You were recently rear-ended in an auto accident. The facts and issues regarding fault seem relatively straightforward.
Can you really settle a car accident claim without a personal injury lawyer?
If you are injured in a car crash, you can file a personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. It is usually a smart idea to consult with a law firm or personal injury attorney prior to initiating the claims process.
But if you decide to go it alone, there are some considerations to keep in mind during the life of your insurance claim. These are:
- calculate your damages,
- collect evidence,
- submit a persuasive demand letter,
- be wary of a quick lowball settlement offer,
- be careful in negotiating, and
- avoid giving a recorded statement.
1. Should you calculate your losses before filing a claim?
Most often, yes. Prior to filing an injury claim, you should take some time to identify and add together all of your damages.1
Make sure to include any property damage when calculating your losses. This includes any damage to your car as well as any other property that was marred in your personal injury case.
In calculating your losses, you will discover what your accident claim is worth.
A total damage amount can also serve as a starting point when entering the settlement process with an insurance adjuster.
2. What about gathering evidence?
Injury victims should take the time to gather any evidence that is relevant to their car accident case.
Your evidence will work to strengthen the merits of your case. You can also refer back to important pieces of evidence during settlement negotiations with a claims adjuster.
Depending on the facts of your case, important pieces of evidence may include:
- medical records or any documents describing medical treatment,
- witness statements,
- police reports,
- photos of the vehicles involved,
- photos of the accident scene, and
- photos of your injuries (especially if you suffered a serious injury).
3. Should you submit a demand letter to the insurance company?
Most often, yes. A demand letter is essentially a document you submit to the insurer that outlines the:
- facts of your case, and
- compensation you wish to recover.2
You should try and keep the letter succinct but do include the most important facts of your case.
Your letter should also include, or at least refer to, any especially powerful pieces of evidence.
For example, if you have a photo of a severe accident injury that looks particularly painful, submit it with your letter.
Take some time to write the letter in a persuasive manner.
For example, do not just list your facts. Rather, inform about them in a manner that:
- bolsters your case, or
- makes your side of the story more believable.
Make sure to include your contact information in your letter.
4. Should you accept a quick lowball settlement offer?
Usually, no. Insurance adjusters work for their respective insurance companies. As such, they have an interest in minimizing the value a claim is worth.
If adjusters pay less money on a claim, they save their employers money. One result is that adjusters at times will use certain tactics to settle a claim for less than what it is actually worth.
One tactic is to offer a quick and lowball settlement offer. If you accept it, then:
- there is less work for the adjuster to complete, and
- the insurance company saves money.
Therefore, be wary of quick settlement amounts. If an offer seems low, ask the adjuster the reason why.
You can also make a counteroffer for a higher amount.
5. Can you negotiate with a claims adjuster?
Yes. Once an adjuster makes you an offer, you do not have to accept it. You are free to negotiate with the agent to reach a fair settlement (or one in your best interest).
When negotiating, you can make the adjuster counter-offers, and he/she can make counters to your own.
In going back and forth, remember to remain professional. Do not yell or lose your calm.
Also, try to avoid going into many details. The less said is often more, as adjusters will look for anything you say to try and take it out of context and use it against you.
Remember, too, that an adjuster cannot force you into a car accident settlement. If you do not believe an offer represents fair compensation, you can reject it.
If you do, you can consult with a car accident attorney and maybe pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault river.
A suit may result in receiving a greater amount of money.
6. Should you avoid giving a recorded statement?
Most often, yes. A recorded statement is where an agent records you while you answer his/her questions.
Insurance adjusters will usually ask you leading questions and then use certain statements to devalue your claim.
If asked to provide a statement, it is just fine if you decline.
- Note that the term “damages” refers to all of the money compensation that an accident victim hopes to recover in his/her car accident case. See Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Damages.”
- See, for example, California Civil Code 55.32.