Getting into an car accident can be stressful. There are injuries to deal with, medical bills, rental cars and auto mechanics, and many other new problems to deal with. The process of negotiating a fair car accident settlement with an insurance company can make a bad situation worse, especially if it’s not something you’ve ever had to deal with before. Sadly, many people don’t know some of the common pitfalls in car accident settlement negotiations, and becuase of this, they end up settling their car accident claim for far less than it’s worth.
This article will explore 5 big mistakes people make when negotiating a car accident settlement. If you have been injured in a car accident, hopefully you can use this knowledge to ensure you get a fair payout for your car accident injuries.
Mistake #1 – Not Knowing How Much Your Car Accident Settlement Is Worth:
You could have a lot of medical bills and lost income after your accident. There’s a chance you’ll have long ongoing physical rehab, including PT and Chirporactors. You may be suffering from emotional stress or find yourself unable to spend quality time with your family. This could all affect the value of your claim, so making sure to know exactly how car accident settlements are calculated can be the most important piece of knowledge you can arm yourself with after a car accident. Settlement negotiation strategy should always be based on the value of your claim (estimated by you and/or your lawyer) and not by how much insurance adjusters offer.
If you do not know what your case is worth, consult with a few car accident lawyers in the area – most offer free consultations and will give you a good idea how much your car accident settlement could be worth. There are also a number of online Car Accident Settlement Calculators available – keep in mind that the estimates provided here are only as good as the numbers you plug into them, but could be a good starting point for understanding how much your settlement is worth.
Mistake #2 – Accepting The First Offer:
Car accident settlement negotiations usually start with the insurance company making an initial offer, which is in many cases a lowball offer meant to “test the waters” with a claimant. Insurance companies are savvy negotiators and have played this game time and time again. They know many people will make a hasty decision about settling their car accident claim just to put the situation behind them.
Car accident victims often make the mistake of signing a car accident settlement offer without considering other options or waiting to see if there will be additional offers from the insurer, or additional expenses that may increase the final settlement amount. The insurance company knows you may be under the gun financially and emotionally, and unfortunately, will try to use your perceived weakness to their advantage.
Finally, you may not be fully recovered from your injuries yet, thus uncertain how much your damages will ultimately be, so you should wait until you’ve fully recovered before signing a car accident settlement offer.
This concept is known as reaching Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI, and is a very impoortant concept in car accident settlement negotiations. In short, it means you should not accept a car accident settlement until you’ve recovered to 100%, or as close as you’ll get, to where you were physically prior to the crash.
Mistake #3 – Not Properly Documenting Damages:
Car accident settlement negotiations are often based on what you can prove – making the documentation of your injuries, medical bills and lost wages extremely important to getting fairly compensated for your accident. Make sure to keep meticulous copies of all medical records and bills. Log all money or time you spent on to doctors appointments, ongoing rehab, medications, or prescriptions. If you had to purchase any braces, bandages, massagers or other over the counter pain management equipment, make sure to keep receipts from those purchases as well. Take pictures of any visible injuries you suffered from the car accident – images can tell a compelling story to an insurance adjuster or a jury.
In addition to taking pictures of your injuries, you should also take pictures of any damage done to your vehicle in the accident. Taking pictures of your auto damage after a car accident can help in a number of ways:
- It will be a strong visual backup in case the insurance company claims that the repairs were too expensive and could have been done for less.
- It can bolster your injury claims, especially in cases where there isn’t visible damage. For example, insurance companies are notorious for making lowball offers on whiplash claims after a car accident. The injury doesn’t show up on an X-Ray, and there’s no visible damage that the human eye can see. It’s also largely subjective and based on an individual’s interpration of physical pain, which makes whiplash a common claim of insurance fraudsters trying to game the system for their own profit. However, it’s common knowledge and basic physics that rear end collisions often cause whiplash. When one car is stopped and another car or truck slams into the back of the stopped car at a high enough speed, the body will almost always jerk forward violently, which in turn snaps the head back and forth, putting a ton of pressure on the neck. So, even if your whiplash injury doesn’t show up visibly, it’s hard to argue with a picture of the crumpled up back end of your car and smashed tail lights, so taking pictures of your auto damage might just get you a higher payout for your physical injuries too.
- It can be used to help you prove the accident wasn’t your fault. Outside of witness statements and video footage, vehicle damage is probably the best way to determine how an accident happened and who was at fault. Being able to see the angle of a dent, the direction or color of a paint scrape, or see which airbags deployed can all be used to “set the scene” of the accident and help determine who was at fault for the accident.
Mistake #4 – Failing to Demand Enough Pain & Suffering Compensation:
Another misconception about car accident settlements is that they only include compensation for physical injuries, property damage and medical bills. The fact is, pain and suffering when negotiating settlement can impact the amount of your settlement more than almost anything else. Car accident injuries can impact a person’s life in many negative ways. From having to miss out on family events due to pain or doctor visits to not being able to enjoy an intimate moment with a spouse, the personal damage done after a car accident can be life altering, and is rightfully given fair compensation in a car accident claim.
Additionally, some car accidents cause serious psychological effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is hard to quantify and may require the services of both a clinical psychologist and a good personal injury attorney, but the psychological and emotional effects that can persist for even years after a serious car accident can be devastating to a person and their family.
Mistake #5 – Not Reviewing The Car Accident Settlement With An Attorney:
Car accident settlement negotiations can be complex. Anyone in the position of negotiating with an insurance company should have an experienced personal injury attorney review their settlement agreement before signing anything to make sure they are not giving away legal rights or leaving money on the table.
Almost all auto accident attorneys offer a free initial consultation, and since they charge on a contingency fee basis (like a commision – they only get paid if they win, and only as a percentage of the final settlement amount), will usually tell you whether or not you have a strong case. If you have a smaller settlement offer, most good attorneys will be happy to tell you whether or not it’s a fair offer and send you on your way with some free advice. If it’s a larger claim with more serious injuries and damages, it’s probably worth considering hiring an attorney for your car accident settlement negotiations. While it’s true they’ll take a hefty percentage (roughly a third, in most cases), in larger car accident cases the amount they can probably increase your settlement by will leave you with an equal or better net payout. There’s also the time and hassle factor to consider – even if you leave a few dollars on the table, it may be worth it to save hours and hours of your time that would be spend on hold with insurance companies, writing settlement demand letters, etc.
Car accident settlement negotiations can be tough, but by avoiding these common mistakes you can make the process faster, easier, and hopefully much more lucrative for yourself.
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- How Much Is My Car Accident Settlement Worth?