People often confuse filing a personal injury claim with going to court. Most of the time, a personal injury settlement can be reached without ever filing a lawsuit. An agreement occurs when the two parties negotiate to reach a settlement amount that is reasonable. Sometimes the injured person attempts to handle the negotiation on his or her own. But they rarely get the best outcome when they handle the negotiations themselves. Insurance companies are known to use every trick in the book to take advantage of them.
Negotiating is a fine art that requires skill and experience. When it is used to settle something as important as a personal injury claim, it is best left to a trained professional. The process follows a fairly structured process that needs to be understand in-depth. There are many ways to do the case substantial harm. A personal injury victim only has one chance to get a fair settlement. He cannot afford to gamble on his own capabilities.
Before you talk to anyone about your personal injury settlement, you should talk with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows your rights. The first meeting is free and will be invaluable.
What Is a Personal Injury Claim?
Personal injuries occur to a person due to someone else’s negligence. The most common cause of personal injuries is vehicle accidents. The injured victim has the legal right to seek compensation for his damages from the at-fault party.
Personal injury claims fall under the heading of tort law. For there to be a tort, there must be a legal duty to act in a certain way, a breach of that duty, causation and injury.
Very few personal injury claims are paid by the person who caused it unless an underinsured company is involved. Few individuals have the resources to pay a claim directly from their bank accounts. There’s no real benefit to filing a claim or suing an individual who doesn’t have the money to pay. On the other hand, a skilled personal injury attorney knows how to find all of the person’s sources of money to get their client the best possible recovery.
If the at-fault person has insurance, that company is responsible for paying the other person’s claim. The injured victim reports their injuries and files a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. If the at-fault person is not insured, he will file a claim with his own insurance company. After receiving the claim, the insurance company’s claims adjuster will determine if the claim is valid and how much he believes it is worth in court.
Insurance claims adjusters count on the individual’s naivete and vulnerability during negotiations. They look for clues that the individual isn’t familiar with the process or the law. Some common mistakes people make when filing their claim are to not obtain the necessary proof of all past medical bills, future medical costs, or current and future lost income. The insurance adjuster might respond by making an offer that is too low to compensate for all of the person’s damages. Sometimes the injured party mistakenly believes taking the original offer is their only option. In any case, they need a lawyer to determine whether the offer is acceptable, or if it needs to be negotiated.
A personal injury attorney does not simply use a formula to determine a fair settlement for his client. Every crash is different, and so are the factors that go into determining the value of a claim. An attorney who specializes in personal injury law knows how to calculate the full value of a crash case. More importantly, he knows how to negotiate with the insurance claims adjuster to get a fair personal injury settlement. If the insurance doesn’t agree to a fair settlement, he will go to court to fight for his client’s rights.
One reason that so many personal cases are settled before they ever go to court is the expense. Attorney’s fees, filing fees, deposition expenses, court reporters, and other expenses can mount up quickly. A court case costs both sides a lot of time and money. Negotiating a settlement that is agreeable to both sides results in more money for the victim to pay for their damages and medical costs.
Another reason is that trials are risky to both sides. There is no way to predict a jury’s decision until it hears the evidence and deliberates. Negotiating is often the best option because both sides have to agree to the outcome. There are no surprises. A bird in the hand can be worth two in the bush.
That’s why being experienced and skilled at the art of negotiation is so important to the outcome. Failing to get legal advice when it’s needed will make a big difference. It’s a one-time opportunity to get it right.
What You Need to Know About Negotiating a Personal Injury Settlement
If you decide to negotiate for a personal injury settlement on your own behalf, make sure you do it in a timely and efficient manner. Even if you don’t hire an attorney to represent you, schedule a free consultation to evaluate your case. You don’t want to get hung up on an important detail that you don’t know anything about.
Knowing and following the Three Ps of Negotiating is essential to your case. They are preparation, patience, and persistence. That counteracts the insurance company’s Three D’s of Handling Claims: deny, delay and defend.
Entering into a negotiation without adequate preparation makes you vulnerable to the tactics of the claims adjuster. It’s more than a matter of crossing your Ts and dotting your Is. The insurance company is looking for problems and mistakes, however slight, that could cost you thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.
Although negotiation is faster than a long, drawn-out trial, the negotiation process still moves slowly.
People who are used to resolving issues quickly will find it difficult to follow the steps of negotiation in a patient manner. Taking longer to reach an agreement can be an advantage. It gives them more time to think about their next step in the process if the negotiations don’t end there. The steps of negotiation begin as soon as the claim is filed. There’s not a lot of time allowed at the beginning of the process to get educated on personal injury law. The claimant needs to make the best use of the time in-between the negotiation steps.
The same is true for persistence. Getting a very low initial offer can derail some people’s claims. Often, this is a tactic the claims adjuster uses to test your knowledge. Never enter the negotiation process without knowing what your case is worth. Once you submit your claim, stick with your original documents that confirm the seriousness of your injuries and the validity of your need for medical treatment.
Step 1: Don’t Wait to File Your Claim
Report the accident and injuries to the insurance company right away. Many of them give you only a 24-hour period to do so. Today, many claims are filed online on the insurance company’s website. If that isn’t an option, they may accept claims over the phone.
Step 2: Don’t Wait to Hear from the Insurance Company
The insurance company may send you a “reservation of rights” letter soon after you submit your claim. This letter is to inform you there is a problem with coverage or liability and whether they plan to investigate your claim. Even if they do agree to investigate further, they aren’t admitting to any liability. If you haven’t already discussed your case with an attorney, now is a good time. You need to understand the full meaning of the letter and what it means for your case.
Step 3: Submit a Demand Letter to the Insurance Company
Once you have obtained medical treatment and healed from your injuries, you should send a demand letter to the insurance company. This letter should include
- Details of how the accident happened and the seriousness of your injuries.
- Your itemized damages, including your medical expenses, lost income, and any out-of-pocket expenses including co-pays and car rental fees. Your attorney will determine how much to include for these special damages, along with the compensation you deserve for general damages.
- Damages for pain and suffering. A ‘multiplier” is used to determine the amount of compensation you should receive for pain and suffering. The multiplier is based on the severity of the injuries, how long they last, and the pain you endure. Serious injuries often require pain management treatment. Long-term injuries and those that last a lifetime will cause more pain and suffering than those that heal in a few weeks or so.
Step 4: Wait for a Response
Once you submit a demand letter, the insurance company’s claims adjuster should respond. They may call you to make an offer or provide you with a return letter that includes a written offer. It is better not to talk directly with the claims director. Your personal injury attorney knows the tactics used by insurance companies to pay less. He will use his knowledge and skills to negotiate a better settlement on your behalf. He will make a counteroffer on the initial offer given by the insurance company and continue to fight to make the company pay top dollar.
Step 5: Reject an Offer That Is Too Low
You or your attorney should write a response letter to the claims adjuster rejecting the offer. In addition, the letter should include a counteroffer. This offer should be only a little lower than the original offer you made. Don’t let the claims adjuster minimize the extent of your injuries. Explain how serious they are and the impact they have had on every area of your life. The goal at this point is to keep the negotiations going without agreeing to a significant reduction in the amount.
Step 6: Wait for the Negotiations to Continue
Negotiation is a process of back-and-forth. Sometimes it can be difficult to wait on a response to your counteroffer. Patience is one of the most vital skills a negotiator has. The insurance claims adjuster might be taking their time to evaluate your claim. Maybe they know taking their time will make you more agreeable to a lower offer. Don’t step out of line in the negotiating process. If you submit another offer before you get a response, it will impact your case and result in your getting a lower personal injury settlement. After all, they aren’t going to agree to your original offer if you give them a better deal.
Step 7: Accept or Decline the Final Offer
If the claims adjuster accepts your last offer, they will notify you of the settlement agreement. At this point, the negotiations are over, and you will receive the settlement amount you submitted last.
If not, they may respond with a final settlement offer. If you feel happy with the offer, you will need to follow several steps to accept it. It’s a little more complex than receiving a check and cashing it.
- If the personal injury claim is due to an automobile accident and you have underinsured motorist coverage with your insurance company, you must obtain consent from your automobile insurer to accept the settlement. Otherwise, they may deny your claim for benefits from your underinsured motorist coverage.
- Most injured victims must use their personal health insurance to pay for their initial medical treatment. Once you receive your personal injury settlement, the insurance company must be reimbursed. This complex area of the law is called subrogation and requires the expertise of an attorney.
- Send a confirmation letter to the insurance company showing that you agree to the settlement amount. If you received and agreed to the offer over the phone, submit a confirmation of settlement letter to the insurance company which states the agreed upon settlement amount.
- Have your attorney review the terms of release before you accept the offer.
- Sign the release form and submit it to the insurance company.
- Take any additional steps suggested by your attorney. Every case is different. Make copies of all documents you send to the insurance company to keep for your records.
If you don’t feel that the offer is acceptable, the next step is to file a personal injury lawsuit. If your case progresses to this point, an attorney who is familiar with your claim is your most valuable asset. Even if you haven’t had legal representation up to this point, you need to have it now.
If you have filed a personal injury claim for your injuries from a vehicle accident, contact Berenson Injury Law. Bill Berenson is a top rated Texas attorney who fights for his client’s rights. Get the legal guidance you need to maximize your compensation and pursue your injury claims.