If you’ve been the victim of a car accident and sustained serious injuries that are impacting your quality of life and preventing you from working and paying your bills, medical bills, as well as other out-of-pocket expenses, getting a settlement from the insurance company or insurance adjuster can be your saving grace. That said, the process isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
Here are eight key things to know about auto accident settlements that can help you navigate the road ahead.
1. Always get checked out by a doctor.
Sure, you might feel okay after a car accident but you should always get checked out by a doctor, just in case. Don’t even think about taking a settlement until you know the full extent of your injuries because some problems might develop months later and you end up with ever-increasing medical bills. With the right testing and scans, doctors can detect these problems early and treat them before they start getting worse and you end up with ongoing pain and suffering. Make sure everything is documented carefully and use this information when negotiating a settlement offer.
If you refuse medical attention and develop problems weeks or months after a car accident, it can be hard to make the case that your new medical problems are related to the accident. Getting thoroughly checked out right after the accident is essential, and would be the advice of any worthy personal injury attorney.
2. Every settlement is different.
Every insurance company or injury attorney considers a lot of factors during the settlement process before deciding on the amount they’re going to offer for a settlement. If two people are injured in the same accident, the person with minor injuries will receive a much smaller one than the one who was majorly injured.
To give you a better idea, here are some of the things that insurance companies consider when deciding on an amount for a settlement or if they should settle at all: where the accident occurred, whether medical treatments were reasonable and necessary, if you will recover from your injuries, whether or not you will continue to need medical treatment, how much work you have missed or will miss in the future, the limits of your insurance policy, and your level of comparative fault.
3. Insurance companies don’t like to pay out.
Even if you’re not at fault and have sustained a serious injury, most insurance companies will offer you the lowest amount possible, even though you may be experiencing lots of pain and suffering. This is one reason why you should consider hiring a personal injury lawyer. They know the law and have experience with insurance companies so they may be able to get you more of what you deserve.
4. You don’t have to accept their first offer.
You already know that the insurance company is going to offer you a low amount initially so be prepared to counter with something closer to what you think you deserve. Chances are the insurance company is expecting a counter offer and will be open to some negotiation, although this is much easier to accomplish if you hire an attorney.
5. Get a copy of the accident report.
The insurance company should provide you with a copy or you can contact the police to request one. Look over everything very carefully and make sure there aren’t any errors or glaring mistakes. Any inaccuracies can affect the outcome of your settlement. File a new accident report if you need to but be aware that the insurance company will have to verify it before a settlement is offered.
6. Be realistic about how much of your settlement money you’ll actually receive.
If you receive a large settlement, it’s certainly worth celebrating but it’s also important to keep in mind that all of that money isn’t going to go right into your bank account.
While you may not have any lawyer’s fees upfront, you might be in for a shock once your case is settled. Most personal injury lawyers will work on contingency, meaning that they don’t take any payment or charge fees until after you win your case or get a settlement. Usually, about 30 or 40% of your settlement funds will go to your lawyer and there are typically additional fees and other charges added.
Also, don’t assume money from a settlement is completely tax-free. While money awarded for medical expenses and physical injury is usually not taxed, anything awarded for lost wages and emotional distress is.
Finally, for very large settlements, the insurance company may not pay the whole amount at one time. Sometimes, they may make payments yearly or even every few years until the settlement is paid in full. If you’re unable to work as a result of the accident, plan accordingly. Budget well and make sure you can get through from one settlement payment to another.
7. Expect it to take a little time.
Don’t expect a fast resolution. It can take a long time to settle your claim. Remember, the insurance company is dealing with your claim on top of all of the other claims they have so it can be a long process. Smaller claims are usually paid out more quickly because they’re typically less complicated. If you have a serious injury and are asking for a significant amount of money, it’s possible that you could be waiting more than a few months for a settlement.
8. When you agree to a settlement, it’s final.
You will have plenty of opportunities to negotiate throughout the process but once you reach an agreement, you’ll be asked to sign a release form stating you agree to the amount of the settlement. After you sign this form, it’s legally binding and you can’t come back later and ask for more money. This is another reason why it’s good to have an attorney involved. Because of their years of experience, they will have a good idea of whether or not you’re getting as much as you deserve for your injuries.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the insurance company that’s deciding on your claim isn’t really on your side. If you aren’t at fault and have sustained an injury, get checked out by a doctor and contact a personal injury lawyer for help navigating the system.