You may be asking, “Should I handle my own car accident case, or should I hire a lawyer when the accident wasn’t my fault?” Well, it depends. There are definitely times when you do not need to hire a lawyer to handle a car accident claim. You can generally handle your 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 these can be handled without hiring a lawyer. But still, 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.
First, if there is any question concerning whether you are responsible for causing the accident, the very first thing you should do is call your own automobile insurance company. Your insurance company is responsible for hiring you a lawyer and paying damages you may have caused up to the limits of your liability insurance policy limits. If you are injured and are considering hiring a personal injury lawyer for your injuries, the following suggestions are helpful.
When and If You Should Call a Lawyer
Any time there are more serious injuries or death involved, 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. A good personal injury lawyer will have experience with thousands of car accident cases and will almost always put more money in your pocket than you could have received if you had tried to handle it on your own.
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.
We know that sometimes people want to try and handle things on their own. That is why we are providing this guidance to you to help you deal with the insurance company, but we still firmly advise at least consulting with an attorney before you proceed.
Don’t Screw Up Your Own Car Accident Case
The following list provides guidance for those who want to handle a car accident case without the help of an attorney. Use these tips so that you won’t fall prey to the insurance company tricks and tactics.
1. Don’t Give a Recorded Statement to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
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.”
2. 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.
3. Taking the Insurance Company’s First/Final Offer
Another mistake we see is that unrepresented people take the first 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.
4. 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 for my pain and suffering.” I always advise against this. Settling too fast is a trap for the unwary. Many times, your injuries may not be fully understood right after an accident. 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.
5. Not Knowing the Law
There is 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 about some of the traps you may fall into in a car accident claim.
6. Putting Too Much Trust in the Insurance Company
People put too much trust in what the other driver’s insurance company is telling them. 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 the accident. Don’t write a blank check to the insurance company by giving them a medical or other authorization.
7. 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 others like them 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 paid 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.
8. Failing to Make a Claim Under Your Own Auto Insurance Policy – Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
You may be entitled to make a claim for policy benefits from your own auto insurance for medical bills and lost wages. These policy provisions pay regardless of fault and whether or not you pursue a claim against the at-fault driver. Personal Injury Protection or “PIP” is no fault insurance and will cover you regardless of whether you or the other driver was at-fault for the accident. In Texas, there is a mandatory $2,500 PIP requirement in every auto insurance policy which can only be waived in writing.
In Texas, most PIP claims cover up to $2,500 in medical bills, lost wages (up to 80%), and certain household duties that can no longer be performed on account of the injury you have sustained. Many insurance companies also offer up to $10,000 or more in PIP coverage, but this must be requested. My advice to you is to buy as much PIP as your insurance company offers. It is great auto insurance and doesn’t cost all that much. Medical Payments Coverage or “Med Pay” is like PIP but with certain conditions. Med Pay provides coverage regardless of fault in an accident. It is important to remember that Med Pay only covers medical bills. Lost wages are not covered under Med Pay. If you make a Med Pay claim, your auto insurance company will be entitled to be reimbursed when you get a settlement from the at-fault driver. Because of this condition, I always recommend that you buy PIP instead of Med Pay. They cost about the same and PIP is truly unconditional money that you are entitled to receive for your medical bills and lost wages.
In summary, not every case requires an attorney. I hope we have pointed you in the right direction if you choose to do it alone. In cases involving serious injury or death or if you do not want to take the time to research and understand the car accident laws, it is best to hire a personal injury attorney to help you receive the most money possible for your injuries.