How to Handle Your Own Car Accident Claim
There are personal injury traffic collision claims where you do not need a lawyer. Minor injury cases involving subjective injuries that resolve within a few months and other claims where the injuries are not substantial may, in some cases, be handled without a lawyer. But you better do you research and get some advice on the best way to proceed.
First, a word of caution. Serious injury and death cases are completely another matter. Experienced counsel will almost invariably going to get you a better outcome in terms of how much money you ultimately put in your pocket.
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.How Long Should I Wait to Call a Lawyer?
Another question victims have is when do they have to make the decision to call an attorney. It really depends on the size of the case. In a death or catastrophic injury case, we are going to be gathering evidence from day 1 because some of that evidence is going to disappear.
In these types of serious injury and wrongful death claims, our law firm is quickly gather 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 8 common mistakes victims make in handling their own accident claim that really 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 exceptiions to this rule. In some personal injury accident cases involving an uninsured or underinsured claim, the case is legally a breach of contract claim which may obligate the client to give a recorded statement.
When our attoreys 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 demanding too little are 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 ridiculous is to not put the money they have on the table. This is a fine tactic if your plan is to file a lawsuit.
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 largely works but is, in the micro, very counterintuitive.
This 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 offer 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 hallow 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. To understand how important this is, understand that 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 accident? 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 and it is important to get the facts under control from the beginning.
Victims do not understand how to deal with health insurance or other health care 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 lie 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 largely 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 serious injury cases, there is really no question that you need a lawyer to protect your interests.
Our firm offers free consultations online. Our lawyers handle only serious injury claims but we are glad to talk to you about any potential claim you may have. 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)