The old adage, "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client" can maybe apply to accident victims who attempt to self-negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. It’s not uncommon for a personal injury attorney to get a call from a person looking for an opinion on a final settlement offer they've received from the insurance company.
The answer is sobering: the offer is often less than 10% of what the case is probably worth had critical mistakes not been made or if a good personal injury attorney had been involved from the beginning. Unfortunately, the accident victim is now being victimized by the profit-driven insurance company who is more than happy not to pay for doctor bills, long-term medical care and weeks of lost wages.
The Insurance Adjustors Agenda
If you’ve been injured in an accident, it’s never a good idea to trust the 'friendly' insurance adjustor, who claims to be looking out for your best interests. The insurance industry made billions in profit last year. How? By skirting payments to accident victims - not by being friendly. Today’s adjustors are routinely trained in effective "delay and deny" tactics intended to lower or deny compensation. That's the reason adjustors try to talk accident victims into settling their own claims.
If you’re looking to get a full and fair settlement, here are seven tips you should remember if you hope to build a strong case against the insurance company of the party that injured you:
1. Get a Lawyer
As mentioned earlier, get a lawyer right after the accident. An experienced personal injury attorney will help you avoid any number of legal mistakes that can weaken even the strongest cases. A good lawyer is fully aware of the statute of limitations that applies to a particular personal injury case and will ensure that the case progresses within that timeline. He or she will track your medical treatment so that the medical costs remain reasonable. And finally, the attorney will represent your interests when demanding a fair and full compensation from the insurance company.
2. Involve the Police
When the accident occurs, make sure you call the police at the time of the accident even if the accident is minor. The dispatcher will send police officers to assist and summon medical help if necessary. After investigating the accident, the police officer will issue a police report. Having a police record of the accident is important to your case, since it helps establishes the facts. Having no police report is problematic down the road when arguing with the insurance adjustor about how the accident happened or the liability of the driver at fault.
3. Get Information and Pictures
Never leave the scene of the accident without photographs, witness names and contact information. Most cell phones today have cameras, which you should use to photograph vehicle positions, body damage, skid marks and road conditions. Sometimes the police will take witness information and photographs, but never fully trust that this information will end up in the police report. To safeguard your case, it is always best to collect and keep this information yourself.
4. See a Doctor
If you think you’re injured in any way, immediately see a doctor or visit the hospital. It’s only natural for someone to ignore minor soreness after an accident and avoid the hassles of seeing a doctor. In many cases, however, pain from soft tissue injuries to the spine, muscles, joints, and ligaments – or even internal injuries to organs – are manifest days or weeks after an accident.
A visit to the doctor or hospital will help document your injuries and begin the necessary treatment as soon as possible, which can speed your recovery. In states with Personal Injury Protection (PIP), the bills for these initial medical visits and treatment are covered. So it makes sense to use this benefit and get checked out.
5. Don't Miss Doctors Appointments
Don’t miss your doctor’s appointments or allow gaps in your medical treatment. Your case will be significantly weakened if you skip even one trip to the doctor’s office or physical therapist. The insurance adjustor will argue that you obviously must not have been hurt too bad if you didn’t feel the need to keep your appointment. The end result will be lower or denied compensation.
6. Don't Give a Recorded Statement to an Insurance Representative
Don’t make a recorded statement to the insurance company without the knowledge of your lawyer. Your lawyer will help prepare you for any recorded statements with the insurance company so that all facts about the accident are fully expressed and that you don’t misspeak when confronted with confusing questions. The insurance adjustor is trained to ask 'innocent' questions designed to harm your case. Even a simple greeting of "How are you?" can hurt your case if you reply "I’m fine."
7. Be Realistic
And finally, have realistic expectations about what your case is truly worth. Most states have laws that allow accident victims to receive compensation for medical costs, lost income, and reasonable costs for your pain and suffering during recovery. The size of the final settlement can be affected by the seriousness of the injuries, permanent disfigurement, length of treatment, physical impairments, and insurance limits. For that reason, settlement amounts vary widely on a case-by-case basis. As you finish your medical treatment and negotiations begin with the insurance company, your attorney will have a better idea what your case is worth and will discuss possibilities with you at that time.
Avoiding mistakes is important to receiving a full and fair settlement. Following these simple common sense tips will ensure that your case remains strong from start to finish. If you have any question about your accident or legal rights, call a personal injury attorney. Since they work on a contingency fee arrangement, initial consultations are usually free and the caller is under no obligation.