Today I’m going to answer three frequently asked questions about settling a car accident claim in Burlington, Vermont.
I talk to a lot of people who’ve been involved in motor vehicle accidents, and far and away the most common questions I get are these:
- How does an insurance company value my case?
- When is the right time to settle my claim?
- How long do car crash claims take?
How insurance companies evaluate injury claims
Many auto insurers use computer software when they’re trying to figure out how much to pay you for your injuries. Insurance adjusters will take your medical records and some other pieces of information like the crash report, and they’ll plug all of this information into the software, which then spits out a range of numbers that the adjuster is allowed to use to settle your claim.
In our experience, the first number that the adjuster offers is rarely the top dollar, and they expect that some negotiation will take place before a final settlement is reached. It may or may not be a fair number in the end.
This is very different from how a jury will evaluate the impact of your injuries on your life. A skilled trial lawyer will use a variety of methods to present a fair picture of the harms and losses to the jury and suggest a value that properly compensates you.
But the two methods of valuing the claim are completely different.
When Should I settle my injury claim?
The easiest decision to make is when the insurance company agrees to pay you the full amount of the policy available. This is what we call a tender of the policy limits, and that’s a good thing.
Now, the policy limit really is the most an insurance company will agree to pay to settle your case under almost all circumstances.
But if your injuries are severe and you’re offered the policy limit from the other driver’s insurance, you better know whether you have other coverage available, like underinsured motorist coverage or an insurance policy from someone else who might be at fault because you’ll need the consent or approval of those insurance companies before you can accept the money from the other driver.
If the insurance company offers you anything other than the full policy, you and your lawyer, if you have one, are going to have to make some decisions in which you weigh a bunch of different factors, each of which is going to be specific to your case.
Factors to consider before you settle your claim
These include factors such as how easy is it to prove your injuries? Are they obvious, like broken bones? Or are they hidden, like a brain injury or maybe a spinal injury? How close is the offer to the actual policy limit? Will you wind up spending more money to get the case to trial than you could ever hope to recover in a jury verdict? How good is your evidence, and how good are your witnesses? See my video and blog on what makes a good witness for more information on that particular topic.
When is it too early to settle?
Believe it or not, you can settle your injury claim too quickly. There are two main reasons for this, and the first has to do with medical insurance. If you had medical insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid, or some private insurance that paid the bills for your injury care, you’re going to owe them money.
And if you settle your case too quickly, they may not know the total that you owe before you settle your case, and you could end up owing more money at the end than you recover from the other insurance, and that would be a very bad outcome.
The second reason why you don’t want to settle your injury claim too soon is that you only get one chance to do it. Unlike other types of insurance claims, like medical insurance, unemployment, even worker’s compensation, there is only a single personal injury settlement, and it’s meant to cover all of the harms and losses, past, present, and future.
If there’s still a chance that you need medical care in the future and in particular something serious like a surgery, then it is best to wait until you’ve had that care or that surgery and see if you recover.
And if not, then you’ll at least need a doctor who will go on the record to say that more likely than not, you’re going to need that surgery or other medical care, and this is how much it’s going to cost. Now, that’s important evidence to have because you can now include the cost of that medical care as part of the settlement of your claim.
How long does it take to settle an injury claim?
It could be two or more years from the time you file a lawsuit until you get a jury verdict. Is that an amount of time that you can wait? Or would you rather accept less than full value for your claim just to be done with it? Do you need money for medical care or to pay your bills?
Each of these factors is very particular to you and your case. But to the extent you can be patient and/or need the money to survive, the closer you’ll want your settlement to be to that policy limit.
Remember that insurance companies use computer software to determine the value of your case. And most of the information that they get comes from your medical records. Don’t ever take the first offer because they’re always prepared to negotiate.
It can be easy to settle your case if your injuries are severe and the insurance adjuster offers you all of the money that’s available, the policy limit. But keep in mind that you may also have underinsured motorist coverage or some other kind of liability coverage that might be available to you, for which you’ll need to get consent before you can accept that policy limit.
In most cases, though, you’ll have to make some choices, and these choices will be based on the specific circumstances of your case, including the quality of your evidence and the timeframe that you have in mind for recovery.
And remember, in most cases, you don’t want to settle your case if you’re still actively treating for your injuries. Unless you’re careful, you’ll lose the right to recover for those future harms and losses should they happen.
I hope that you found today’s article helpful. If you’d like to talk to Drew Palcsik about your injury, claim, or lawsuit, give our office a call. We meet with clients from our Burlington and Middlebury, Vermont offices.