If you’re in a car accident and the opposing party’s insurance company offers you a settlement, you don’t necessarily need an attorney. But consulting with one is highly recommended for many reasons, especially if your injuries and medical costs are severe.
Auto accident victims who worked with a lawyer received 3.5 times more compensation than those who worked directly with the insurance company, according to a study from the Insurance Research Council.
Consider motivation. Insurance companies are motivated to give you as little money as possible. A personal injury attorney is motivated to get you as much money as possible. Of course, it’s not quite so simple. Some cases are fairly cut-and-dry, with one driver clearly at fault and ample evidence to prove so. But most cases occupy a gray area that makes it difficult to determine liability and reach a settlement. So let’s explore the issues involved in making an insurance claim after an accident.
Negotiating a settlement on your own
If you’ve sustained injuries in an auto accident that was not entirely your fault, you may be entitled to receive compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and more. As soon as possible, you can file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company on your own. They’re usually available online, or you can call and file that way. This sets the process in motion, and you don’t have to do anything at this point but wait for a reservation to rights letter.
The reservation to rights letter will say that the insurance company is going to investigate the claim you filed, but by doing so they don’t admit that their insured driver is at fault or that they will offer any settlement.
Next, you would write a demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. This letter should include all the facts of the accident and the extent of your injuries. You then calculate all of your “special” damages – quantifiable costs such as medical expenses, property damage, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Then you guesstimate “general” damages – qualitative things like pain and suffering. Typically, general damages are calculated by multiplying the total cost of the special damages by a number between two (for minor pain and suffering) and five (for more severe pain and suffering). On top of this, you would add lost wages if you missed work or will be unable to work in the future.
After this, you will be offered a settlement by the other driver’s insurance company. This offer will likely be low. The insurance claims adjuster might say your settlement demand is too high and the damages were too small to give you your requested amount. They might put pressure on you by claiming they’re making you a one-time offer for a limited time only. Obviously, it’s in the insurance company’s best interest to settle quickly and for the lowest amount possible.
At this point, you can write another letter outlining a counteroffer. Clearly, this process gets complex and onerous. It’s also not easy to know what is a good or bad settlement when you have no experience in this area. That’s why it’s wise to consult with an attorney in cases where a lot of money, time and suffering is at stake.
Working with a personal injury attorney
When you consult with a personal injury attorney, you will typically not pay by the hour as one might expect. Instead, your personal injury lawyer will likely get a “contingency fee” – around 30 percent of your total settlement.
The Lamber-Goodnow Personal Injury Legal Team offers free, no-obligation consultations, so there’s no risk. We get paid only when you get paid.
When you consult with a lawyer, he or she will discuss the details of the accident, whether and to what degree another person was negligent, the extent of your injuries and expenses, and your legal options. If you decide to retain counsel, your attorney will investigate your claim. This may involve examining police reports, the accident scene, photographs, witness testimonials, medical bills, your employment history and earning power, and more.
Your attorney may also consult with accident reconstruction experts and medical experts. In some cases, your lawyer may subpoena video surveillance footage and information from the vehicle’s black box. He or she will determine liability, attempt to get you the most compensation possible, and anticipate the possible defenses of the insurance company or opposing party.
Your attorney will then write a strong and effective demand letter. The Lamber-Goodnow Personal Injury Law Team actually sends demand packages – iPads filled with videos, photos and all of the documentation. It’s important to make a significant impression on the opposing party.
The opposing party will then either accept, reject or make a counteroffer to your demand. If your case cannot be settled up front, your attorney may also file a lawsuit seeking compensation for you.
Your attorney will conduct all the communication with the insurance companies and the other party’s lawyers. He or she will also be able to advise you on what is a good settlement and what is too low.