Many of us have a “do-it-yourself” attitude. Why spend the money for someone else to do it when you can do it yourself? I completely understand why many people have the belief that they can settle their own personal injury claim without the need for an attorney. I mean, what’s the point in hiring an attorney when the insurance company will pay me anyways?
These are good questions. The best way to answer them is to recognize some of the mistakes that people make when settling their personal injury claims without an attorney.
Are You Making These Mistakes?
1. SETTLING FOR LESS
If you are injured by the actions of someone else, an insurance company representative for the at-fault person or business will contact you shortly thereafter. They will likely want you to give a recorded statement, which is inherently designed to be used against you later. They may even offer what is considered a “first call settlement” offer to settle your claim before you even know the extent of your injuries. All of which is an attempt by the insurance company to minimize the payout on your claim.
The insurance company makes money from people paying their premiums, not by paying out claims. Every dollar they do not pay you as compensation for your injuries is a dollar that goes into their pockets. The insurance company wants you to believe they are friendly and looking out for your best interest, but that is exactly what they are trained to do in order to increase profits. Thus, an insurance company is thrilled when you are not represented by an attorney because they know you will settle for less not knowing the true value of your claim.
For example, let’s say you break your leg in an automobile accident and the insurance company offers you $10,000 to settle your claim. You may be excited about the offer because you get to keep all $10,000 without the attorney receiving 33% in fees. However, let’s say you hired an attorney for the same case which increased the settlement amount to $60,000. The attorney would be receiving 33% of the settlement amount in fees but your 66% would be $40,000! This makes hiring an attorney the right choice.
2. SETTLING TOO SOON
Everyone wants their personal injury claim to be resolved as soon as possible. The insurance company wants the same thing, but for a different reason. In a personal injury claim, you only get one bite at the apple. Meaning, once you settle your claim with the insurance company you cannot reopen your claim later. This is true even if you notice additional injuries that were not present at the time of settlement and need future medical treatment.
For example, say you have neck pain after an accident and your doctor suspects that you suffered a muscle strain that will resolve in a short amount of time. With this in mind, you decide to settle your claim with the insurance company for compensation equivalent to that of a muscle strain injury. However, your neck pain increases over time and it is discovered that you have a herniated disk that requires surgery. Not only will you not receive additional compensation for the more severe injury, but you will be paying for the surgery on your own dime.
Therefore, if you settle your injury claim with the insurance company too soon, you may be on the hook for future medical treatment. So, it is in your best interest to not make a quick decision to negotiate and settle your claim with the insurance company before speaking with an attorney.
3. LACK OF CONFIDENCE TO NEGOTIATE
To get top dollar for your injury claim, you need to have the confidence to negotiate with the insurance company. To be confident, you need to have the requisite legal knowledge to understand what you are entitled to receive for your injuries. Even if you are confident about the facts of your case and the injuries you suffered, an insurance adjuster will likely attempt to undermine your assertions. The adjuster may raise legal defenses such as comparative fault, assumption of risk, or mitigation of damages. They may discount your injuries and the reasonableness of your treatment based on outdated or unfounded medical literature. Even the most articulate and highly educated individuals can be misled by the insurance company’s defense tactics. Thus, it is best to be fully prepared by speaking with an attorney before negotiating on your own behalf.
4. ADDITIONAL INSURANCE COVERAGE NOT IDENTIFIED
An attorney may be able to find other insurance coverage you did not know was available. For example, if you were a passenger in the vehicle that was involved in the auto accident, you may be covered by the driver’s personal injury protection (“PIP”). This PIP coverage will pay for your medical bills during your treatment period. Another source of coverage may be underinsured motorist coverage (“UIM”) through your own insurance policy. If you were involved in an accident with a person with limited or no insurance coverage, you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries through your own insurance policy once the at-fault person’s insurance policy limit has been exhausted.
A knowledgeable personal injury attorney will find out if there is additional insurance coverage through other sources, which then can be used to provide fair compensation for your claim. If such sources of coverage are not identified before the settlement of your claim, you may lose out on that source of coverage and never be fully compensated.
5. YOU OWE MONEY – “SUBROGATION”
Many people think that when they settle their personal injury claim with the insurance company, the entire amount goes directly into their bank account. However, what many people fail to realize is that there may be multiple entities you owe money to or have what is called the right of subrogation. The right of subrogation means they have a right to be repaid for your medical treatment. This may include medical providers, health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, L&I, and even your own auto insurance company if you had personal injury protection coverage (“PIP”). Consequently, if you accepted an offer from the insurance company to settle your injury claim, you may owe more money than you received.
For example, let’s say you accept a settlement offer for $10,000. Yet, you owe $5,000 to the hospital for your initial emergency room visit, $4,000 to your chiropractor, and $3,000 to your physical therapist. After you cash the $10,000 settlement check, you still owe $2,000! Instead of receiving 100% of the settlement amount, you are setting up payment plans with a collection agency.
In conclusion, I genuinely hope you avoid these top five mistakes made when settling injury claims without an attorney. If you or a loved one has been injured by the actions of someone else and would like to speak with an experienced Washington personal injury attorney, please contact Roberts Jones Law. We have offices in both Kennewick and Federal Way, but we represent personal injury victims all throughout Washington. We offer free consultations and do not charge legal fees unless we recover money for you. No risk, all reward.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice.