WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY INSURANCE COMPANY OFFERS ME A SETTLEMENT?
After your accident, you might feel the need to accept whatever your insurance company offers you without argument. You might desperately need the money to pay your medical bills as they pile up, and you might think that the best solution is to accept the first settlement offer an insurance company provides. However, it isn’t entirely impossible for insurance companies to capitalize on the stress and uncertainty a victim deals with, leading them to offer lower initial settlements.
Do not accept any offers from your insurance company/adjuster without first speaking with an attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether the offer is fair. If the offer is not fair, your attorney can help you by trying to negotiate a larger settlement.
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WHY DO SOME INSURANCE COMPANIES RUSH TO OFFER A SETTLEMENT?
It might shock you to receive a quick settlement offer from your insurance company. You may have heard that insurance adjusters are difficult to work with and that they are not on your side. Why was the initial offer so easy?
If you accept the first offer, you cannot request more compensation if you happen to realize your damages are worse than you anticipated. The insurance adjuster knows that if you speak with an attorney before you accept a settlement offer, you might gain an idea of how much your claim is worth. Therefore, if the insurance adjuster can get you to accept an offer before you speak with an attorney, you’re more likely to accept a much lower offer than you deserve.
LIABILITY INSURERS WANT TO CONTROL YOU
An insurance company can only make a profit by reducing the amount of money it pays victims. Hence, it is the insurance adjuster’s job to settle your claim for as little as possible.
Even though the insurance adjuster might seem helpful or friendly, he or she is ultimately trying to reduce your settlement amount by getting you to partially accept fault or preventing you from speaking with an attorney.
YOU CONTROL YOUR NEGOTIATIONS
You do not have to accept the first, second, or third settlement offer—so long as the insurance company has not presented you with a fair amount. Even if your insurance adjuster tells you that they cannot raise the offer more, that is probably not true.
You can negotiate with the insurance company to raise your settlement amount until it addresses the extent of the damages you suffered. An experienced attorney can negotiate on your behalf and let you know about subsequent settlement offers.
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INJURIES MAY BE MORE SERIOUS THAN THEY APPEAR
You might not gain a firm grasp of your injuries until after you have had time to go through all of the necessary surgeries, treatments, and rehabilitation. Your injuries might be more complicated and expensive than you initially thought.
If you allow the insurance company to pressure you into accepting a settlement offer before you know the extent of your injuries, you cannot have an accurate understanding of the amount you deserve. You might accept an amount that does not reflect your entire financial loss.
Never accept a settlement offer before you have visited your doctor and received your medical diagnosis. Document every piece of medical information you receive: your diagnoses, treatment plans, and bills.
VICTIMS CAN REJECT A SETTLEMENT OFFER AND STILL RECEIVE COMPENSATION
An insurance adjuster might try to convince you that you only have one opportunity to accept a settlement offer. However, insurance settlements are not simply take it or leave it offers. The adjuster knows that you have the right to negotiate for a higher settlement amount.
Rejecting a settlement offer does not end the settlement process. Rather, it opens the table to negotiations.
You can even propose a counteroffer of an amount you think better represents your losses. However, you should speak with an attorney about the value of your claim before you make a counteroffer.
WHAT IF I WAS RUSHED INTO AND ACCEPTED A SETTLEMENT OFFER?
Unfortunately, if you have already accepted the settlement offer, it is probably too late for you to negotiate a higher settlement. This is yet another reason to consult with a lawyer before accepting an offer.
If you are unsure whether you accepted a settlement offer and your insurance company sent you a check, do not cash that check. Let a lawyer know about your case and the check.
If you cash the check, you will not be able to argue that you did not accept the settlement. Therefore, you will lose your opportunity to negotiate a larger settlement.
SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS ARE FINAL AND BINDING
You might not give it much thought if you accept a settlement. The insurance company sent you a check, and surely it will send you more if you happen upon more expenses related to the incident. That is not true.
As described in the previous section, if you accept a settlement and cash the check, then you cannot file for additional funds in the future. Wait until you have all of the information about your accident and injury before you even consider accepting a settlement offer.
WHY SHOULD YOU HIRE A LAWYER TO HANDLE THE INSURANCE CLAIM?
Remember, your insurance company does not work for you—your attorney does. A personal injury lawyer can take all of your damages into account when calculating the value of your claim, including damages you might not even consider.
A lawyer also knows how to protect your rights, ensuring that the insurance company does not abuse your lack of the law. Attorneys are familiar with the statute of limitations for your claim as well as the damages your settlement should include. Talk with a personal injury attorney to learn about your unique settlement and your goals for recovery.
How long does a statute of limitations last?
A statute of limitations sets out the amount of time you have to file your claim after you have been injured. Each state has a defined statute of limitations for each area of law. Most states have a statute of limitations for personal injuries of two or three years.
Sometimes, insurance companies take advantage of victims’ lack of knowledge of the statute of limitations to draw out the amount of time the settlement is taking. If the insurance adjuster can stall your case long enough, you might be frustrated enough to accept a lower settlement than you deserve. However, if the adjuster stalls your case past your state’s statute of limitations, you might lose your ability to file your lawsuit at all.
Have you considered your settlement goals?
Ensure that your settlement goals align with the reality of the situation and with the amount you deserve. If you set your expectations and goals too low, you might not receive enough compensation to adequately cover all the damages you suffered.
If your expectations are not realistic, you might pass up fair settlement offers. A personal injury attorney can help you set your goals to determine a range of offers you would accept.
Do you understand why your settlement is personal to you?
While an attorney can help you set your goals and determine the value of your claim, only you can accept or reject a settlement offer. No matter how firmly your personal injury lawyer or the insurance company urges you to accept an offer, the decision is ultimately yours.
Sometimes, victims of personal injury accidents value a court decision over a settlement. A court decision can provide the victim with closure because the other party can be declared legally at fault for the accident. Speak with an attorney about your likelihood of success at trial.
Do you know what damages a settlement includes?
A settlement should adequately address all the damages you suffered from your injuries. The two categories of damages in personal injury cases are economic damages and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are meant to compensate you for your financial loss from your injury. They cover the damage to your property, missed wages from time you had to take off work, and medical bills.
Non-economic damages are less concrete, and you may need help calculating them. They are meant to cover your pain and suffering, including your physical and mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of reputation, physical disability, and disfigurement.
MOST PERSONAL INJURY CASES ARE SETTLED OUT OF COURT
Around 96 percent of personal injury cases are settled outside of court. Both plaintiffs and defendants appreciate the predictability and certainty of a settlement over a trial. In a trial, a jury decides who is liable for the accident and how much that party owes the wronged party in the case.
Trial allows for the possibility that the jury does not find the defendant liable, leaving the victim with nothing. For the defendant, trial allows for the possibility that the jury awards the victim much more than the defendant would normally pay in a settlement.
THE TOTAL COST OF AN ACCIDENT IS MORE THAN OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES
While your insurance company will usually cover the obvious out-of-pocket expenses in its settlement offer, it may fail to include other important costs that add up quickly. A complete settlement offer for a car crash does not only include repairs to your vehicle but also the cost of transportation while your vehicle is being repaired. You would expect a settlement offer to cover the cost of your medical bills, but what about the costs of hiring someone to perform your household tasks while you recover?
A personal injury lawyer understands how to compute the damages you suffered from your injuries. Do not leave anything out because you did not know you could include it in your damages. Speak with an attorney to learn what you might be missing in your computation.