it takes the state to send you an invoice.

If your car wasn’t damaged, and you weren’t aware that you had to inform your insurer of the loss, you can submit the invoice to your agent when you receive it.

As long as the cost of the pole or all of the behind-the-scenes costs are less than the limits that you hold on your auto insurance policy, the entire bill should be covered. There is no deductible for property damage claims.

Of course, you can’t file a claim against the pole for hitting it.

If your car sustains significant damage after the accident, you need to have a full coverage plan, or you will have to pay for your own repairs. If you have full coverage insurance, you can file a collision claim and the insurer will pay for most of the damages.

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What happens if you don’t pay for damage to public property?

If you can be linked to property damage on public property, you will get a notice demanding payment.

The notice is not just a sternly written mail piece that is trying to get you to pay up. If you don’t respond to the notice and you don’t submit a payment, you can be penalized.

The penalties for failing to pay up vary from state to state.

In some states, you can lose your driving privilege for ignoring the notice and choosing not to notify your insurer.

Other states don’t revoke your license or suspend your plates, but they will seize your state income tax refund until the entire balance is paid off.

How much does public property cost?

If you’re tempted to just pay for the public property on your own in hopes of avoiding a rate increase, you could be shocked at how expensive the property is to replace.

Here’s a breakdown of some common replacement costs:

  • Pole-mounted traffic signal — $3,000
  • Overhead traffic signals — $75,000 to $100,000
  • Parking meter poles – $700
  • Guardrail — $800+ for the rail and labor
  • Standard street light pole — $5300+
  • Stop sign pole — $500+
  • USPS mailbox — $750
  • Roadside sign — $260+

How much will the insurer pay for repairs?

Unlike Property Damage coverage, there isn’t a fixed limit saying how much the insurer has to pay to repair your car. The limit is broader and up to interpretation when it comes to collision claims.

Under your contract, it says the insurance company will pay only up to the actual cash value of the vehicle.

If the front-end damage affects the mechanical components under your roof, chances are that the repairs will cost more than the car is worth.

When repairs add up, the vehicle will be declared a total loss. You can either sell the car to the insurer or keep the car and decide to fix it with the money that you receive.

If you hit a pole, having the right level of insurance can make the process of learning from your mistake much easier. You never realize how expensive these streetlights and road signs are until you are billed for them.

Be sure that you’re prepared to pay for the damage by purchasing sufficient insurance. If you don’t think your liability limits are high enough, start getting online quotes instantly to see how much it will cost to raise your limits.

Start comparison shopping by using our FREE online quote tool! Enter your ZIP code below to get the best auto insurance rates!