You were in a car accident. You probably have hundreds of questions and you do not know where to turn. The immediate aftermath of an accident is chaotic. You exchange information with other drivers, talk to people who may have witnessed the accident, and seek medical care.
This entire time, you are probably worried about what happens once your car is towed away for an insurance estimate, you notify your employer you will be unable to come to work because of your injuries, and you are worried about the impact of your injury on your family. These are all perfectly normal things for you to be thinking about.
Once you address your medical needs, and you are home and on the road to recovery, you know you have to contact your insurance company and advise them of the accident. You are not certain how that will work, so you leave it in the hands of the insurer to treat you fairly. After all, this is why you pay premiums every year to maintain your auto insurance—so when you are involved in an accident, you are protected.
Not so fast. The insurance company and you are often working towards a different end. You are interested in securing money to ensure your family does not suffer financially because of an accident caused by someone’s neglect. The insurance company is generally interested in keeping any final settlement as low as possible.
How Insurance Companies Minimize Claims
Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums. You pay your premiums with an understanding they will be there when you need them. Insurers collect premiums hoping that you never make a claim—that way their bottom line remains healthier. When you do file a claim, their goals change: to pay you as little as possible, thereby keeping their bottom line stronger.
Here’s how an insurance company will often protect its interests when you file a claim:
- Deny the claim outright - depending on the type of incident you report to your insurer they may simply deny your claim. While this is rare, it does happen. When something like this occurs, a personal injury lawyer can help you appeal their decision.
- Make a quick offer - this is a regular occurrence. The insurance company knows you are out of work. When you have a serious injury, like a traumatic brain injury (TBI) they also know the expenses will continue to mount up for weeks, months, or potentially years following your accident. The hope is you accept the offer and thereby let them off the hook for any future expenses.
- Minimize the value of your claim - the insurance company may ask you to release medical records before making a settlement offer. This may seem normal, since they want to see what injuries you suffered in the car accident. Just remember, that form is probably asking for unfettered access to all of your medical records. This may provide the opportunity to undervalue your claim. Here is how: Let’s say 10 years ago you injured your back on the job and you have suffered from back pain intermittently since that time. If your car accident resulted in a back injury, they may blame your pain on a preexisting condition. Therefore, they will make a lower offer.
Those victims of car accidents who do not contact an attorney for help early on may find they are taken advantage of. Can you get a settlement without an attorney? Yes. Will it be a good settlement? Probably not so much.
With Insurance Company Negotiations, Strength Matters
An insurance company will often slow down the claims process, or try to get out of paying you a fair settlement. This is simply a fact—they want to create a situation where they can pay as little as possible, and they are not afraid to leverage whatever they can to achieve their goal.
Insurance companies do not work alone. They have a team of attorneys working in the background helping them understand their legal liability when you file a claim.
When you do not have an attorney, they are dealing from a position of strength because:
- You may not fully understand your rights
- Victims tend to not understand the worth of a claim
- They know you want to settle your claim because you are out of work and you are living on a reduced paycheck and your savings
This is why it pays to have someone advocating on your behalf. An attorney who has experience handling car accident claims is well-versed in the tactics insurers use, and they are committed to fighting to get the maximum compensation a victim of a car accident is entitled to collect for their injuries and other losses.
What Losses Can I Claim Following a Car Accident
The first thing to be aware of is that every claim is different and, in some cases, your choice of insurance coverage could impact your ability to collect certain types of compensation, depending on the state in which you live. Make sure you have reviewed your insurance policy and if you do not understand some of the language, contact your agent, or an attorney to get clarification.
You may include certain classifications of losses in an initial insurance company claim. An attorney who has experience with car accidents can help you make a complete determination of how to calculate your losses.
The better documentation you keep, the more you bolster your claim, and the easier you make your lawyer’s task.
- Lost Earnings - when you must leave work for an extended time, you may have an employer-sponsored disability plan. Depending on how much coverage it offers, you could collect between 40 and 70 percent of your income. That is, however, still significantly less than what you generally make.
- Cost of Medical Treatment - regardless of your insurance coverage’s quality, it may not cover all procedures, and you may need to pay deductibles. Any excess medical treatment that insurance does not cover becomes your responsibility, even if you cannot pay it immediately.
- Medication Costs - pain medication, antibiotics, lotions, or creams to minimize scars. You may need these medications following a car accident. If your insurance company does not cover them, you can include them in your insurance claim.
- Care and Assistance - household chores do not wait for you to recover from your injuries. Tasks you typically handle on your own, such as routine lawn care, childcare, and other normal household tasks that you cannot perform while you recover may require you to hire someone. You can include these expenses in your claim.
- Travel Expenses - sometimes you need a specialist to evaluate your injuries or provide the best possible treatment for your injuries. If you must travel to get appropriate medical care, you can include the expenses of getting back and forth in your accident claim.
- Personal Items Damaged in Accident - when you are in a car accident, the last thing you are thinking about is your clothing, cell phone, or other personal items in your car. It could be days before you realize you have broken items because it could take days before you can access your vehicle. You can include damaged property in your insurance claim.
- Vehicle Repairs or Replacement Costs - the damage to your car is also compensable. Repairs are often possible but when they are not, then you may be entitled to replacement costs, so you have a vehicle once you can drive again.
- Missed Events - did you have a family vacation planned? Were you supposed to travel to a friend’s wedding and had to change your plans because of your accident? If so, then you may collect damages for the financial losses you suffered from having to abandon these plans.
- Pain and Suffering - this category of non-economic losses is challenging to calculate, which is why working with a skilled attorney can be beneficial. Someone who understands the injury you suffered, the time you need to heal from the injury, and the extent to which you will have to live with pain can calculate pain and suffering from a car accident.
You may not understand the various components associated with these complicated calculations.
For example, when you are losing wages, you are losing more than your hourly pay. Your benefits could change as well—if your employer makes deposits to a pension plan on your behalf, or you would be normally entitled to personal days depending on your work hours, you are losing these as well. The accident may affect other benefits. The only way to get a full and proper accounting is to work with someone who has a deep understanding of personal injury laws.
Hiring an Attorney With Insurance Company Experience
When you work with a personal injury lawyer who has a proven track record of settling claims for their clients, you know that means they have experience working with insurance companies. They have credibility with insurers and an insurance company is likely to take them seriously. Naturally, one cannot base future success entirely upon past successes, because no two cases are the same.
Keep in mind, when a car accident lawyer successfully negotiates settlements for their clients, word gets around. Securing money for a car accident victim is their responsibility and one they take seriously. This is why most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. They believe when they accept a case, they have the opportunity to secure a settlement. They also know that when they win a case, other insurance companies find out about it, and insurers become more likely to negotiate fair settlements.
You want the best possible settlement so you can recover your financial status, which can suffer from a car accident injury. Your recovery must be your primary focus. Negotiations with insurance companies can be complex: You may not always know your rights or understand what you deserve following an accident.
Never enter into negotiations without legal help. A lawyer can work on your behalf, ensure you do not sign any papers that hurt your settlement, and make sure you fully understand each settlement offer the insurance company makes.
Remember, even when you hire a lawyer, they will never accept or reject a settlement offer without discussing it with you first. Additionally, they will know from experience when the insurance company offered too little or when it is likely the final offer. Additionally, an experienced car accident lawyer will prepare to plead your case in court if the insurance company insists on not making a reasonable settlement offer.
If you are one of the hundreds of accident victims who suffered an injury in a car accident that was not your fault, you should know your rights. You can protect your rights by contacting a car accident attorney as soon as possible to find out your legal options and get the best possible settlement for your injuries.