When an individual suffers a moderate to severe injury in an auto accident (or another event) and another party is responsible, it can place a major financial burden on the injured party and their loved ones. Medical bills can quickly start to mount, and in a large number of cases, the injury keeps you out of work for several weeks or even months, making it very difficult to make ends meet.
To obtain compensation for your injuries, you will usually be dealing with an insurance company. In most cases, this will be the insurer for the other person or party who injured you. However, if they were uninsured or did not have adequate coverage, you may be seeking compensation from your own insurance company.
Securing a full and fair settlement for your injuries usually involves a negotiation process. You may choose to handle this yourself, or you could hire a personal injury lawyer to negotiate the settlement for you. If you decide to do it yourself, you will typically be speaking with the insurance adjuster.
There are two things that it is important to know about insurance adjusters:
- They are trained negotiators who handle cases like yours week in and week out;
- They work for the insurance company, and as such, their primary goal is to protect their employer’s bottom line.
Most of the time, adjusters will be very friendly, reassuring you that they will “take care of you” and that you will be treated fairly. Keep in mind that this is a negotiating tactic, an attempt to build rapport with you and to earn your trust. Be friendly and polite with them as well, but always remember that their interests are not aligned with yours.
Here are five other keys for successfully negotiating a full and fair settlement with the insurance company:
It is not uncommon to receive a settlement offer from the insurance company very early in the process. Insurers know that finances are usually tight shortly after an accident, and they know that many individuals are motivated to get a settlement check right away. The problem is that these offers are typically for far less than your claim is worth. In fact, at this point in the process, it may not even be possible to know what the claim is worth, because you may not know the full extent of your injuries. Be patient and do not accept the first offer that comes your way.
Fully Document all of your Losses
The insurance company is not just going to accept your word for how much you have lost because of the injury you suffered. You need to keep track of all of your economic losses, such as medical expenses and days missed from work. In addition, it is important to remember that a large part of your claim will be for the physical pain and suffering you have had to endure, the emotional impact the injury has had on you, and the impact the injury has had on your quality of life. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep a daily journal in which you can record how you feel physically and emotionally each day, as well as write down activities that you have not been able to participate in because of the injury.
Follow all of your Doctor’s Recommendations
Be sure to do everything your physician tells you to; such as having tests done, obtaining treatments, visiting specialists, refraining from various activities, etc. You have a duty to mitigate the damages caused by the accident or incident, and this means you need to take reasonable steps to minimize the extent of your injuries as much as possible.
Have an Amount in Mind you are Willing to Settle For
When you enter any type of negotiation process, you should have a minimum amount in mind that you are willing to take as the settlement. This figure is for your information only, and there is no need to share it with anyone except those closest to you. The figure you arrive at should be determined by what you believe the case is worth after calculating both your economic and non-economic losses.
Be Careful about Stalling Tactics
If you reach an impasse with the insurance adjuster, one way they might deal with this is to stop communicating with you for long periods of time. This is usually done for two reasons – to frustrate you into giving up and accepting their lower offer; or if you don’t come back to the table, to “run out the clock” on the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit.
In South Carolina, for example, the statute of limitations for most personal injury actions is three years. And while this may seem like a lot of time, it can go by quickly if you are not hearing from the insurance company for several months at a time. If the insurance company “goes dark” during negotiations, get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer right away.
How an Attorney can help You Negotiate a Full and Fair Settlement
Negotiating with the insurance company on your own is a challenging process that is full of potential pitfalls. This is why it is advisable to work with a skilled attorney, especially if your injuries are more extensive. Although an attorney will take a percentage of your settlement as their fee, the assistance they can provide during negotiations will usually get you far more than if you handled it on your own, even after their fee is taken out.
Here are just a few ways a lawyer can help negotiate a better settlement for you:
- Your lawyer will have extensive experience properly valuing claims by taking into account all factors that are typically used by the court, which means you are likely to have a more appropriate figure in mind as your minimum settlement amount;
- If you have already received an offer from the insurance company before your lawyer is involved, they will be able to review the offer and tell you whether or not it is fair;
- Like the insurance adjuster, your lawyer is a trained negotiator who will be able to strongly argue your claim and justify the settlement amount you are seeking based on the facts and evidence of the case;
- If the insurance company shows an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, your lawyer has the proven ability to successfully pursue full damages through litigation.