Handling your own auto accident claim might be the best option. It also might be a mistake. This guide will help you navigate and avoid some of the common pitfalls people encounter when handling their own auto accident injury claim. It will also help you determine whether hiring an attorney is the best solution for your specific situation.
Determining Whether You Need a Lawyer
You may be able to settle your claim by yourself if your claim isn’t too complicated and you have the time and patience. You’ll need to gather all the information necessary and be a good negotiator to get a fair settlement value. You’ll also need to be on your toes and avoid some common mistakes when talking with the adjuster so you don’t inadvertently lower the value of your claim…which will probably be on the low end to begin with.
If you have questions or are unsure about what to do, you should consider hiring an attorney. Even if you ultimately decide not to retain a lawyer to assist you with your case, consultations are free and a brief discussion of your situation could prove extremely valuable.
A good personal injury lawyer can advise you on the proper course of action, explain your legal rights, tell you what to expect regarding the progress of your case, evaluate your case, negotiate a replacement vehicle and repairs, and negotiate a full and fair settlement of your claim. Their job is to represent your interests aggressively so you get the money you deserve for your injuries.
What will happen if you don’t hire a lawyer? This question is difficult to answer. You may do just fine, or you may permanently damage your case and make it much harder (or even impossible) to collect the money you deserve. We offer an honest, pressure-free consultation at no cost or obligation. Give us a call so we can help you determine the best course of action.
Tips for Handling Your Injury Claim
1. Get medical treatment immediately.
If you are injured, seek medical treatment promptly. Tell your doctors about all your areas of pain and every symptom. You should never exaggerate your symptoms, but you should not minimize them either. If an MRI is ordered, be sure to request a copy on DVD. This is important if you go to different doctors such as a specialist because you’ll want them to see your MRI. Go to all your medical appointments. Your recovery should be a priority. Also if your injuries are not documented, they won’t be considered by the insurance company when valuing your claim.
2. Conduct a complete investigation.
It is extremely important that you collect all witness statements, police reports, medical records and anything else related to your accident. Your case may require hiring private investigators or accident reconstruction experts. The other party’s insurance company will collect all sorts of information that may be used against you. You could be at a serious disadvantage if a thorough investigation to support your claim for damages is not conducted soon after the accident.
3. Take good photos of any and all damage to your vehicle.
Don’t have your car repaired until you have taken photos of the damages. Take photographs of your car, the car that hit you, the accident scene, and your injuries. You don’t want to rely on pictures taken by the other party’s investigator. They are trained to minimize the damage appearance in the photos. Take your own.
4. Don’t release your medical records.
Don’t sign a release of your medical records to the other party’s insurance company. Many accident victims make this mistake and they can be used against your claim. The same is true for your own insurance company. However, in certain types of claims, your own insurance company may be entitled to your medical information.
5. Keep the adjuster informed, but don’t say too much.
Keep the adjuster informed about the seriousness of your injuries yet at the same time you must be careful what you disclose. There’s a fine line between what you should and should not tell the adjuster. And, certainly, the circumstances of your injury will play a part in what you should reveal.
6. Don’t let the insurance adjuster pressure you into settling your case.
The insurance company will want you to settle quickly (before you retain a lawyer) in hopes you’ll settle for far less than your case is really worth. They are trained, rewarded, and use all kinds of methods to get you to settle for a much lower amount than the fair value of your case. They may try to get you to admit the accident was your fault, or at least partly your fault. The adjuster may try to get you to give a recorded statement or sign a statement, either of which may be used against you later at trial. Don’t be surprised if they are polite. They are trained to act as though they are completely on your side but don’t be fooled by this tactic. They are trying to gain your trust so your guard will be down and you may say something that will be damaging to your case.
7. Know all your damages.
They include (1) cost of medical treatment, (2) pain and suffering for your injuries, (3) loss of income for time off work, (4) loss of business, (5) cost of a rental car, (6) cost of fixing your car, (7) cost for psychological counseling caused by stress or some other aspect of the accident, (8) cost of transportation to and from your doctor’s office — and possibly other money you paid out or lost as a result of your injury. Keep an accurate record of all expenses and hours or days lost from work due to your injuries.
8. Track all accident related expenses.
Keep all bills and receipts related to your accident such as those from doctors, the hospital, pharmacy, and physical therapist, just to mention a few. If you don’t save your bills and receipts, you will not be able to prove the amount of your damages and can’t recover for those expenses. Be sure you get a receipt for every bill you pay.
9. Know all your injuries.
Many victims feel that if they don’t hurt, they aren’t injured. Yet injuries caused by accidents may not develop into symptoms for days or even weeks. Don’t be too quick to rule out injuries just because they haven’t yet appeared.
10. Know your sources for insurance coverage
In many cases an injured victim can legally collect from two or three different insurance policies at the same time. Yet many accident victims don’t know where to look for various insurance coverage. An attorney will help you determine whether you can collect from more than one policy. There is also a strategy for using different insurance coverage at certain times to maximize your net recovery.
11. Don’t stop seeing your doctor too soon.
Even if you are feeling better make sure you continue going to the doctor until your doctor releases you. Your doctor knows the complications that could result from your injury. The type of injury may be complex and the mere fact you are no longer in pain does not mean that your injuries have fully healed. If you can’t afford the continuing cost of treatment, an attorney can discuss your options.
12. Fight for a fair deal.
Consider and be prepared to file a lawsuit if the settlement offer is not fair. After your doctor releases you from treatment, prepare your case quickly and, if necessary, file your lawsuit. Insurance companies are not in a hurry to settle cases (1) unless they can settle the lawsuit for far less than it’s worth, or (2) unless they feel the pressure of the approaching court date. Insurance companies usually get serious about settling your claim if they see they will have to start paying lawyers to defend your lawsuit. Consult with an attorney to discuss the benefits and risks of filing a lawsuit. He can help you understand all of the aspects.
13. Get a consultation before making any decisions.
Ask a qualified, experienced personal injury trial lawyer to evaluate your case. We offer a consultation for free and without obligation. You probably had a doctor evaluate your injuries. Doesn’t it also make sense to have a lawyer evaluate your legal claim?
At Brauns Law, see us as offering a concierge service for handling your claim. Let us take the burden of navigating an injury claim off your shoulders. We’ll save you time, stress, aggravation and the hassle of dealing with the insurance companies. Once you retain us, we’ll take over and handle everything so you can focus on your recovery.
Common Auto Injury Misconceptions
I can settle my case without hiring a lawyer and get a fair settlement value.
Sure, you can handle it yourself but it’s important you realize you are going up against trained adjusters who are rewarded for keeping their settlements low. Often you will run into a situation where your medical expenses exceed your settlement offer. An attorney can help you find other insurance money if available as well as negotiate down your medical bills. Attorneys can also recover money for pain and suffering. We urge you to talk with a lawyer to determine if your case is something you can handle yourself or if you need help. At my firm, I’m selective about the cases I take and if it’s something so straight-forward you can easily handle it on your own I’ll be sure to let you know.
An attorney requires a down payment to accept my injury claim.
In our office, we handle injury cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you pay no fee until we recover money for you. If you don’t get anything from the insurance company, you won’t owe us anything.
I’ll have to go to court to get what my case is worth.
Most injury cases are settled before the case goes to court. Often, when the insurance company realizes you and your lawyer are ready and willing to go to court, which we are at my firm, the insurance company starts making reasonable offers for your injury claim. If we don’t like the first offer, we make a counteroffer. Negotiations may continue until both sides agree on a certain amount. 85% of our cases are settled before filing a lawsuit. On average our clients will receive their settlement checks 6-8 weeks after they are released from medical care.
I have to accept what my lawyer tells me.
Your lawyer should always let you know the status of your case. At my firm, we call our clients at least once a week. You will always speak with an attorney and not a paralegal as is the case with the majority of other law firms. We will always discuss your options so you will be an active participant of your case.
I will get more money by handling my case myself.
The amount of money your lawyer recovers is usually much more than you could have recovered on your own. Even with the attorney fee, you may still recover more.
Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Lawyer
Whether you decide to hire my firm or another, please keep the following in mind and avoid some of the common pitfalls that can lead to a poor recovery.
Mistake 1 – Choosing a lawyer who doesn’t have enough experience.
The most important factor in choosing an injury lawyer is the amount of his/her knowledge, skill and experience handling injury claims. At my firm we specialize in injury cases so we are experts in the field. Make sure the lawyer you select has in-depth experience handling injury cases. A criminal lawyer, workers’ compensation attorney, or divorce lawyer might not be familiar with all the details of injury law, and probably aren’t great choices to handle your injury claim. You wouldn’t go to a dermatologist when you have a broken bone, right?
Mistake 2 – Choosing a lawyer only because you like his advertising.
A flashy TV commercial doesn’t mean anything except that the lawyer agreed to pay for the advertising. Advertising can make almost any lawyer look like an expert. Don’t choose a lawyer solely because you like his ad. Make sure you ask questions (see next section) about the attorney’s experience in handling injury claims. We will be more than happy to discuss with you cases we have handled that are similar to your own.
Mistake 3 – Choosing the lawyer who promises you the most money.
The amount of money you’re entitled to recover, called “damages,” is based on many components: (1) the length of your recovery from injury, (2) the dollar amount of your medical bills, (3) the dollar amount of lost wages, (4) pain and suffering, and (5) the severity of your injuries. No one can tell you exactly what your case is worth until they gather all the facts. Any lawyer who promises you a certain amount of money before all off this information is known is making a promise they probably can’t keep.
Mistake 4 – Choosing a lawyer because of the location of his office.
You may be inclined to select a lawyer who has an office down the street from your home or office. This could be a big mistake if what you gain in convenience is lost in knowledge and experience. Most of the work between an injury lawyer and his client can be done by mail, email, and over the telephone. However, we gladly coordinate with our clients in whatever way is most convenient for them, and can always meet in person when that’s preferred. Whatever your preference, we can mostly likely accommodate.
Tough Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Lawyer
1. How long have you been practicing in the specific field of accident and injury law?
2. What percentage of your practice is devoted to accident and injury law?
3. Have you previously represented people with injuries similar to mine?
4. Do you have investigators and expert witnesses who will help in cases with my type of injury?
5. Can you refer me to a physician who can provide treatment for my injuries?
6. Can you help me with my property damage claim and get a rental car for me?
7. Will you handle my case on a percentage fee basis?
8. Will you discuss my case with me over the telephone?
9. Have you ever defended insurance companies against injury claims?
10. Will you evaluate my case for me without cost or obligation?
11. If the insurance company doesn’t offer a fair settlement, are you willing to fight for what is fair?
Get a Free Consultation Today
Whether it’s advice about how to handle your case yourself or a consultation to determine if an attorney should be involved, we welcome your call.