Should I handle my own car accident case or should I hire a lawyer? There are times when you do not need to hire a lawyer to handle a car accident claim. Generally speaking, a person could handle their own car accident claim when the injuries are minor (subjective injuries that resolve quickly after the accident) or where there is only property damage involved. Most of the time, claims like thesecan be handled without hiring a lawyer. If you choose to do your own claim, you should take the time to do some basic research before you battle against the insurance company.
When and If You Should Call a Lawyer
Any time there are serious injuries involved or death, a lawyer should be hired immediately. There are just too many considerations that you either aren’t aware of or don’t have the experience to handle the case alone. A good personal injury lawyer will have experience with thousands of car accident cases and will almost always put more money in your pocket that you could have received if you had tried to handle it on your own. If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious car accident, you should seek legal advice immediately. An experienced car accident lawyer will start investigating from day one. Because of the nature of the injuries and the stakes involved, it is imperative that you seek prompt legal advice. In high stakes car accidents like those involving accidents with 18 wheelers, our law firm employs a rapid response team who will immediately begin gathering evidence, getting witness statements, hiring accident reconstruction experts, inspecting the vehicle, downloading the truck’s ECM (“black box”), getting medical records and helping our client get needed medical care.
Even if the injuries are not severe and you have what you consider a “small case”, you should consider hiring a lawyer as soon as possible. Small accident cases frequently have to be litigated and tried to a jury. A jury will more likely believe that you are injured in the accident if there are not large gaps in time between the accident and the time that you wait to get medical treatment. The sooner you hire a lawyer, the sooner the lawyer can begin helping you get the medical attention that you need after an accident. As a general rule, our law firm will not agree to represent someone in a car accident if there are more than three weeks between the date of the accident and the time the person seeks medical treatment.
We know that sometimes people want to try and handle things on their own. That is why we are providing some basic guidance for you in dealing with the insurance company. While nothing contained herein is legal advice, feel free to use this guide to help you understand some of the tricks of the trade that insurance companies use to lower or deny your claim.
Don’t Screw Up Your Own Case
The following list provides guidance to those of you who want to handle a car accident case alone without the help of an attorney. Use these so you won’t fall prey to the insurance company tricks and tactics.
- Don’t Give a Recorded Statement
The insurance company will always try to get you to give a recorded statement. The adjuster will tell you that the claim cannot be settled until you have given a recorded statement. That is simply not true. We routinely advise our clients not to give a recorded statement. We settle cases every single week where no statements are given.
The insurance adjuster will try to take your statements out of context or will try to minimize your injuries in the statement. If the case ever goes to trial, “everything you say will be used against you.” The recorded statement is a simple trick to allow the insurance company to minimize or deny your claim.
There are some instances when a recorded statement is necessary. For example, if the claim you are making is against your own insurance company for uninsured motorist benefits, you have a duty to cooperate. In those cases, we set up a recorded statement under controlled conditions and we prepare our clients to give all necessary information without prejudicing our client’s case.
- Don’t Ask For Too Much or Too Little
The first mistake, asking for too little is easy to understand. If you ask for too little for your claim, you can realistically never go back and ask for more. The second error, asking for too much, is a little more complicated. If you ask for too much, the insurance company is going to respond in kind by offering very little to settle your claim. It may be very difficult to settle the case because of the wide disparity between the actual value of your claim and the demand you have made.
In a car accident claim involving minor damages and medical treatment that has resolved, I would suggest sending one global demand to settle your personal injury claim after you have completed your medical treatment. Add up all of your medical bills and lost wages, if any. Add to that number a few thousand dollars to compensate for pain and suffering. The more injured you are, the more money you can demand. If you have low medical bills and treatment and then you turn around and demand tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can expect to get stonewalled by the insurance company. Plus, you will telegraph to the insurance company that you don’t know what you are doing. Knowing how much to demand and why is one of the many benefits you will receive by hiring a personal injury lawyer in the first place.
- Taking the Insurance Company’s First Offer
Another mistake that we see is that unrepresented people take the first or the final offer that the insurance company offers. You can expect that the insurance company will start with a low offer. Do not take it. The process is not unlike buying a product at a flea market. Assume that the insurance company has more money to offer you to settle your claim. Also, do not believe that the insurance company’s “final offer” is really final. Often times, you are able to get more money by demanding a number close to the insurance company’s “final offer.” Be willing to give the process time and to walk away from the deal if you do not believe that you are getting a fair offer to settle your injury claim.
- Settling the Case Too Quickly
I hear the following all of the time when a new client comes in for a free consultation, “The insurance company offered to pay my medical bills and give me $500.00 for my pain and suffering.” Settling too fast is a trap for the unwary. Many times, your injuries may not be fully understood right after an accident. For example, what happens if your sore back doesn’t get any better after a few months. You go and get an MRI which shows you have a herniated disc that is a lot more serious than you first imagined. If you have already settled your claim, the insurance company does not have to ever give you another penny even though you can prove that your herniated disc was caused by the accident. So, beware. The only reason the insurance company is offering you that fast settlement is to reduce the value of your potential claim.
Instead, you should wait until you have finished all of your medical treatment before you attempt a resolution of your claim. You should always know the exact nature and extent of your injuries before attempting settlement. Work with your doctors to understand your injuries before attempting settlement.
- Not Knowing the Law
There is simply no such thing as a “simple” car wreck. In a car accident case, you need to know what laws will affect your claim. You should do your homework and research as much as you can about the laws surrounding car accidents. Take a look at our website, which has a lot of useful information. Here are a few of the laws that you need to understand:
- “Paid or Incurred”: Read the Haygood v. De Escobedo case and understand what effect payment of your medical bills by your health insurance company has on your case. Generally, you cannot recover more for past medicals than what the insurance company has paid on your behalf.
- Insurance Bad Faith: If your claim is for uninsured motorist coverage against your own insurance, read Brainard v. Trinity Universal Insurance Company and learn all of the ways that “bad faith” cases against your own insurance company have been limited in Texas.
- Suing the At Fault Driver: Understand that you are not allowed to sue the insurance company, just the at fault driver. No matter how bad an insurance company for the at fault driver treats you, you will not be able to sue that insurance company.
- Insurance Policy Limits: The insurance company is not obligated to pay you more than the insurance limits of the at fault driver. Also study how to make a claim with your own insurance company if the other driver either does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance to cover your damages and injuries. For example, did you know you have to get consent from your own insurance company to settle with the at fault driver if you plan on making a underinsured motorist claim with your own insurance company.
- Proportionate Responsibility: Study Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code and learn the effect of your own potential responsibility for causing the accident. In Texas, a personal may not recover if he or she is more that 50% at fault for causing an accident.
- Putting Too Much Trust in the Insurance Company
People put too much trust in what the other driver’s insurance company is telling them. For instance, the insurance company may admit fault for causing the accident in negotiations with you. Do not assume that the insurance company will live by that admission if the case cannot be settled. You should assume, despite what the insurance adjuster says, that the case is going to trial. You should investigate your own crash. Get a certified copy of the accident report. Speak with witnesses and get their phone numbers and addresses in case you need them. Get a written statement from witnesses if available. Document everything. Take photos of your vehicle and the accident scene. If you can, get photos of the other driver’s vehicle as well. Always order your own medical records. Do not give the insurance company a medical authorization. Giving a medical authorization will allow the insurance company unfettered access to your medical history. Only give the insurance company enough to document your injuries from this accident. Don’t write a blank check to the insurance company by giving them a medical or other authorization.
Also, do not assume that the insurance company will be fair to you. An insurance company has two goals: (1) to deny your claim outright; or (2) to minimize the value of their claim. The “nice” adjuster that you have been speaking with gets a big bonus for denying or minimizing claims. The insurance company and its adjusters are not your friends. Do not take anything an insurance adjuster tells you at face value. Verify and research everything the insurance adjuster tells you.
- Failing to Understand Medical Liens and Subrogation
My guess is that you have never heard the word “subrogation” before. I sure didn’t before I went to law school. Did you know that buried deep in your health insurance documents, you have given BCBS, Aetna and the like a right to recover a portion of your personal injury settlement? Subrogation is a fancy legal term that means that your health insurance company has a right to be repaid when it pay for your medical care caused by a car accident and when you receive money in a car accident settlement. You need to know that the money the at fault driver’s insurance pays you is subject to claims by your own health insurance or from the hospital if they have filed a hospital lien. If you do not take care of the subrogation interests and liens, you could be sued by your own insurance company or the hospital. An insurance adjuster is not going to bring these up in negotiations but will tell you about these rights once you have agreed to settlement terms. You might not know that the amount of money offered will be a whole lot less once the health insurance liens are satisfied. A good personal injury lawyer will know these laws and know how to reduce these liens and subrogation interests to the greatest extent possible.
Please read the following laws to help you understand these rights:
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 140 deals with subrogation rights of a health insurance company.
- Texas Property Code 55 deals with hospital liens filed by hospitals and others for care provided to you after an accident.
In summary, not every case requires an attorney. We hope that this guide will point you in the right direction if you choose to go it alone. In cases involving serious injury or death or where someone does not want to take the time to understand the laws, it is best to hire a personal injury attorney to help you receive the most money possible for your injuries. Our firm offers free consultations. We handle serious car accident claims for people throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Call us today at (915) 228-4140 for a free consultation or if you have any questions about your car accident claim.