To start, remember this: I know a situation where an individual sought to have his hospital bill reduced. He offered $300 to settle the $900 bill. He was laughed at. The next day, his attorney wrote a letter offering the same $300. It was accepted hours later.
A personal injury claim should not be viewed as a way to fleece the system or to "strike it rich." It is the best mechanism we we have in our social community to make a unfortunate circumstance "right." However, you have to remember that reasonable minds can disagree as to what it might take to make the situation "right." There is also the fact that the entity generally paying the settlement (the insurance company) has a bottom line to consider. If they can pay you less that what a "fair" settlement would be, then the bottom line looks much better. Therefore, just because an adjuster tells you your case is worth $800.00, you should be cautious and know that you have options.
Should you choose to go about the matter on your own, I am providing a few helpful guidelines to consider.
1. Before you are in an accident make sure you have good insurance for your circumstance. State minimum coverage is almost never adequate. Uninsured coverage and Underinsured coverage is a must. (see my article Selecting Car Insurance in Arizona).
2. Just after the accident, follow the guidelines in my article What Do I Do If I Am In An Accident? But remember to get the names and contact information from witnesses, take good quality photographs of the vehicles and the injuries, have the police write a report, make sure you have the at-fault party's insurance information, and most important, make sure you properly and adequately care for your injuries.
3. Open a claim. This can often be a tricky situation. The very beginning part of a claim can all happen in a whirlwind. You will be receiving calls from several different adjusters from different departments within the same insurance company or from different insurance companies altogether. Familiarize yourself with who each insurance company represents. They will all generally seem very nice if they are doing their job properly. Anything you say or do at this point will often have an impact on the future of your claim. "You said that you felt 'fine' and now you say that your hip is sore?" If you were not at fault at all, there is no harm in opening a claim with your own insurance company. In fact, it will often be advisable because they are easier to work with regarding property damage. Your rates cannot legally increase unless you had some fault in the accident.
4. Understand that your property claim (damage to your vehicle or belongings) will be handled separately from your injury claim. To keep yourself organized, you will want to keep separate folders for paperwork etc. for each. Often the insurance company will assign a different adjuster for each type of claim. This can get very confusing very fast.
5. To proceed with your property claim, an adjuster will come to your home, work or elsewhere and do an inspection of your vehicle and make you an offer accordingly. Rather than taken their word for it, you should have a body shop that you trust perform an independent evaluation of the cost of repairs using good parts and quality work. You should also consider a "loss of use" claim that generally manifests itself in the cost of a car rental for the reasonable time that you have been without a car. If your car is totaled, and it takes that adjuster 3 weeks to determine that it is totaled, you should receive the value of a car rental for the 3 weeks it took them to decide plus another week to 10 days to give you adequate time to look for a new vehicle. Whether you actually rent a car or borrow one from a friend or family member is irrelevant. If you have a rather new car that was not totaled but sustained significant damage, your vehicle will have lost some value. Afterall, when you request a carfax report on a used car, one of the factors that are listed are whether or not that vehicle has been involved in an accident. That will obviously affect the future value of the car. This is called diminution in value. You are entitled to that amount, whatever it might be (there are experts for that kind of thing, but a used car dealer might be a good place to start to get that figure).
6. Injury claim. Very early after the accident, usually not more than a week, someone from the other insurance company will call and ask how you are. What they would like to know is "how injured you are." It is your goal to be restored to pre-accident health. Consult your doctor, if you have one, and try to figure out a treatment plan that will reach that goal. If you are on a treatment plan that does not seem to be working, then you should be very honest and clear with your physician that the treatment does not seem to be helping and seek alternate or additional treatment. You should have EVERY physician bill your health insurance. Some will insist on a lien and try to convince you that it is better than using your health insurance. The adjuster will ask you to sign a medical authorization that will allow them to gather your records as they become available. This will allow the adjuster to see exactly the treatment you are receiving and, worse, what services you received were paid by insurance. Rather than sign this authorization, you should get all the treatment you need, then when you have reached pre-accident health, request all your bills and records, and send them all at once to the adjuster.
7. Demand. Together with the bills and records, you should demand a certain number. That number will have everything to do with the status of your current health (are you 100% or something less), the size of the bills, the type of injuries sustained, lost wages, and the overall impact on your life. Each case will clearly be different. There is no magical formula used to calculate a "fair" demand or offer.
In the end, there are a lot of moving parts.
Should you find that it is too much to deal with, call me for a consult.
Adam W. Barlow, Esq.
Adam Barlow Law, P.C.