Time and time again, I meet with clients who tried – and failed – to settle their personal injury claims. By the time these clients sit down with me, they are frustrated, angry and fed-up with the process. More importantly, by that time, they have already fallen victim to some of the common pitfalls of self-representation.
It is a common misconception that handling your own injury claim will make the process faster and easier. This is almost never true. The insurance claims system was intentionally designed to be complicated, discretionary and inherently deceitful. Regardless of representation, it takes time, patience and perseverance to maximize the value of your claim.
For those who just want to make a quick buck, handling your own injury claim may be the best option for you. For those who want to receive full and fair compensation, hiring an experienced attorney should be your first step. If you are in the former category, be prepared for a long, frequently frustrating process and watch out for these common mistakes:
Never trust the insurance adjuster.
The harsh reality is that a self-represented claimant presents no real threat of a lawsuit against the insurance company. This leads us to Rule No. 1: The claims adjuster assigned to your case is not your friend. All insurance companies have one simple goal: minimize the value of your claim. Knowing this simple truth can go along way when handling your own claim. Be aware that adjusters will low-ball, mislead, and even mislead to settle your claim for less than it is worth. Before you settle your case, if you feel like you are being taken advantage of, trust your gut and seek legal counsel immediately.
Take pictures of the property damage.
We all know the cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Do not forget it. Good pictures of property damage can go a long way in the negotiation process. When it comes to property damage, adjusters should be bound by the laws of common sense: If the damage and injuries are severe, one logically translates to the other. But this truth cuts both ways. Minimal or nonexistent property damage is commonly used by adjusters to deny a claim or diminish the value. If the damage to your car is internal rather than cosmetic, get a copy of the repair estimate and submit it to the adjuster. You are your own advocate, so start building your case from the scene of the crash.
Seek immediate medical treatment and be consistent with your care.
The first thing adjusters do to evaluate a bodily injury claim is to survey the medical records for delays and gaps in treatment. Consider the following scenario: You are in a car crash on January 1st and realize you are injured the next day. Two weeks later, you go to your family doctor who refers you to physical therapy. You start therapy on January 17th, have your second session on January 20th, and your third on February 27rd. What’s wrong with this scenario? To an average person, probably nothing. To an adjuster, everything. Most people would agree that if someone is injured, they go to the doctor immediately. So, if adjusters see delays and gaps in treatment, it naturally follows that you must not be injured or at least not badly. Remember, adjusters’ number one goal is to minimize the value of your claim. Ultimately, your medical treatment tells the story of your injuries, so seek care immediately and consistently to avoid letting adjusters use that story against you.
Keep detailed records of accident-related expenses.
Organization is key to handling your own injury claim. When you hire an attorney to handle your case, part of her job is to make sure your medical expenses, prescription costs, lost wages, and other expenses are accurate, complete, and organized. If you are handling the claim on your own, these vital tasks fall on you. Document everything and keep all accident-related bills and expenses in one place. When your treatment is complete, organize these documents in a clear and logical fashion and submit them to the adjuster.
Know your damages and how to prove them.
Under Virginia law, an injured person is entitled to compensation for economic and non-economic damages. The first category is easy. You are entitled to compensation for any and all accident-related expenses you incur. This includes medical expenses, lost wages and prescription costs, to name a few. The second category is non-economic damages, which include pain, suffering, inconvenience, and mental anguish. This category is not so easily quantified.
As an advocate, one of the most important parts of my job is to use my client’s damages to paint a picture for the jury. Economic damages draw the black and white outline, while non-economic damages add color and depth, bringing the picture to life. It takes skill and experience to master this art, but there are still ways you can paint a picture for the adjuster on your case.
First, think about the ways the injuries affected your life. Did they affect your ability to sleep, do chores, go to the gym or grocery store, hold your grandchild, or take walks with your spouse around the neighborhood? Did you have to miss a vacation, birthday party, or another special event? Next, craft a letter to the adjuster detailing your pain and suffering and use your medical records to support those claims.
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, you may still get an unreasonable offer from the adjuster. If you feel you that you are being treated unfairly, contact an experienced attorney before you settle the case.
Watch out for liens and subrogation interests.
Congratulations! You heeded my advice and successfully navigated the complexities and nuances of your personal injury claim. Now what? Before you cash and spend that settlement check, you need to be sure that a third party does not have a right to part or all of those proceeds. Yes, you read that correctly: Though Virginia is an anti-subrogation state, certain health care providers, as well as federal and self-funded health insurance companies, may have a right to be reimbursed from the settlement proceeds. In these circumstances, if you settle your claim without satisfying the lien obligations, you will likely face a demand for payment from the insurer or health care provider. If you think liens may be involved in your case, speak to an attorney.
Fail to get a free consultation with an experienced attorney.
Finally, all these common mistakes can be easily avoided by having an experienced personal injury attorney to review your case. The truth is, the law has many complexities and nuances that a person not versed in the process just will not know about. Securing the expertise of experienced personal injury lawyers is always a good choice. We can advise you on the best course of action, what to expect as your case moves along, and negotiate a settlement on your behalf. If you have any questions about your case, schedule a free consultation.