Settling car accident claims is as much an art as a science. Experienced personal injury lawyers rely on their knowledge of how juries decide cases and their understanding of the tactics used by different insurance companies to negotiate favorable settlements.
If you were injured in a California car accident and are thinking about settling your claim, here are the steps you might consider taking.
Decide Whether You Need a Lawyer
If your car accident involved property damage, you can avoid paying the deductible on your collision insurance by settling the claim with the other driver’s insurance company. You might need to negotiate about the cost of replacement parts and repairs, but many of those disputes can be settled without the intervention of a lawyer.
If you suffered a physical injury but did not seek medical care, you are entitled to modest compensation for your pain and suffering if the other driver was at fault. In most cases, people who suffered only from scratches and bruises can negotiate their own settlements.
When injuries are serious, however, insurance adjusters have an incentive to settle the claim for less than it is worth. Saving money for the insurance company is how many adjusters earn bonuses and promotions. Obtaining the maximum settlement value for an injury that did not heal within a few days often requires the assistance of a California personal injury attorney.
Don’t Settle Too Soon
Remember that as soon as you sign a release and accept a settlement check, your settlement is final. You can’t ask for more money later if you discover that your injury is more serious than you expected it to me.
No personal injury claim should be settled until your injury has healed and your doctor has released you from care, or your injury has stopped healing and your doctor believes you will have a permanent impairment. It can take many months to reach that point. Until you understand the impact your injury will have on your future, however, you cannot place a realistic value on your claim.
Also remember that if you do not settle or file suit before the limitations period expires, you will lose your right to recover compensation. If your injury has not healed within a month or so after your car accident, you should talk to a lawyer so that your rights are fully protected.
If you plan to settle your own claim, you will need to convince the insurance adjuster that the accident was not your fault. Lawyers do that by obtaining the police report, interviewing witnesses, and in serious cases, hiring an accident reconstruction engineer to determine where and why the accident happened.
Your medical records are part of the evidence. The records should show that you kept every appointment with your doctor and faithfully followed your doctor’s advice about seeing specialists or participating in physical therapy. If you don’t do those things, you reduce the settlement value of your case.
Insurance adjusters (and juries) tend to believe that people who don’t get recommended treatment don’t feel they need it. You might think you’re too busy to see the doctor or you might blow off physical therapy because it’s painful, but every time you do that, you undercut the settlement value of your case.
Make a Settlement Demand
Write a detailed letter to the insurance adjuster outlining the cause of the accident, the nature of your injuries, and the impact the injuries have had on your life. Support your claim with medical records, the accident report, and witness statements. End your letter with a settlement demand.
Try to generate sympathy without coming across as a whiner. That’s a difficult line to walk, and it’s one reason that an attorney can usually write a more effective demand letter than the accident victim.
Negotiate a Fair Settlement
Calculating the settlement value of a personal injury claim begins by adding up your economic losses: medical bills, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. An additional amount is then added for pain and suffering. Lawyers often multiply economic losses by a number between 2 and 5 (depending on the extent and duration of the victim’s suffering) to calculate pain and suffering, but the decision to choose a multiplier or to calculate pain and suffering in a different manner is one that personal injury lawyers base on experience.
The resulting damages are then reduced in proportion to the victim’s fault in causing the accident. That number is further reduced by the cost savings of avoiding trial. The end result is the target for a fair settlement.
A good rule of thumb is to ask for twice that value. Insurance adjusters expect to negotiate and if you don’t give them a chance to do that, you reduce the value of your case. If you ask for more than double the settlement value, you come across as greedy or unreasonable. That makes it more difficult to settle.
Settling a car accident claim for its full value is difficult if you don’t have experience negotiating with insurance adjusters and determining the claim’s actual value. That’s one reason why it makes sense to seek the help of a personal injury lawyer if the settlement value is substantial. Another reason is that insurance adjusters aren’t worried that unrepresented individuals will bring and win a personal injury lawsuit. Without the threat of a lawsuit by a lawyer with a track record of success, insurance adjusters have little incentive to pay what a claim is worth.