If you have been in a car accident and are seeking to make a personal injury claim, it is possible to settle without a lawyer. Personal injury claims generally cover incurred medical expenses, damages to property, lost wages from an inability to work, and pain and suffering. Typically cases settled without a lawyer are minor injury cases.
Minor injury cases involve minor vehicle damage and soft tissue injuries only. Typically the medical treatment doesn’t last more than a couple of months with expenses between $3,000 and $6,000.
Initial Contact with Insurance
You may not know the full extent or nature of your injuries for several weeks or months after the accident. Though at first, it may seem that your forehead was simply bruised, you may have sustained a concussion or a closed head injury; and that “stiff neck” might turn out to be a herniated disc. For these reasons, it would be wise not to settle too quickly. If you accept a settlement, the insurance company is not liable for any future claims.
If the insurance company has accepted full liability, you should obtain a copy in writing. By having a physical copy, the insurance company cannot later retract their acceptance of liability. This prevents the other driver from denying their own fault.
The next step is to negotiate the settlement. If your accident occurred in a no-fault state, you must pursue matters with your own insurance company regardless of fault.
You will need copies of the following documents: medical records and bills, photographs from the accident, witness statements (if applicable), your own detailed notes about the accident including your pain and suffering, and the police report (if applicable). Keep track of your receipts from purchases like prescriptions, crutches, and transportation costs. Insurance companies will pay “reasonable medical expenses” within policy limits. If the insurance finds a procedure unnecessary for your recovery, you may be responsible for the remaining bills.
Photographs will help establish the cause of the injuries and determine fault. It is important to take clear photographs as they provide context for your accident. If your injuries resulted in missed work, include employer documentation proving your lost wages.
To calculate fair compensation for yourself, you’ll want to total up the costs of all special damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and then, you may add one or two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering. If your injuries are extremely severe or leave you with recurring issues (whether physically or mentally), you may use a multiplier of up to 5, and in some extreme cases, may even go higher than that. Comparatively, insurance companies use a multiplier of 1-1 ½ for minor injury cases. The more serious the personal injury the higher the multiplier will be.
Settlement Demand Packet
This packet should include copies of all of your medical bills, auto repair bills, witness statements (if applicable), the police report (if applicable), and any other related receipts. After you send in this packet, the insurance adjuster will review your letter, along with all the evidence you submitted. By filing claims after you’ve recovered, you’ll be able to more accurately represent your expenses. Insurance adjusters want to settle as quickly as possible in order to reduce settlement offers.
After you file your claim, you will receive a Reservation of Rights letter from the insurance company. This standard letter declares that the insurance company has not yet accepted liability and will review your claim.
Insurance adjusters may ask you to sign a Medical Release form, allowing the insurance agent to review five to ten years of your medical history. You can modify the form before you sign, limiting the time period available for review. Insurance adjusters use previous injuries to write off your pain and suffering. Therefore, they will offer a lower settlement.
Negotiating a Settlement
After calculating your desired settlement, you now have a place to start your negotiations. The insurance company will try to save money by offering you a lower payout than what your case is worth. However, you do not need to accept their initial offer. Instead, you can counter their offer until you reach a compromise. The adjuster has to justify every offer they make you. In order to continue negotiating, you must be able to counter these reasons. Keep in mind that these negotiations may take several interactions before you reach a satisfactory amount.
After you have come to an agreement, be sure you write down the final settlement offer and the date thereof. When you read the Settlement and Release Agreement confirm that it matches your negotiations. The Settlement and Release Agreement is legally binding, once you sign this document, you relinquish rights to any future claims.
When to Seek Help From a Professional
You may want to hire a lawyer if you have been seriously injured, or you are filing a lawsuit. If the adjuster is unwilling to work with you, or your case is complex (such as those involving liens and interpleaders), you should not settle without a lawyer.
Do you have questions regarding your case? Call us now at 801-683-1948 to schedule a free legal consultation.