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Mistakes To Avoid When Negotiating Your Car Accident Settlement

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Jeff Sevey

In some cases, it is possible to handle your own accident claim successfully, especially if you have only minor injuries and property damage. In fact, it may be more cost-effective to negotiate on your own behalf rather than hiring an accident attorney, to whom you’ll pay one-third of your settlement in exchange for legal representation. In this article, we’ve put together some suggestions on how to effectively deal with an insurance company so that you are able to resolve an insurance claim in your favor.

When considering the possibility of representing yourself, there are two main questions you need to answer:

  1. What is the extent of your injuries?
  2. Who was at fault in the accident?

If you’ve suffered a small accident such as getting rear-ended in a parking lot, your injuries and property damage are probably minor. The negligent party’s insurance company might want to offer you a settlement that will cover your medical costs and any property damage, and you’ll walk away satisfied.

On the other hand, if you were involved in a major automobile accident with severe injuries, pain, loss of income, and/or growing medical bills, it might be in your best interest to seek out an attorney who deals specifically with personal injury law.

When you’ve been in a serious accident, you’ll be owed significant damages. You’ll want to be compensated justly for your injuries, pain and suffering, and damage to your car and its contents. Be aware that the insurance company you’ll be dealing with does not have your best interests in mind. They want anything but to pay you what you’re owed. They may even become hostile to you during negotiations. For this reason, it pays to have a licensed and skilled attorney on your side, dealing with the insurance company so that you don’t have to.

If you were not at fault in the accident, and you have witnesses that are willing to give statements to that effect, proving who was at fault will be easier. In turn, this will make it easier for you to receive adequate compensation from the insurance company when handling your own claim. But if it’s not crystal clear who was at fault, or if you do not have witnesses willing to place blame on another party, you may have a significantly harder time dealing with the insurance company.

It’s very possible that the insurance adjuster that is handling your case will try to blame you for the accident, saying that you weren’t paying attention, that you were distracted while driving, or that you were speeding. Without witnesses, it is your word against theirs, and in this case, you would do best to let an attorney handle the case for you.

If you are representing yourself there are things you’ll want to take care of before you ever discuss anything with the defendant’s insurance company. As soon as possible after the accident, you’ll want to do the following:

  • If you are physically able, take pictures of your injuries, the injuries of others, the scene of the accident, and the damage to the cars involved.
  • Obtain names and phone numbers of the negligent party that hit you, as well as any witnesses present at the accident site.
  • Obtain the police report from the accident.
  • Receive medical treatment for injuries.
  • Keep copies of all medical records and bills you receive.

And here are a few things you must not do:

  • Do not discuss anything about your accident on Facebook or other social media outlets. This information could be used against you by the other person’s insurance company.
  • Do not allow the other person’s insurance company to record you giving a statement.
  • Do not admit fault to the other person’s insurance company.

The next thing that you want to do is provide an accurate estimate of your damages from the accident to the insurance company. There are two types of damages you’ll need to calculate, those capable of exact calculation and those that are more difficult to exactly calculate.

“Special damages” are those that you can add up such as medical bills, time off work, reduction in earning capacity, and any other financial losses that you can directly attribute to the accident. These things are easy to calculate, with the exception of loss of earnings, which can depend on several factors.

Damages that aren’t capable of being exactly calculated include pain and suffering, and mental stress from loss of income and growing medical bills. Coming up with a figure that represents the value of your pain, suffering, and trauma can be challenging to even a seasoned attorney. It is unrealistic to believe that you will be able to adequately make this calculation yourself, due to the many factors that need to be considered. This is where an experienced attorney will prove to be a wise investment.

When you have calculated your damages, you’ll to send your calculations to the defendant’s insurance company in the form of a demand letter. A demand letter is just what the name implies – a formal demand to the insurance company of the amount of money that you will need to settle the claim. This will be considered the beginning of serious negotiations between you and the insurance company. Before you send the letter, be sure that you’ve examined how the injuries and losses have affected your life, and come up with a reasonable figure for compensation.

After you’ve sent the letter, you can expect the insurance company to come back with a very low figure for settlement. You will want to counter with an offer closer to your legitimate expenses, plus pain and suffering. If they counter again, you’ll need to consider whether the figure they offer is close enough for you to settle.

If it is, all you’ll need to do is sign a release absolving the insurance company for all liability arising from the accident, after which you will receive a check. However, if the negotiations don’t go well, your only option is to file a lawsuit. At this point, you will need to know the procedures involved in suing, and you will definitely want to hire a competent attorney that knows how to litigate a personal injury case.

When you’re attempting to settle your own insurance claim, it pays to remember that you’re not looking to get rich. You simply want compensation for your pain, suffering, damages, and treatment of your injuries. Realize that the attorney shows you see on TV give an unrealistic view of the process and how difficult it is to secure an adequate settlement. Most claims will settle out of court, with or without an attorney. However, to make sure you’re receiving the proper amount of compensation for your injuries and expenses, hiring an attorney is the best choice.

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