HOW TO SETTLE A CAR ACCIDENT CLAIM WITHOUT A LAWYER
Feb. 20, 2021
No matter how serious the collision, every car accident has the potential to overwhelm even the most resilient of us. When we feel helpless or out of control, it's natural to try and cling to solutions that will give us a sense that we're back in the driver's seat of our lives.
For this reason, some individuals attempt to take it upon themselves to file their settlement claim without a car accident lawyer and see the entire process through all by themselves.
If you've been involved in an accident and you're interested in pursuing rightful compensation for your damages and injuries, indeed, you will need to file a car accident claim with the insurance company to get the process started. If you are motivated to try and settle your claim without a lawyer to assist you, continue reading. I will do my best to explain how the claims process works so you can take action and pursue what's rightfully yours.
Before you decide if self-representation is the right solution, you should first follow the few necessary steps after the accident event.
First Steps Before Considering Self-Representation
If you decide to settle a car accident or personal injury claim without a lawyer, the way you resolve the accident in the near-term matters a great deal.
Immediately after the accident, make sure to gather adequate evidence of the accident scene.
Take photos of any property damage or injuries present, the accident scene itself, including the vehicle's visible marks on the road or broken Glass. Simple pictures on your phone will do.
Call the police via a 911 call, and report the car accident. Make sure to tell the dispatcher if anyone was injured and how severe the damages are. This is a crucial step in the process as it is the formal record (the police report) that the accident took place.
Seek medical attention as soon as you're able to. Even if you do not think you were injured, it is crucial to get a medical evaluation to rule out the possibility of injury. This medical record will be used as a valuable piece of evidence in your claim.
Look for eyewitnesses. If anyone was around to witness the accident take place, be sure to reach out to them. Ask for their contact information and ask them to write down their account of the accident in a recorded statement you can use later.
Keep the details to yourself. Make sure not to discuss your accident on social media platforms. Your responsibility is to communicate the accurate details of the case in formal correspondence only. You do not want to risk your side of the argument being misconstrued or taken out of context to jeopardize a favorable outcome.
Exchange information with the other driver(s), including name, contact information, and the driver's insurance company information.
Even if you only suffered a minor injury—or no apparent injury at all—these few steps are critical for laying the groundwork of a smooth settlement process.
Now that we've gone over the first critical steps after an accident has taken place. Let's move on and talk about how to evaluate the value of your damages so you can get a ballpark figure of what you stand to receive in financial compensation from a fair settlement.
How to Decide If Self-Representation Is The Right Option
The details of your accident and the accident case's overall complexity can heavily influence how smoothly the process unfolds. The more parties involved, the more serious the injuries, and the more ambiguous the liability, the more complex the process is likely to be.
For example, wrongful death and other grave personal injury cases involving accident victims have a lot more at stake than a typical slip and fall accident that results in a sprained ankle.
Evaluate the Extent of Your Injuries
Suppose you're just at the beginning of the process. In that case, you can begin by evaluating the extent of your injuries from the accident.
Did you require medical care like specialist treatment or rehab?
Did you have to take time off work?
Were you unable to work at all?
Was it a serious injury?
Before you speak to a claims adjuster and begin the process in earnest, it's helpful to estimate your settlement's potential value by tallying up damages from the accident. This can be as straightforward as adding up all expenses related to the accident.
For instance, if you were involved in a severe auto wreck that required extensive medical treatment, such as surgery or physical rehabilitation. Or if you lost wages from work, a fair amount of income. Or suppose you suffered significant pain and suffering special damages as a result of your accident injuries. In that case, you should keep a record of these out-of-pocket expenses.
You may also want to consider speaking to an attorney to help you make the right decisions around filing and settling your car accident injury claim.
Evaluate the Strength of Evidence and Proof of Fault
The next thing you want to think about is the strength of the evidence around your case. Generally speaking, the clearer the fault, the more straightforward your case will be.
If it's apparent that the at-fault driver caused the accident, and if there are witnesses you can count on to testify on your behalf, then it may be easier for you to prove fault and get a favorable settlement outcome. But suppose there is ambiguity about who was responsible for the car crash. In that case, you may need to prepare yourself to be more aggressive in fighting to prove that the other driver was at fault.
Note: If there is any chance that you could assume partial or full responsibility for the car accident, then I strongly recommend you seek the legal counsel of a professional personal injury attorney to help ensure there are no negative repercussions from potential liability.
If you've assessed the damages and evaluated the preponderance of the evidence, then it's time to file your claim and move forward with the settlement process.
How To Settle A Car Accident Claim on Your Own
The first step in working towards a settlement is filing a claim with the insurance company.
File The Insurance Claim
The statute of limitations in Louisiana is one year after the date of your accident. No matter the circumstances of your accident, the first step in negotiating an insurance settlement is to determine where to file the insurance claim.
If you were involved in a car accident, there are a few ways you might choose to file.
Keep in mind, according to the Louisiana Department of Insurance, driving without insurance can result in penalties. And if you are in an auto accident without insurance, even if the other driver was at-fault, you may be prohibited from collecting certain amounts of compensation.
If you live in a no-fault state, it doesn't matter who caused the accident — you always file a claim with your own insurance company.
If you live in a fault state like Louisiana, the injured party is responsible for filing a claim against the at-fault party's insurance company.
Or, if you've been injured in a slip and fall accident, then you'd typically file an insurance claim with the business property's insurer.
Remember, even though filing a claim is a necessary step in the process, and you need the adjuster's help, the insurance company is not on your side. It's your responsibility to keep organized and negotiate as effectively as you can.
Evaluate the Financial Cost of Your Damages
If you haven't already done so, you must try to evaluate the cost of your damages (out-of-pocket expenses related to the car accident).
It is not always possible to calculate an accurate estimate of the damages that result from your accident. However, you can do your best to evaluate the extent of your damages by adding up the total expenses you've incurred since the accident took place. Anything related to the accident that had tangible financial costs should be added in a running tally to help evaluate the cost of your damages.
Note: Many individuals search online for settlement calculators or formulas. Let me be the first to tell you that there is no official calculator available online. Every car accident case is unique. If you wish to represent your case by yourself, then the best you can do is keep track of all expenses related to your case and use that as a starting point.
As you have further discussions with the insurance adjuster and potentially with a judge and jury in court, there will be a negotiation phase. Negotiation is a necessary step that involves some back and forth with the parties involved before a verdict is made for the settlement's final value.
Some potential damages to keep a record of may include property damages (i.e., the costs required to fix or repair your vehicle), lost wages, compromised earning capacity, medical bills and treatments, and any other dollar amount costs associated with bouncing back to normal after the accident.
Once you've filed your claim and have an estimate of your damages accrued, you're ready to have a conversation with an insurance adjuster.
Contact An Insurance Claims Adjuster
The main point of arriving at a number value estimate for your damages is to have a fixed number in mind when you start talking to an insurance adjuster—think of this as your anchoring point for a successful settlement. It is the minimum acceptable amount of compensation for you to recover and get back on your feet.
During your conversation with an insurance adjuster. You will find out what the insurance policy is willing to cover. After you file your claim, they will review the damages, medical expenses, and any associated losses from the accident. The insurance company will use the totality of your damages and injuries to calculate an amount that they deem fair.
Now, in most cases, insurance companies will attempt to throw you a lowball number at the beginning of the negotiation process. When this happens, you can anticipate some back and forth with the insurance provider while maximizing your settlement's value.
Be prepared to stand your ground and make a strong case for your situation. You have a minimum settlement amount you believe is reasonable. Your task is to use your evidence and documentation to make a compelling case for your ideal compensation value.
Negotiating may be the most challenging part of the process, and it rarely comes naturally to anyone. If you need assistance, then an experienced personal injury attorney can negotiate on your behalf. Dealing with insurance companies is one of the most challenging areas for self-representing accident victims. If you are not up to the task, there is no shame involved. Reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to maximize the value of your settlement claim.
Preparing Your Demand Letter
Suppose the insurance company tries to give you an unsatisfactory amount of money. In that case, you can prepare a demand letter to push back and make your case for a higher settlement.
A Demand Letter is a formal letter that outlines all of the damages you incurred from your accident. The objective of your demand letter is to make a case for the compensation you're entitled to. Make sure to include as many details as you can about the accident.
In detail, outline injuries, medical treatment you received, and any other losses such as pain and suffering or emotional distress resulting from your accident.
While you're waiting to receive a settlement offer from the insurance adjuster, come up with a minimum settlement amount in mind.
This number isn't meant to be shared.
Instead, keep this figure in mind as you begin negotiating with the adjuster — it is the number you should refuse to go any lower than.
In most cases, the adjuster will come back at you with a low ball settlement offer following your demand letter.
This is a routine, if frustrating, part of the claims process.
Don't be surprised if their first offer seems almost absurdly low. Often adjusters will employ this as a tactic to test your negotiation ability and see whether you know your claim's worth at all.
Your claim may have been perfectly reasonable, but remember: adjusters work for the insurance company. It is in the adjuster's interest to limit the extent of their company's liability and use your lack of legal knowledge to pay you less.
If they can sniff out a vulnerability or exploit your lack of knowledge, they will attempt to do so.
My advice is to meet their rejection letter with a counter-offer. In a follow-up letter, you can press the adjuster for more details about their valuation and explain your reasoning for rejecting their initial offer.
Let's be clear; once you reject their first offer, the negotiations begin. Now it is time to defend your demand for fair compensation using all the evidence at your disposal.
Settling Versus Going to Court
If the insurance company comes at you with a reasonable counter-offer, you should consider taking it.
If you accept, take the money and sign the release papers.
If not, then you'll need to escalate your case and get ready to file a personal injury lawsuit in court.
Settling out of court is almost always preferable because there is considerable risk taking a case to court. There is the possibility that you lose, that the jury decides for the defendant, and you walk away empty-handed.
A settlement entails far less risk and often means you will receive compensation more quickly than you would trying your case in a court of law.
Representing Yourself Can Be Stressful and Difficult
It is possible to represent yourself and settle a car accident claim. You can do it without hiring a car accident attorney, but I would not recommend it.
There are many confusing loopholes and procedural complications that aren't so obvious those unfamiliar. An attorney who knows the landscape can help guide you towards getting the money you deserve.
Most personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis. This means the attorney's fees come out of the final settlement awarded. You pay nothing upfront. Even better, they can streamline the settlement process, so you get your money more quickly. Suppose you do end up going to court. In that case, they'll be able to mount your case and argue on your behalf against the insurance company's experienced legal team. An attorney may also help you find other liability health insurance coverage that might not be so obvious.
Get Help Today From A Personal Injury Lawyer
Negotiating a settlement agreement takes real patience and persistence. And if a deal can't be reached, it may be time to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit. Contact Bruscato Law today for legal advice on how to effectively negotiate your settlement — and win.
Whether you're considering filing a claim or you've already begun the process, please don't hesitate to schedule a free consultation with Bruscato Law Firm. As an experienced personal injury lawyer, I am fortunate to act as a legal resource to clients throughout Monroe and the surrounding areas.