Negotiating car insurance settlements
"Should I hire a lawyer?" You probably should, particularly if you are seriously hurt. There is just too many things you can screw up on your own without an experience lawyer guiding you past the minefields. These insurance companies are not looking to negotiate a settlement for you in good faith. Their goal is to give you as little money as possible for your injuries. Moreover, the laws governing accident claims are complicated and sometimes the very opposite of what you would think they are.
But if you are not going to listen to this advice -- and many of you will not -- here are some thoughts on proceeding without counsel.
Get Your Own Pictures
Preserve photos of your vehicle, any visible injuries that you have, and the scene of the accident. This is critical to establishing fault for the accident and giving the adjuster or a jury the best evidence of just how badly you were hurt.
Get Only the Medical Treatment That You Need
Tips on Settling with Individual Insurance Companies
Some people ask how much medical treatment they should receive. It is a good question. The answer is that you should listen to your body and listen to your health care providers. If you do that, you will get as healthy as possible as quickly as possible while doing the best thing for your case.
The myth that getting medical treatment that you don't need will help you case is just that: a myth. Some patients get more treatment than they need, thinking that they are creating value for their case. Sadly, sometimes they are. But in the vast majority of cases, they are not increasing the value of their case -- only the medical bills they are required to pay back. These people are also taking up the time of a doctor or other health care provider who could be using that time to treat someone who really needs help.
There are a lot of things that you may need an advocate for if you are badly hurt. One of those things is not "how much medical treatment should I get?" That is an issue for you and your doctors alone.
Do Not Give a Recorded Statement or Medical Exam
Most adjusters tell injury victims that to process their claim, they need to give a recorded statement and have their doctor evaluate you. It is nonsense. Recorded statements and insurance company medical exams (which they will call an “independent medical exam”) have one purpose: to provide cross-examination material against you in settlement negotiations and against you if your case goes to trial. You have enough disadvantages representing yourself without giving them another arrow in their quiver. Do not give the insurance adjuster ammunition you do not need to give.
If it is an uninsured or underinsured motorist case, the appropriate course without an attorney is less clear. Some insurance contracts require you to do a medical examination a recorded statement, although some jurisdictions have laws that override this contract language. Without a lawyer, you are left with the choice of either harming your case on the one hand, or possibly voiding your coverage on the other. This is one of those cases where you might want to get a competent personal injury lawyer on the phone and try to get a little free advice because this is one of those things that can really destroy your case.
Figure Out What the Statute of Limitations on Your Case Is
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Either call a local lawyer, or at the very least use Google to try to figure out what the statute of limitations is in your case. Without having a lawyer review your case, you are taking a risk on this because there are general statute of limitations and sometimes more specific statutes in some jurisdictions. For example, in many states, a claim brought against a governmental agency has a statute of limitations that is a small fraction of the general statue of limitations. But if you are going to proceed on your own, you need to do anything you can to be certain what the statute of limitations is.
In most cases, you will be fine without a full analysis, but obviously, you are running a real risk on this one. Also, don't think you can file a lawsuit at the last possible moment with risk. Statutes of limitations are draconian rules that are often construed very narrowly. To best protect yourself from err - and this applies to attorneys and people filing their own claims - move the case forward to file a lawsuit sooner rather than later.
- List of statutes of limitations for each state
Tell Your Health Care Providers What They Need to Know But Only Just That
You need to be honest with your health care providers about any questions they ask you about your medical history or your current injuries. But you also have to remember that everything you say ends up in your medical records. So if you hurt your back five years ago lifting weights, you may want to leave out the part about it being in prison while you were serving a sentence for armed robbery.
Don’t Lie to Anyone
Most of our lawyers used to handle cases for insurance companies. The big mistake we saw people make time and time again is that they shade the truth or flat out lie, thinking that no one will ever know. Who could possible know that I hurt my back 8 years ago in an accident in Florence, Arizona? The insurance company - that is who. It is counter intuitive for some but the best way to maximize the value of your case is to be completely truthful to everyone at all times. This does not mean offering information that you do not need to provide. But it does mean that you should not tell anyone anything or put it in writing unless it is 100% accurate.
Do Not Sign a Medical Authorization or Provide Prior Medical Records
Insurance claims adjusters will tell you that you can just get medical treatment and they will collect your medical bills and records for you. This is a bad idea, giving the insurance company a chance to rummage through your life medical history to find things to use against you in settlement negotiations. Collect your own bills and records and forward them to the insurance company yourself.
- Sample HIPAA authorization to collect your own medical records
Demand Letter to the Insurance Company
Get all of your medical bills and records, documentation of your lost wages, and anything else you need, and send them to the insurance company. Provide them in an indexed package that chronologically orders the records. The problem of proceeding without a lawyer is that you have no idea how to figure out the value of your accident case is or what to include in your demand package. Accordingly, and this is a judgment call, you may want to consider just sending in the bills and records without making a demand. Let them go first and make you an offer. This is particularly helpful if you, like most victims handling their own case, have no real idea what you are doing. Who knows, maybe they will offer you more than you would have demanded. You can get a sample demand letter here and here.
How Much Should I Demand?
The short answer is that we have no idea. The value of a case is based on scores of variables and you really can’t know the true value of your case because you lack the necessary experience. For example, one big issue that you might not be thinking about: venue. In Maryland, for example, jurisdiction in Baltimore is a huge value driver as opposed to a rural county in western or southern Maryland.
Unless you have seen hundreds of these cases and have seen how judges and juries respond to similar facts and injuries, you really have no clue as to the value. But as long as you understand this is the risk you take without a seasoned personal injury lawyer, you have to figure out what you think is reasonable and pick a figure that is higher than that number, but no so high as to tell the insurance company that you are unreasonable or have no clue what you are doing. This is awfully tricky if you do not handle injury cases everyday.
Again, we do not recommend proceeding without counsel in the vast majority of cases. There are just too many land mines to settle your own car accident case, much less filing suit, to go forward without an experience advocate with a history of results. But if you are going to go it alone on your accident case, many of these tips should serve you well in most cases. Good luck!
- Sample demand letters in various personal injury cases
Other Personal Injury Resources
If you plan on handling your own case without hiring an attorney, you are behind the 8 ball. Your opponent knows a lot more than you do and is literally trained on how to take advantage of you. This is a list of resources you can use to gain more information. Our website a number of resources below that will not close that gap for you but will hopefully narrow it.
- 8 Mistakes Car Accident Victims Make in Settling Their Own Case
- An example of how insurance companies confuse accident victims on the applicable law and what how much money they are entitled to recover
- Take a look at the kind of demand letter to the insurance company that get you the money you deserve
- Why You Should Hire a Lawyer in the Vast Majority of Personal Injury Cases
- Details on Settling a Personal injury Claim (settlement information)
- Valuing Personal Injury Cases (explanation of how auto accident cases are valued)
- Want More Information? Call Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082 or get a free on-line consultation.