After a major car accident, you will have to deal with insurance companies. You’ll usually be relying on them to pay your medical expenses, as well as in many cases your property damage and your lost wages.
Yet dealing with insurance companies is never easy and it’s never straightforward.
Yes, you can negotiate. However, without a lawyer’s help, you are unlikely to receive a fair settlement if you were seriously injured in the car accident.
Bringing in a lawyer means bringing in the threat of a lawsuit. That makes a difference.
If you’re not seriously injured then you’ll usually be able to negotiate directly with the insurance company. I advise this all the time for cases where the car accident injuries are not serious and the property damage is light.
Tell them you’ll think about it and then call a lawyer to consult. You’ll usually get a lowball offer at first. If you had to go to the ER, if you have major injuries from the car accident, that offer is going to be far too low.
At least find out from a lawyer what your case is probably really worth. Find out whether you have a case worth pursuing and whether you could be owed a lot more.
First, gather the following:
• Your medical bills.
• Pictures of the car.
• A policy report.
• Medical records from your doctors.
You’re entitled to collect:
• The full value of your medical bills, including out-of-pocket co-payments.
• Your wage losses.
• Pain and suffering.
While many people will try to tell you that you can use three times the medical bills to determine the value of your case, it doesn’t always work that way.
The only real leverage you have, if you don’t have serious injuries, is small claims court for cases where the offer is too low. You could also go to a TV-style personal injury lawyer. They handle thousands of cases and they tend to rubber-stamp low value cases. They’ll often settle the case for you for even less than the insurance company would offer.
For most people who have small accidents, take what you can get the insurance company to give, and be happy you weren’t more seriously hurt. The cases of the severely injured might be worth far more money, but they come with a lot more life-changing pain too.
There are four things you should never say to an insurance adjuster.
1. Don’t ever talk about fault.
2. Don’t talk about your prior medical history.
3. Do not talk about how much insurance you have.
4. Do not agree to be tape recorded.
They will use any of these mistakes against you. They may even come back and tell you that the accident was your fault and so they won’t pay a dime. They will tell you that your previous injuries aren’t their responsibility and you’ll have a hard time arguing the extent of the exacerbation on your own. Or they’ll try to kick the responsibility back onto your insurance company, which could get you into a fight with two companies or even raise your rates.
Make a demand for the insurance company to pay you based on your bills, records, police reports, copay, and out-of-pocket receipts. That means you need to be prepared with all of those documents!
As in all negotiations, the person making the demand starts high. The insurance company starts low. The two sides will go back and forth until there is either an agreement or an impasse.
If there is an impasse, and you have a small case, go to small claims court. If you use a lawyer for a small case, they will take a cut and you will have to pay costs, so you could wind up with less money. If your case is worth less than $20k it won’t make much sense to go to court as the cost of litigating the case will generally be higher than the cost of going to court.
In a serious case, the insurance company usually comes to you first, whereas you usually have to make a demand in a small case.
You can always counter, but in a serious case, you won’t have a lot of leverage. If you believe your case is serious and your medical bills alone are in the thousands of dollars then it is time to call in a lawyer.
Settling a car accident claim with an insurance company
One way or another, once you accept a settlement the case is over. A settlement says the case is closed. Once you accept the money you will not be able to sue. In general, you want to try to at least get the worth of your medical bills, lost wages, and something for your pain and suffering.
If you had to go to the ER, call a lawyer to at least go over the facts of your case. You’ll be better off and you’ll have a better sense of what your case is worth. The lawyer will have the leverage to negotiate closer to what the case is worth. You’ll typically walk away with a lot more money than if you are dealing with the insurance company yourself.
Statute of limitations
Remember, there are strict laws called statutes of limitations that apply to all personal injury cases. If you wait too long to file a lawsuit and blow the statute of limitations, you get nothing.
Were you driving for work?
Read my post on Car Accidents While Driving For Work: Who Is Responsible?