Settling Car Accident Claims
Car accidents that cause property damage and injury often result in one side cutting the other a settlement check. However, getting to this point is often challenging. And for the injured party, getting a just payout requires the services of a skilled and experienced car accident attorney, more often than not.
While the law doesn’t require hiring a lawyer to represent your interests in a car accident case—you have the right to take on the insurance companies yourself—this is never a good idea.
You will need the aid of a competent car accident attorney if you are looking to maximize the potential of a significant payout for your injuries or property damage in as timely a manner as possible.
Never Represent Yourself in a Car Accident Case
In most instances, there is never a good reason why you would represent yourself in a car accident case. Instead, there are plenty of excellent reasons why you should hire a personal injury lawyer to advocate on your behalf.
Because your lawyer’s fee comes from the settlement you receive, you may want to take on the process alone to receive a higher payout. While this reasoning may seem logical, it fails to consider the sheer number of hours you will have to spend pursuing your car accident claim.
It also fails to consider a seasoned personal injury lawyer’s expertise. A lawyer can get settlements up to five times higher than the insurance company wants to pay. If you don’t have this kind of expertise on your side, there’s no way you can win these higher settlement payouts.
The higher settlement award or verdict justifies the lawyer’s fee many times over. Additionally, some cases that go to trial end in the defendant paying the injury victim’s attorney’s fees, meaning the injured party receives a full payout.
Claims and lawsuit processes are not “user-friendly,” nor should they be approached like an average DIY project. They require expert knowledge of criminal, tort, automobile, and insurance law.
The Adversarial Claims Process
After you have been in a car accident in which you suffered an injury or property damage, you will need to take proactive steps to start the claims process to get compensation. At this stage, the claims process—from start to finish—is adversarial, meaning it pits you against the other side.
Communicating With Insurance Companies
Insurance companies must diligently represent various interests—but not yours. In fact, the poorer the settlement outcome is for you, the better it is for the driver the insurance company represents.
When speaking with insurance adjusters, you must be prepared in everything you say, for the adjuster’s primary purpose is to pay as little as possible or to outright deny your claim.
On a professional level, adjusters are not concerned about the impact of the accident on your life. Instead, they want to elicit from you any information that can allow them to accomplish their goal.
For example, in California, if you are partially responsible for your accident, then your compensation will decrease according to your percentage of fault. As such, the insurance adjuster will work to increase your share of responsibility for the accident.
How will they try to accomplish this? By hunting for evidence that demonstrates your negligence—most notably, by the words you choose while speaking with them. The adjuster will use any communications, including emails, texts, and phone conversations, against you.
Preparing a Strong Claim
To confidently and competently deal with insurance companies, you need a well-prepared claim, which includes more than simply filling out a claims form.
To back up your claim, you will also need:
- Police reports, you must report accidents to the authorities within 24 hours
- Medical reports that document the extent of the injuries and their cause
- Photographs and video of the accident that proves your injuries, property damages, and the other driver’s culpability
If your claim involves a significant payout, you can expect the insurance company to come out swinging. They will study every piece of evidence, looking for any indication of negligence on your part, even if doing so would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
While analyzing this evidence, you must identify any negligent or reckless individuals. In simpler cases, there are only two parties in an accident. However, car accident cases often involve multiple parties, including drivers, their passengers, and sometimes pedestrians.
Without an attorney, it will be your job to communicate with the insurance companies of all of the parties you claim to be negligent and fight them for what you deserve. This is an overwhelming task without legal help.
Car accident victims usually find themselves in financial turmoil after being injured. Losses and bills begin to pile up, and for many, work is not an option until they heal from their injuries. Receiving a just settlement offer goes a long way in helping people put their lives back together.
The problem is that the dollar amount you need will likely be far more than the insurance companies believe you deserve. Even if they find no negligence on your part, they will still likely fight you on the calculation of many of your damages.
If you represent yourself during these negotiations, you will need to know what damages you deserve from an injury accident. Without this knowledge, you will leave significant compensation on the table.
Damages you may recover compensation for include:
- Expenses from medical care related to the accident
- The loss of wages and future earning ability
- Disfigurement or disability
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
Understanding how to calculate these damages is crucial in getting maximum compensation for your injuries.
Although medical bills and loss of income are easy to verify and calculate, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other non-economic damages can prove challenging and are usually points of contention during negotiations.
Generally speaking, the more serious your injury, the bigger the impact on your life and the more damage you will suffer. A lawyer will know how to adequately put a sum on these damages as they seek compensation for your injuries.
Because car accidents involve tremendous forces, catastrophic injuries often occur, such as:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Internal organ injuries and bleeding
- Musculoskeletal injuries
Your insurance adjuster knows how difficult this time is for you and your family. Dealing with the fallout from a car accident can turn anyone’s life upside down. Money goes a long way to help normalize an accident victim’s situation, and an offer of an immediate payout tempts many, even if it is far below what the injury victim should receive.
Bad Faith Insurance Dealings
Sometimes, the insurance company will engage in bad faith dealing. This occurs when the adjuster tries to stall the proceedings, which they often do to whittle down the resistance of an injury victim in desperate need of immediate compensation.
The adjuster may ask for the same records over and over, refuse or delay your document requests, or flat out deny your valid claim just to add more pressure and discourage deserving injury victims.
These tactics do not work on seasoned personal injury lawyers. In fact, insurance companies reserve their bad-faith dealings for the inexperienced victims who may not know they are getting the runaround. As soon as an adjuster knows a car accident attorney is on the case, their tactics will likely change significantly.
What are your options if the insurance company’s settlement offer is too low and they will not budge? You must file a personal injury lawsuit and fight them in court or accept their offer.
If this happens—and you don’t have an attorney—you can expect frustrating hours trying to learn civil procedure, preparing your case, and presenting it in court.
A Note on Procedure
If you represent yourself, you must follow strict procedures, especially if your settlement negotiations fail and you must file a lawsuit.
Many of these procedural rules deal with time limits for filing claims and responding to inquiries from the other side or the court. Failing to comply with these time limits, such as the statutes of limitations for personal injury and property damages, will likely result in a dismissal of your claim.
The personal injury statute of limitations is a time limit that gives injury victims two years to file their injury claim. The claim is invalid once the two-year limit passes, except under very strict circumstances. If you have property damage, then the statute of limitations for property damage from car accidents is three years.
If the talks break down and two years have passed, you can’t file a lawsuit to recover the compensation you truly deserve.
In addition to deadlines, rules mandate how to complete claims paperwork and what information these crucial documents must contain. Violating these technical requirements can lead to a claim or case dismissal or at least a significant delay in settling.
Why Hire a Lawyer for Your Car Accident Claim?
The reasons for hiring a lawyer for your car accident claim are numerous, especially if you have suffered significant injuries or property damage that has left you financially drained. The stakes in personal injury claims are often high, and you deserve to have your interests represented by a professional.
Time to Heal and Stabilize
The best way to heal from any injury is to avoid stress and get a lot of rest. If you are dealing with a claim without an attorney, you will be inviting stress into your life—from the stress of meeting legal filing requirements to dealing with insurance companies trying to reduce your claim.
Without an attorney at the helm, there will likely be little time for the rest and healing you need.
Getting a little compensation for your injuries may not be impossible by yourself. But getting maximum compensation is something personal injury lawyers specialize in.
As stated, the claims process is adversarial, and insurance companies have little incentive to pay injury victims what they deserve.
Many injury victims who represent themselves wind up with payouts far below what their injuries deserve. This happens because they are not experienced in the claims process and usually do not understand just how much their claim is worth.
With a car accident attorney on your side, you get the peace of mind that the court will not dismiss or delay your case due to a legal technicality, such as a filing requirement that only a person adept and experienced in personal injury law would know.
If, after considering all of this, you still want to pursue your car accident claim without an experienced car accident lawyer, at least speak with one before you proceed any further.
It is industry standard for car accident lawyers to offer potential clients free consultations to give them a no-hassle, no-commitment analysis of their case.
Schedule an appointment and discuss your circumstances with an experienced car accident attorney. In addition to reviewing your case, they may point you in the right direction.
You have far too much at stake to take on professional responsibilities that require years of training and experience to handle competently.
If you were in a car accident and are dealing with injuries or property damage, contact an experienced car accident lawyer to get the compensation you deserve.