Auto accidents are traumatic and stressful. When you’ve been injured, you’re in pain, and your vehicle was damaged, it may be tempting to reach for a simple solution. So if the at-fault driver offers you a check, it may seem like an easy and bureaucracy-free answer. Or if the at-fault driver’s insurance company pressures you to settle quickly on a “one-time offer,” you may feel you don’t have the time or energy to refuse.
Resist the temptation. Here is why it’s not a good idea to accept a check from the driver or their insurance company – and what you should do instead.
When the at-fault driver offers you money and compensation
Never accept money or other compensation from the other driver. In such a situation, the other driver is clearly thinking of his or her own interest, not of yours.
First, you have no way of determining the full cost of damages at the scene of an accident. Car repairs can be far more expensive than they appear. Sometimes, structural damage to a vehicle’s frame is not obvious. This level of damage usually results in a car being totaled even it doesn’t appear that serious from the outside.
It is unlikely a driver is going to offer you cash on the spot to cover this level of vehicle damage. You should also never trust offerings of a check or other unsecured form of payment because it is likely you will never collect that money. The check could bounce, and you’d be left high and dry.
Second, you have no way of determining your medical costs due to the accident. You may feel you are not injured. But the symptoms of some injuries, especially whiplash, may not be noticeable while your adrenaline is pumping in the hours after an accident. A day or two later, symptoms may manifest that will cost you significant amounts of money in medical bills and physical therapy. It is unlikely the other driver would give you a check that would cover this amount.
This is also why you should always seek medical care after an accident. A physician may be able to diagnose injuries that you cannot yet detect. If you do not get diagnosed right away and later discover you have injuries that you wish to list in the accident claim, you may not be able to claim those injuries.
Third, accepting any amount of money directly from the driver could dramatically hurt your ability to claim further damages in court. The other driver and his or her insurance company could argue that you accepted what amounted to a settlement and had no further expectations of compensation. Even if your legal team is able to get around this, you don’t want to willfully do anything that will hurt you in court.
If a driver doesn’t offer money at the scene, they may attempt to offer you money later. The same rules apply no matter when the driver is offering money. You should never accept it. If you find yourself in this situation, consult with an attorney.
When the insurance company offers you a quick settlement
Insurance companies understand all too well the predicament most injured drivers are in during the first weeks or months after an accident. Many drivers have been injured, they are unable to work, and medical expenses are piling up fast. They don’t want to think about a prolonged lawsuit or haggling with the insurance company. They need money now and are thinking primarily in the short term.
The truth is insurance companies want to get away with paying people as little as possible. That’s the nature of the business. As a rule, they pressure accident victims to settle quickly. They convince accident victims to take offers that are very likely less than they deserve. These settlement offers may seem like enough to cover medical expenses and vehicle damage. But they often exclude other types of damages. For example, non-economic damages such as pain and suffering are almost never included in an initial offer, even if they would be easy to claim in court.
Consult with an experienced attorney
An experienced attorney is the best person to examine the value of your claim and judge whether a settlement offer is fair for your case. Insurance companies expect to haggle back and forth until a fair settlement is reached. Their initial low-ball offer is intentional.
It can take time to assess the full damages of your case. An attorney can also argue for many things most drivers don’t think of at first. For example, many injuries have both current and future medical expenses, such as the need for physical therapy. This value must be included in the settlement and will probably need to be negotiated heavily.
The Lamber-Goodnow Personal Injury Legal Team offers free, no obligation consultations for accident victims. We get paid only when you get paid.