It was a straightforward accident, and it was all the other driver’s fault: The driver of that other car wasn’t looking when he made that left-hand turn, so he smashed right into you. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but your vehicle sustained significant damage. Should you accept that offer from the other driver’s auto insurance company, or should you prepare to fight it out in court?
Negotiating a Deal
First, it’s important to understand that the representative from the other driver’s auto insurance company doesn’t have your best interests at heart. The representative works for an insurance company, and it’s his or her job to save that company money. In all likelihood, the company’s first offer is likely to be less than you deserve. Ask the insurance adjustor to justify the amount you’re being offered and take careful notes when he or she does so. This will allow you to submit a written response to that offer in which you dispute the unfair settlement amount on a point-by-point basis.
Negotiating is a good way to raise that offer, but negotiating is often a long, drawn-out process. Negotiating can be draining, particularly if all you really want to do is put the accident behind you so that you get on with your life. This is one of the reasons why hiring an personal injury lawyer may be a good idea even if you’re not interested in bringing a civil litigation action. Experienced attorneys know how to deal with insurance companies and what types of pressures work best at the negotiating table in order to get the best deals for their clients.
The Insurance Settlement Cost-Benefit Analysis
No matter how big the settlement the other driver’s insurance company is offering you, it’s not big enough if it fails to compensate you fairly for any costs you have incurred that are associated with the accident. Your settlement should include the full cost of any repairs your motor vehicle will require. In the instance described above, no injuries occurred, but if you do suffer injuries, your insurance settlement should also be large enough to reimburse you for the initial and ongoing costs of medical treatment.
What if the cost of medical treatment is so high that the medical insurance costs you pay actually increase? Then your damages may include compensation for the higher costs of healthcare insurance premiums. The settlement should also include compensation for lost wages even if wages were not forgone for medical reasons but simply because you had to take a day off from work to get your vehicle repaired.
Motor vehicle accidents can cause psychological or emotional trauma. In legal parlance, psychological and emotional trauma are often referred to as “pain and suffering.” It can be difficult for a layperson to put a price tag on pain and suffering, and that’s another reasons why it’s often advisable to work with an experienced personal injury attorney after you’ve been in an automobile accident.
The Demand Letter
It’s important to be proactive when you’re negotiating an insurance claim on your own behalf. The centerpiece of any such negotiation will be a formal document that sets forth the amount you want and your deadline for receiving that sum. This document is known as the demand letter. When you submit a demand letter to the insurance company, you should also submit all supporting documents such as medical bills and verification of lost income that support your justification for the amount you are asking for.
Your demand letter must contain a clear statement of your understanding of the relevant liability issues. Describe the events of the accident as you understand them with as little hyperbole as you can. Be brief and factual.
Many states use a standard of comparative or contributory negligence in assessing personal injury damages. In your demand letter, however, it’s most strategic to avoid any discussion of the role your own carelessness may have played in causing an accident. Insurance adjustors will be perfectly aware of state liability statutes, and it’s up to them to cite those in any subsequent negotiations.
Attorneys typically have the experience and the skills to draft persuasive demand letters, and this may be another reason why you’ll want to engage the services of a personal injury lawyer even if you plan to accept the auto insurance settlement and have no interest in going to court.
Taking the Case to Court
Most insurance companies prefer not to fight cases in court. Courtroom disputes are expensive and their outcomes are unpredictable. However, if you feel that the insurance company is making you a settlement offer that doesn’t compensate you fairly for your damages, you may need to be prepared to take your dispute to court. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you review your options in this matter and help you protect your legal rights.