Top 6 Mistakes Made Settling Injury Claim Without a Lawyer
I’m a do-it-yourselfer. If a room needs to be painted at my house, I want to do it rather than paying a painter to do it. When it comes time for landscaping projects, I can get the job done. Tile work needed in the bathroom? I’ve got that covered. Doing those projects saves money and it gives a great sense of accomplishment when a job is done well.
Given my own desire to tackle jobs around the house instead of paying an expert hundreds or thousands of dollars, I can certainly understand why many people are tempted to resolve their own personal injury claims. After all, the thinking goes, if an insurance company offers you $10,000 to settle a claim, why on earth would you hire an attorney so that the attorney could get 33% or more of that $10,000? If you are able to resolve the claim without hiring an attorney, wouldn’t that make things a whole lot easier in the end?
These are good questions, and they deserve answers. Perhaps the best way to answer these questions is to identify some of the mistakes that people make when they settle their personal injury claims without an attorney. Stated simply, settling a personal injury claim is not like painting a wall or doing some other home improvement project where the eye can see if the job was well done. With that in mind, here are the top six mistakes made settling injury claims without a lawyer.
1. Settling for too Little Money. When you are injured in an accident because of another party’s fault, it won’t be long before the other party’s insurance company contacts you. They’ll want to take your statement and get you to say things that will undermine your right to collect money or diminish the value of your claim. They may even offer a quick amount of money to you to settle the claim.
Using the above example, let’s say the insurance company offers you $10,000 to settle a claim where you break your arm in an automobile accident. Your first thought may be that could keep all $10,000 instead of giving 33% or more to an attorney. That sounds like it makes sense, but what if it is based on erroneous thinking? What if, for instance, an attorney in that same case was able to get a settlement offer of $50,000 instead of $10,000? Sure, you’d be sharing 33% of that fee, but your take-home check of 66%, or more than $30,000, would make the attorney’s fee a very worthwhile investment.
In addition to recognizing the true value of a case, an attorney can help find other insurance coverage that might not otherwise be obvious. An experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer could help ascertain if there is available insurance coverage from other sources, such as underinsured motorist protection, med pay, employer policies, or other assets that can be used to provide compensation for your claim. All of these factors will help increase the value of your claim.
2. Not Having Confidence to Negotiate. The best way to negotiate an insurance claim is to be aggressive. The best way to be aggressive is to be confident. The best way to be confident is to know your rights and to know the law. Knowing your rights and knowing what the law entitles you to receive in a given situation will let the insurance adjuster know that you should not be taken lightly. It is hard for an adjuster to see that you are aggressive and knowledgeable if you are not an attorney or do not have significant experience negotiating with an insurance adjuster.
Even if you are confident about the injuries you suffered and the reasonableness and necessity of the treatment you received, an experienced insurance adjuster may attempt to undermine your claim by raising certain legal defenses, such as contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, or mitigation of damages. Or, the insurance representative may discount your claim by claiming that the jurisdiction where the accident occurred contains jurors that are known to be sticklers for personal injury lawsuits. If you don’t have a strong knowledge and experience base to work with, an insurance adjuster will sense that quickly and seek to undermine your claim as a result. In addition, without sufficient experience, you won’t be able to tell when the insurance company is bluffing you.
3. Settling Too Soon. You obviously want the personal injury case to be resolved as quickly as possible. But many mistakes are made when injured parties are faced with an insurance company’s offers soon after an accident. For example, say you have back pain after an accident, and your doctor suspects that you had a muscle strain that will resolve in a short amount of time. But what if you settle and then learn that the injury is actually a herniated disk that requires surgery, such as a diskectomy? What if your injury ends up being worse than thought and it keeps you from doing your job and providing for your family? Once a case is settled, it is done. It cannot be unsettled and you’ll need to live with the consequences, good or bad. Because of that, it is in your best interests to not make an impulsive decision to negotiate with the insurance company to quickly settle your claim.
4. Settling a Property Damage Claim Without Knowing It. If you are injured in an accident and the insurance company offers you compensation for the claim, they will make sure the check and general release you sign ends all further claims you may have. That means that you’ll most likely have to accept the check as settlement of any and all claims you have against the other driver. This will create a problem if your car, motorcycle, or other vehicle is totaled or if it sustained damage that needs to be repaired. In that case, the release you sign may lump the injury and property damage claims together and prevent you from seeking compensation for the damage to your car.
5. Not Providing Proper Documentation for the Claim. To make a claim for insurance proceeds, it is vital that you provide evidence to support your claim. You’ll need to show that you suffered an injury, that the other party caused the injury, and that you are entitled to compensation as a result of the other party’s carelessness or negligence. That means you will need to provide medical records, lost pay information, and a variety of other information that may be necessary to prove the claim.
Injured parties should be very wary if the insurance company is willing to settle a care without first receiving all of the supporting documentation. An insurance company that is willing to provide a quick payment in that situation probably knows that the claim is worth much more based on their investigation, and they want to obtain a quick and dirty settlement before the injured party hires an attorney to maximize the value of the claim.
6. Ignoring Valid Liens. Virginia has anti-subrogration laws that prevent health insurers from seeking to be repaid for insurance benefits they provide. In plain English, that means that your health insurance company cannot seek repayment from you for health benefits it pays for the medical care you received for your injuries.
But there are some exceptions to this rule. Some privately funded insurance policies, for example, give the insurance company the right of “subrogation,” or the right to be repaid for your medical treatment. The same right of repayment exists for certain types of government insurers, for Medicare or Medicaid, or for certain healthcare providers that provide medical care without receiving full payment. Those parties can protect their right to payment by asserting what is called a lien.
If you settle an injury claim without satisfying your lien obligations, you will likely face a demand for payment from your insurer or other health care provider. And if that happens, you may find that some or all of your insurance settlement will be used to satisfy those liens. That can be a rude awakening and it would have been far better to have hired an attorney that identified any outstanding liens and advised your steps in light of those liens.
In conclusion, you may be reading this because you or a loved one was in an accident and the insurance company has presented you with what seems to be a very generous offer. You may be confused about this entire process of settling a personal injury claim, and you want to make sure you don’t make a mistake. You are wise to look into this, and I hope you avoid these top six mistakes made settling injury claims without a lawyer.
If you’d like to consult with an experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer, please contact Robert E. Byrne, Jr. of MartinWren, P.C. at (434) 817-3100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our office is based in Charlottesville, but we represent personal injury victims all throughout Virginia. We offer free consultations, we do not charge legal fees unless we recover money for you, and we are happy to meet with you at our office, your home, or even the hospital.
Check out our other articles regarding personal injury law, such as Do I Have a Personal Injury Case?, Injury Claims for Employees Hurt in the Workplace, and Types of Money Damages in Personal Injury Cases.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice.