The day after a car accident can be nearly as shocking as the collision itself. Depending on the severity of the crash, you may awaken to broken bones, contusions, damage to your car and more. While the previous day might have felt like a bad dream, awakening the morning after can feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare.
It’s a common feeling – one that leaves accident victims aching for the status quo. Insurance companies know how stressful the days and weeks following a wreck can be for people, and they use this knowledge to their benefit. When all you want is for things to go back to normal, the insurance company may offer up what feels like relief on a silver platter. It may be incredibly tempting, but we urge all accident victims to give the settlement a second glance before accepting.
Every case is different, which is why it’s usually worth consulting with a car accident lawyer about your options. Most injury attorneys offer free consultations and can give you a clearer picture of the road ahead, even if you don’t end up hiring them.
Here are the 4 steps to take in order to get a fair car accident settlement:
Reach Maximum Medical Improvement
Once you’ve signed for a car accident settlement, you’ll never again be able to pursue compensation for your damages. You may not even realize the full extent of your injuries before you’re offered a settlement. While it’s reasonable to want to settle your car accident case and put the whole thing behind you, taking the first offer extended to you isn’t always the best course of action. Most attorneys will advise you to wait until you’ve reached something called Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI, before accepting any auto accident settlement.
The reason for this is simple – you want to make sure there are no more medical bills or ailments that pop up after you’ve accepted an offer, because once you’ve done that you waive your right to collect any more compensation. Should you sustain a traumatic brain injury in the car accident, for example, you’ll want to take your time healing and make sure you don’t need additional treatment or medication. It can take many months to see specialists, have surgery, take medication and get physical therapy before you have a true idea of what a life post-accident will cost. While it’s impossible to predict the future, you’ll have a much clearer picture once the dust of the collision has settled.
Create a Car Accident Settlement Demand Letter
Once you have a good idea of what your accident has cost you, it’s time to create a car accident settlement demand letter. It represents the best chance – outside of a courtroom – for a victim to advocate for themselves. Demand letters allow you to set the stage for negotiations. A demand letter is simply a document that outlines your version of events, the damages you’ve incurred, and the amount of compensation you’re requesting. While it’s not required to have an attorney write your demand letter, it can be helpful to have one on hand to ensure that all the necessary information is included.
In the letter, you’ll outline the precise events immediately before, during and after the accident. You’ll want to point out the mistakes made by the at-fault driver, any actions you tried to use in preventing a collision, and a detailed account of the crash itself. Be sure to include a clear and concise summary of how the accident occurred, a detailed list of all the damages you’ve incurred (including medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage), and a specific figure for the amount of compensation you’re seeking. It’s also important to be polite and professional in your letter, as this will help to increase the chances of reaching a fair car accident settlement.
An attorney can recommend the best place to begin negotiations; in many cases, the first figure you demand should be higher than is reasonably expected for the settlement. Starting high allows room for negotiation, since most insurance companies will end up making a counter offer that is lower than your initial demand for compensation.
Negotiate an Optimal Auto Accident Settlement
Don’t be surprised if your initial demands are met with a lowball offer. Insurance companies exist, first and foremost, to create profits for shareholders. They will do everything they can to save money paying out claims and settlements. Thankfully, a good lawyer will be skilled in negotiation and help you get the largest auto accident settlement possible.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the car accident settlement negotiation process:
1. Be prepared to negotiate for a few rounds. Just because you’re working with an insurance company doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate for a higher settlement amount. The insurance adjuster’s initial offer is almost always low, so have a counteroffer ready.
2. Make sure you’ve reached MMI. As discussed above, you never want to accept a settlement offer from insurance until you’re completely sure you’re fully healed and done with any medical treatments or procedures.
3. Don’t accept the first car accident settlement offer. As mentioned above, the insurance company’s initial offer is almost always low. So don’t be afraid to ask for more money. Remember, they’re not going to give you more than they think you deserve, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you think is fair.
4. Be prepared to walk away from the negotiations or file a lawsuit if the insurance company won’t make a fair offer. Often times insurance companies will have a change of heart and come around to your demands if they see you’ve called their bluff and are willing to dig in and go further in the process instead of accepting whatever offer is on the table.
While there may be some back and forth during this process, it’s important to be patient. Should negotiations stall, you may want to seek additional evidence of the impact your injuries have had on your life. A letter from a doctor or photos of your injuries may bolster your argument. A polite response with additional evidence advocating for why additional compensation for your car accident injuries is needed can go a long way!
Accept the Settlement Offer – Or Go to Court
In most cases, accident victims and insurance companies find a number they can agree upon and settle out of court. Before signing any kind of offer, be sure to go over your medical bills and be sure that the settlement will cover them, along with any future costs you might incur in your continued recovery. Make sure the offer is large enough for you to pay for attorney’s fees and any wages you lost out on because of the wreck.
Should you fail to reach an agreement, you’ll need to escalate your claim and file a car accident lawsuit. In many cases, settlement negotiations continue all the way up until the day of court. In most cases, insurance companies will do all they can to prevent a lawsuit, which often means they will make a better settlement offer in the final hours before a lawsuit is set to start. It behooves both parties to come to a mutual agreement about compensation. While you can certainly have your day in court if necessary, you risk a judge ruling in favor of the insurance company. Only an accident lawyer familiar with your case can recommend whether or not to accept a settlement offer.