If you have a car accident claim you need to settle, doing so without an attorney can be extremely challenging, time-consuming, and will make it unlikely you will receive the full compensation you deserve. In reality, it is a really bad idea to try to handle an injury case without the help of a lawyer. In my experience, accident claims almost always go wrong without an attorney protecting your interests.
Compensation for a car accident should cover your:
- Vehicle repairs
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Future medical expenses
- Future lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability and disfigurement
If you accept an amount that does not cover all these losses, you leave money on the table. You also might be responsible for future costs of your injuries, which the at-fault party should cover. Too many people who try to settle a claim without a lawyer end up in this dire financial situation with few or no solutions.
When an insurance company knows a claimant has no legal representation, adjusters are ready to make low offers. They use tactics to get unrepresented claimants to accept much less than they deserve, as their focus is on maximizing company profits – not helping you. Everything changes as soon as someone has proper representation, and the insurance adjuster knows they cannot use their usual tricks.
The short answer is that you should never settle a car accident claim without a lawyer. Many people make this mistake, and they feel the negative financial effects for the rest of their lives. Always consult a car accident attorney about your claim as soon as possible. Consultations should always be free with no risk and no obligation, so you have nothing to lose by learning how a lawyer can help you.
How Insurance Settlements Work
When you settle an insurance claim, you accept a specific amount of money. In exchange for the sum of money, you give up your right to any other compensation regarding the injuries and costs from your accident. The at-fault party and their insurance company do not admit to any wrongdoing through a settlement offer, but instead, they are simply offering you money to make your claim go away.
The purpose of a settlement is to prevent you from filing a lawsuit and bringing the insurance company to court. A trial requires greater resources, and insurance companies want to avoid this by settling the claim out of court.
However, insurance companies are in business for profits. Offering every claimant a full settlement decreases those profits. They want to reduce settlement costs to increase profits whenever possible. Insurance adjusters often quickly present you with a (low) settlement offer, hoping you will accept less than you should receive. If you do not have an attorney, chances are you will accept an inadequate settlement.
There are two common types of car accident settlements:
- Lump-sum – In this form of settlement, you receive a single settlement payment briefly after you and the insurance company reach a settlement agreement.
- Structured – This type of settlement involves a payment structure, with payments on a set schedule over months or years, with the payments potentially varying in size and frequency depending on the terms of your settlement agreement.
Regardless of what type of settlement you accept, you cannot go back and demand more compensation or have your claim reopened once you finalize a settlement agreement.
Accepting a settlement offer cuts off all obligations from the insurance company to you, and they hope that you take less than you need, as you cannot request more. This saves the insurance company money and increases their profit margins, and may leave you having to pay costs from your car accident out of your pocket, taking away resources from your family and household.
Insurance Companies Offer Quick – and Low Settlements
When you work toward a settlement with the insurance company, you must deal with their full-time teams of claim adjusters and investigators. Claim adjusters are insurance company employees who process and evaluate claims, many of which stem from car accidents. The entire goal of the claim adjuster is to minimize the costs of the insurance company. Their job is not to offer quick and fair payments, but many people fail to realize that adjusters are not on their side.
Claim adjusters work to minimize insurance company expenses by carefully scrutinizing your claim. They try to identify any potential weaknesses or issues regarding liability for your accident or the extent of your losses. They might cite inconsistent medical records, damaging statements by you, or legal technicalities. They will find any reason to reduce or deny your settlement payment.
Some insurance adjusters try to get accident victims to make mistakes that justify lower offers. Never speak with an adjuster at length about your accident or injuries, as you might accidentally say something that hurts your claim. If the adjuster asks how you are feeling, and you say “fine,” you might think nothing of it. However, the adjuster might turn around and assert that since you are “fine,” your injuries must not be that serious.
You were likely just being polite, but even a small, off-hand comment can jeopardize your claim. This is why you want a car accident attorney handling all communications with adjusters.
Common tactics the insurance company employees use to lower your settlement amount include:
- Recorded statements – When you do not have an attorney, the claim adjuster might pressure you into making a recorded statement. During the recorded statement, the adjuster will try and get you to provide vague, misleading, or inaccurate statements. They will often ask about your injuries and symptoms and the facts surrounding the crash or incident. The purpose is to use this information against you later in the process. To protect your interests and the amount of your settlement, you should speak with a lawyer instead of agreeing to provide any written or recorded statements, as they could create a record against you.
- Discouraging you from calling a lawyer – The insurance company does not benefit if you call a lawyer, but you do. This is why insurance adjusters often discourage you from reaching out to an attorney. They might explain that lawyers are “too expensive” or that they “can slow down the process.” This is not the truth, as attorneys can often maximize your compensation. This is what adjusters don’t want you to know.
- Independent medical examinations – The claims adjuster will likely try to schedule an independent medical exam (IME) for you, and when they do, you generally have to attend. While you should receive an objective and independent analysis at these appointments, they are rarely impartial. The doctor is a consultant of the insurance company, and if they want repeat business, they will likely favor the insurance company in their findings by downplaying your injuries. IME reports often reduce settlement values, but a lawyer can ensure you receive a fair result.
- Blaming you, the victim – The claims adjuster might try to get you to admit to a portion of the fault in the accident. If you apologize or even say, “I only looked away for a second,” they will use this information to reduce or deny your claim. Your attorney knows how to challenge any claims that you were partially liable for the accident.
- Failing to return calls and communications – The claims adjuster knows that you have injuries and immediate costs you need to cover. Missing phone calls and taking their time to get back to you when processing the claim can lead to greater stress for you. Delays are a tactic to encourage you to accept a lesser payment to resolve the claim as soon as possible.
These negative tactics do not work if you have a car accident lawyer on your side.
What Happens if You Accept an Inadequate Settlement?
When you accept a settlement, that is usually it. You accepted a specific amount of money for your losses, and you cannot seek any additional damages related to the accident or incident that led to your injuries. If the settlement amount was inadequate, then you and your family will likely have to pay for your losses out-of-pocket.
Once you finalize and sign a settlement agreement, it is nearly impossible to obtain more compensation. If your injuries get worse, do not heal as expected, or you do not recognize the full extent of your losses, the at-fault party will no longer be liable.
The purpose of seeking out compensation for your injuries is to be “made whole,” which is a legal concept that means putting you in as close a position as possible to the position you would be in if the accident had not happened. Money cannot change the past, however, and there is no way that financial recovery can fully compensate you for things like permanent disabilities or an inability to pursue your chosen career. This is why non-economic damages often far outweigh economic damages in car accident cases.
In many cases, insurance companies make settlement offers as quickly as possible to get victims to settle for less than they deserve. For example, suppose you were in an accident caused by another person that resulted in $20,000 in medical costs and vehicle repairs. Additionally, the crash caused an injury that prevented you from working for six months.
You deserve coverage for the $20,000 in costs, in addition to the value of your lost earnings and non-economic losses like pain and suffering. The insurance company might quickly offer you a twenty thousand dollar settlement, hoping you would not recognize that it was far below the actual value of your claim.
A Lawyer Will Know What Your Claim is Worth
Determining the value of a car accident claim is a complicated matter that requires experience and specialized knowledge. Fortunately, an experienced car accident lawyer will know how to evaluate your cases and determine how much you can expect to recover. The value of a car accident claim needs to address not only your economic losses like repair bills and medical costs but also your non-economic losses like pain and suffering or lost quality of life.
Your attorney can refer you to follow-up medical and occupational experts who can accurately measure the impact of your injuries not only in the immediate moment but into the long term. Compensation for your injuries requires that their related costs first be accurately calculated, then effectively demanded from the insurance company. Your car accident attorney can represent you every step of the way.
Insurance Companies Often Offer Higher Amounts to Attorneys
Insurance companies want to settle cases for as little as possible and are happy to take advantage of victims unfamiliar with the process. Unless you are a lawyer or have significant experience handling personal injury claims, you won’t know how much your claim is worth. Not having that knowledge significantly hurts your position when negotiating a settlement.
However, when you file a claim with an attorney, the insurance company will take you more seriously. As a result, they will generally start with a higher initial settlement offer. When you have an attorney, the insurance company knows that you will collect the best evidence possible in support of your case and won’t accept anything less than you deserve.
You Do Not Have to Accept an Unfair Settlement
If the insurance company refuses to make a reasonable settlement offer, all is not lost. Your car accident attorney can file a lawsuit and take your claim to trial and pursue the best possible outcome in your case.
Obtaining full compensation for your injuries can make the difference between a future of financial stability and one that leaves you footing the bills associated with the accident that the insurance company and at-fault party should have paid.
Importantly, the fact that your attorney files a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that your case is going to trial. In some cases, simply filing a lawsuit is enough to get the insurance company to make a reasonable settlement offer.
Abels & Annes
100 N LaSalle St #1710
Chicago, IL 60602