Suppose you’ve been injured in a car accident. You’re in pain, you have medical bills and maybe you’ve even missed work. You are reasonably motivated to settle with the car insurance company as quickly as
possible and get on with your life. That can be a costly mistake. The car insurance company settles personal injury claims all the time. They’re really good at it. And they have a vested interest in convincing you to take their first offer. A word to the wise: DON’T. Here’s what you can expect during the settlement process and why you should hold out for a better personal injury settlement.
The car insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to your case who is a specialist in personal injury claims’ settlement. He or she will give you a unique claim number and other information. You will need to
give this to your doctor and other health care providers each time you receive treatment. They will bill the insurance agency. That’s the good news, because it means you don’t have to worry about out-of-pocket payments for your immediate medical care.
There’s typically no dispute involved at this point. Where it gets tricky is if or when there are long-term problems resulting from your auto accident personal injury. That’s why, even if you’re feeling better, you
should continue the full course of treatment your doctors recommends until they say you’ve recovered. Along the way, report any and all new pains, symptoms and resulting disabilities you experience.
While you’re receiving treatment, keep track of all expenses related to your injury. That can include lost wages, cost of transportation to and from your health care providers and help you need to hire to take care
of chores you can’t do.
The insurance company won't offer you a settlement until they are reasonably certain of your long-term medical outlook. In the meantime, do not discuss your prognosis with the claims adjuster. You want to be fully aware of the long-term impact your injuries will have on your ability to live a normal life. Until you know for certain what those may or may not be, you really don’t know what kind of settlement you should be willing to accept.
Once you’ve figured that out, advise the adjuster to begin working out the settlement. You’ll be asked to send in all your receipts and the adjuster will provide an offer. Expect it to be the lowest possible. If you find it unacceptable, prepare for a prolonged back-and-forth with the insurance company. Document all correspondence in the meantime and stand firm. One of four things will happen: the insurance company will accept your offer; they’ll make a counter offer; you’ll be asked to name your settlement price; or the insurance company will stand pat on its original offer. Sign nothing until you are satisfied with the settlement.
If you’re unable to arrive at a satisfactory settlement, you always have the option of suing, but this can be costly and time consuming, and the insurance company has deeper pockets than you. You should also know that many states have a statute of limitations that requires you to either settle a claim or file suit within a certain time frame. Don’t let that statute run out on you. Remember that your objective is to get a fair settlement for your car accident personal injury, not to soak the insurance company.
In Part II of this series, we’ll cover how to get the best settlement for vehicle damage.