The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported 128,420 crashes across the state in one recent year. Of these accidents, nearly 8,000 accidents involved large trucks. This represents nearly 7 percent of all accidents in Pennsylvania. While 7 percent may not seem like a lot, these accidents often involve far more serious injuries than ordinary collisions between passenger cars.
Large trucks outweigh passenger vehicles at a ratio of up to 20:1 and can cause tremendous damage even in seemingly minor accidents. At higher speeds, the results can be catastrophic. The scary thing is that these types of accidents have been increasing over the past several years. If you or a loved one has been injured in a large truck accident, contact a truck accident attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
Four Reasons Why It’s Usually Not a Good Idea to Accept the Insurance Company’s Initial Offer
Did you receive a settlement offer from the truck driver’s or trucking company’s insurance company? Before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Rarely is it a good idea to accept the first offer from someone else’s insurance company for injuries resulting from a truck accident. Below, we discuss why.
1. Insurance agencies are for-profit companies
In one year, State Farm, the largest auto insurer in the country, reported $8.8 billion in profit. After an accident, remember that the insurance company is not on your side. They are in business to make money. That means they want to settle your case for as little money as possible. Because of this, it doesn’t make sense for them to give you their highest offer from the get-go. Insurance companies hope that you will be so desperate for money that you will settle your case on the first offer, even if you know it’s less than what you deserve.
2. Your injuries may be worse than they initially appear
One of the main issues with accepting a settlement early is that you rarely have an adequate opportunity to gauge the full extent of your injuries, much less their financial impact on you today and in the future. How you feel physically and emotionally today may not reflect your condition next week, next month, or next year. You may discover next week that you need unexpected treatment or that you cannot return to work.
Never accept an insurance company’s settlement offer before (1) a doctor gives you a clear diagnosis of your condition and a prognosis for recovery, and (2) you have spoken with an attorney about the probable present and future costs associated with your doctor’s assessment.
3. You may have more than one source for obtaining money
Insurance policies have dollar-value limits which set the maximum amount of money an insurance company could pay as a settlement. What the insurance company making the offer might not tell you, however, is that the insured party may carry more than one insurance policy that covers your injuries. You may also not learn that the party with legal liability to you has plenty of assets available to pay as damages out of its own pocket. Finally, you may not hear that other parties have legal liability to you. For the reasons explained below, you could put your rights to seek compensation from other sources at risk by accepting an insurance company’s first settlement offer.
4. Settlements are Final and (Potentially) Wide-Ranging
Settlement payments are not “free money.” They come with strings attached. The most significant is that in return for the money, you give up all of your legal rights against the insurance company and the party it insures arising out of the truck accident. Some “settlement agreements” even require you to give up rights against other parties who may have liability to you. These agreements are permanent and irreversible. Once you take money from an insurance company, you cannot reopen your claim later on if you find the settlement wasn’t large enough to pay for your expenses.
How to Respond to the Insurance Company’s First Offer
So, you’ve received an offer. Now what?
Treat your case like an open investigation, because at this point, it still is. At the same time, you may also want to prepare to make a counter-offer.
The best way to balance these competing considerations is to speak to an experienced truck accident injury attorney right away. An attorney can help you take stock of the initial settlement offer, decide how much money you deserve (which is almost always more than the offer), and decide when and how to make a counter-offer. In the meantime, you can improve your chances of recovering maximum compensation for your truck accident injuries by doing the following:
Evidence plays a big role in every truck accident injury case. Lawyers use evidence to prove who is at fault and to show why you should recover damages. Pictures, videos, and documentation all constitute evidence that may prove valuable to your attorney. Gather them together and store them in a safe place until your lawyer asks to see them. Your attorney may also want a copy of the police report from the truck accident scene. You can get this online or by submitting a written request to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or your lawyer can get it for you.
Continue With Medical Care
Medical costs often represent one of the biggest components of damages in a truck accident injury case. That does not mean, however, that you should stop seeking medical care you need because of the expense involved. In fact, you could hurt your case by discontinuing treatment, which could give the insurance company an opening to argue that you are not as badly injured as you claim.
Be Careful With What You Say
If the insurance company contacts you directly, the adjuster will likely ask you to tell your version of the accident and to describe the extent of your injuries. It is best not to have this conversation at all, but if you cannot avoid it, be careful. One of the first things an adjuster may ask you is “How are you feeling?.” Your answer to this question may later be used against you. Try to stick to the facts when you talk to the insurance company and even your own doctor. Never admit fault or apologize for the accident.
Watch What You Do
It’s not just what you say, it’s what you do. Insurance companies look for ways to get out of paying you. At a minimum, they’ll likely look at your social media accounts. Don’t post pictures of yourself participating in physical activities or appearing “happy.” There’s also a chance that the insurance company will speak to friends or coworkers or send an investigator to surveil your activities. You need to watch how you act while your case is being litigated.
Do Not Sign Anything
There’s a good chance your settlement offer will come with a document to sign and send back to the insurance company. Do not sign anything without first consulting an experienced truck accident injury lawyer. You may be signing away your rights to further negotiation. In fact, you will probably see many forms throughout the process from your insurance, the other party’s insurance, and your doctors.
This is not a time to skim read these documents. Read all documents thoroughly and do not sign anything from the insurance companies without talking to an attorney. Be sure to keep paper copies of any communication you receive to hand over to your attorney.
The Insurance Company May Try to Lowball You
Receiving a low offer can feel discouraging. This is a normal part of the process. While it may seem unfair, many times insurance companies will use tactics to justify a lowball offer. This may include:
- Preexisting condition(s): If you have a previous injury, the insurance company may try to claim that the accident did not cause your current injury. Even if the accident was not the initial cause this does not mean the accident didn’t aggravate a previous injury.
- Shared fault: It’s unusual to see a case where a party admits 100 percent of the fault for an accident. The insurance company will likely try to show that you (or, at least, someone they do not insure) were somehow at fault for the accident. That’s why you need a personal injury attorney who can help prove fault and determine liability.
- Your age: As we age, our bodies naturally become more susceptible to injury. Age can contribute to injuries like herniated discs and broken bones. The insurance company may try to argue that your injuries were already there before the accident or that the accident wasn’t severe enough to cause a given amount of damage.
- Your credibility: Remember, the insurance company is always listening. For them, a personal injury case is a game of strategy. If they think they can get away with offering you less, they will. If you lie about the accident or exaggerate the extent of your injuries, a potential jury may not trust you. The same goes for admitting fault. If you admit any level of fault, it will be used against you. Be honest every step of the way, but be careful not to say too much.
How Insurance Adjusters Calculate Settlement Offers
If you have received a settlement offer, it may be helpful to understand how these offers are (or should be) calculated. The goal of a personal injury case is to help you recover and return to life as close to normal as possible. However, it’s not always possible to return to 100 percent.
Insurers and the parties they insurance typically find themselves on the hook for paying two categories of damages to injured truck accident victims. “Economic damages” pay the victims for their out-of-pocket costs resulting from an accident and injury, such as medical bills and present and future lost wages. Insurers and others have a relatively straightforward task in calculating these damages: It’s just simple math.
What lawyers call “non-economic” damages pose a somewhat greater challenge for insurers and others. These damages compensate a truck accident victim for the trauma of an accident that doesn’t come with a price tag attached, such as “pain and suffering” and damage to personal relationships. To make their jobs “easier,” insurance companies might try to justify a settlement amount for non-economic damages by applying a simple (or simplistic) mathematical formula, such as offering a “multiple” of economic damages.
Experienced truck accident lawyers know that pushing the settlement offer higher often requires digging into the evidence and showing the insurer why their offer does not stand up to the facts.
What Happens if You Decline the Insurance Company’s First Offer?
The short answer—nothing. You still have all of your rights, assuming you have not missed a deadline for taking legal action. Let an experienced truck accident injury attorney guide the process on your behalf once you say no to a first offer.
Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations
In most cases, Pennsylvania law gives truck accident injury victims two years to take legal action for damages. This means there is no rush to accept the first offer an insurance company makes. However, if you have received an offer, you should not wait to consult with an experienced attorney who can review your case and help you decide if the offer is appropriate. Don’t wait too long to talk to an attorney. There may be a time limit on your response to the insurance company’s offer. Additionally, you want to allow your attorney enough time to build a solid case before if you need to take legal action.
Get the Help You Deserve
Nothing is simple about getting injured in an accident involving a large truck, and that includes obtaining appropriate compensation from an insurance company. Do not jump at the first offer an insurance company makes. Instead, contact an experienced truck accident attorney.