How to Handle Your Own Car Accident Claim
Should you get a lawyer for your car accident case? There are personal injury car accident claims where you do not need a lawyer. Mostly, we are talking about minor injury cases involving subjective injuries that resolve within a few months, and other claims where the injuries are not substantial.
These claims may, in some instances, be handled without a lawyer. But if you choose this path, you need to do research and get some advice on the best way to proceed.
First, a word of caution. Severe injury and death cases are completely another matter. Hiring an experienced lawyer with a track record of success will almost invariably put more money in your pocket than you would handle the case yourself.
We put this section on our website because we know accident victims are going to try to handle their own cases. We provide here some food for thought (not legal advice) on how to settle with the insurance company after a car crash for those of you making that effort to try to resolve the case yourself.
- Figuring out how much your case is worth
- Insurance company tricks
- Sample settlement letter
- Consult with a lawyer for free online
When do you need to call a lawyer? When you need to call a lawyer depends on the size of the case. In a wrongful death or catastrophic injury case, we are going to be gathering evidence from day one. You do not leave any stones unturned in these cases. Because the stakes and the amount of money involved is too high.
In these types of serious injury and wrongful death claims, our law firm is quickly gathering experts to reconstruct the accident, inspect the product, get witness statements, download the truck's black box, getting the medical records or whatever else might be needed immediately.
But in small cases where lawyers are not going to be gathering evidence and getting experts immediately, there is more likely to be some time. If you are going to get a lawyer, it is always better to get one sooner rather than later because even a small case might need immediate action. (Most common immediate need: get witness statements.)
If you are going to take the risk and delay, do not talk to anyone about how the incident happened or the extent and scope of the injuries.The Eight Biggest Mistakes Victims Make
Below are eight common mistakes victims make in handling their accident claim that hurts the settlement and trial value of their claims:
- You Gave (or Will Give) a Recorded Statement
- You Demand Too Much or Too Little
- Assuming the System Makes Sense
- Taking the Insurance Company’s “Final” Offer
- Settling the Case Without Knowing the Full Extent of the Injuries
- Assuming the Insurance Company Will Stand Behind Its Admission of Liability
- Failing to Understand the Interplay with Insurance Liens
- Falling for the Notion that the Insurance Company Is Trying to Be Fair
Most insurance claims adjusters tell victims that they need a recorded statement before making a settlement offer. Nonsense.
Insurance adjusters use anything you say completely out of context to knock down your settlement offer, or they pass along the information to the insurance company’s lawyers to give cross-examination fodder against you at trial.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. In some personal injury accident cases involving an uninsured or underinsured claim, the case is legally a breach of contract claim that may obligate the client to give a recorded statement.
When our attorneys do allow for these statements, we set them up under controlled conditions to limit any damage the client can do to the case.
The consequences of asking for too little is obvious. But just as damaging to your effort to maximize your settlement is demanding too much in your demand letter. “Too much” does not mean asking for more than the insurance company will pay. But if your demand is beyond what the case is worth on its best day, you are sending a red flag you don’t understand the value of your accident case. (Here's some information to help you understand case value.)
Why is this a problem? When you signal you don’t understand what the value could be, you are implicitly sending the message you may be willing to settle for less than the value of the case because you don’t know the value. Let’s say you demand $3 million to settle your case. But, under Maryland law, your maximum recovery for the case because of caps on non-economic damages is $2 million.
By demanding more than the value, you telegraph to the insurance company that you don’t know the value of your claim. When your case does settle, there will be a good chance you left a lot of money on the table. Because an insurance company’s response to a ridiculous demand is not to make a real settlement offer.
The take-home message is that if you do not understand how personal injury accident claims are valued, you risk going in the wrong direction.
So much of Maryland accident law has evolved over time. These rules are fashioned to meet very different objectives to achieve fairness. What has resulted is a very Byzantine system that mostly works but is, in the micro, very counterintuitive.
This complexity benefits those who best understand the system which means that victims and inexperienced accident lawyers get the short end of the stick. Moreover, the law can be confusing. What you think are well-established rules of the road may not be.
This website contains a ton of information on what you need to know. Read it. Do your homework. Understand what the law really is. Because if you show an adjuster that you do not understand the relevant issues, it is like a shark getting dumped with a bushel load of plasma.
Insurance companies often directly or indirectly present their proposal as a final offer. People representing themselves have no psychological leverage to push for a higher offer because the threat to sue – at least not in a serious case – is hollow without the means to do it. Many victims take the first offer and leave their money on the table. In our business, there is a final offer, and then there is a final, final, final, offer. They are usually different numbers.
If you have been seriously injured and are looking for a quick settlement, you are almost invariably going to get less than the value of your accident case. To give the insurance company a reason to make something approaching a reasonable offer, you need all of your medical bills and records and often written comment from a doctor – either a treating doctor or “independent” medical expert – as to the extent and scope of your injuries. If you settle a case before you have all of the documentation you need for your claim, you have little chance of receiving fair value. Our law firm will not even consider taking a case if the client is trying to settle the case before her doctors understand the full scope of her injuries.
Insurance companies often claim that they know their insured was responsible for an accident and want to settle the case. Later in the settlement process or if a lawsuit is filed, this can change. Fast. You have to proceed with the collection of witnesses and other facts as though the case will go to trial… even after the insurance company tells you that they will “take care of you.” Even if they stand by their claim, the details of the accident matter. What did the Defendant say after the crash? Where was the Defendant going to/from? Was the Defendant on an errand? What was the extent and scope of the property damage? All of these things may seem moot after the Defendant admits liability. But they matter. It is important to get the facts under control from the beginning.
Victims do not understand how to deal with health insurance or other healthcare liens. Sometimes, having a lawyer adept at understanding and resolving the lien problems with the case is more important to how much money the client recovers than how well the attorney negotiated the settlement.
The ramification of the mistakes usually lies at two extremes: (1) paying the health insurer (or Medicare) far more than you are obligated to pay, and (2) jeopardizing your health insurance because you have failed to understand your lien obligations.
So not paying these liens can get you in trouble. But so can not getting these best possible reductions in those liens.
Is is fun to mock insurance companies. We know because we do it all of the time. But insurance companies are not evil. The insurance lawyers and claims adjusters we deal with are primarily good people. But their goal is not to be fair with you. Their goal is to pay you as little as possible.
You don’t need a lawyer in every car crash case. Arguably, in some accident cases with minor, soft tissue injuries you may very well be as well off without an attorney as you are with one. In severe injury cases, there is no question that you need a lawyer to protect your interests.
Our firm offers free consultations online. Our lawyers handle only serious injury claims, primarily in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Call us and find out if we can be of assistance to you in maximizing the value of your personal injury claim.Property Damage Claims
- Getting a Rental Car (overview of the rules and what you can do)
- Sample Expert Witness Diminished Value Report (sample report from expert underscoring factors that go into a diminished value property damage claim)