Today, I’ll be discussing how not to settle your personal injury claim.
Not every injury claim warrants hiring an attorney. For whatever reason, if you find yourself representing yourself handling a personal injury claim, these tips are for you.
To be clear, I’m talking about injury claims; that is, insurance claims, not lawsuits.
If you’re considering filing a lawsuit, or you’re already involved in an existing lawsuit and representing yourself, other considerations are more pressing, which I won’t be able to get into here.
Here are my top tips for how not to settle your personal injury claim.
Don’t wait too long to try to settle your claim.
Many people I speak with are surprised at how long it takes to resolve an injury claim. There are medical and billing records to collect, accident reports, and witnesses to speak to. This information all needs to be reviewed, organized and presented to an insurance adjuster in a way that’s most as accurate and persuasive as possible.
As a lawyer, I begin this process shortly after we start working together and it may go on for months or even years.
This is especially true when you, as the injured person, are still treated and we don’t yet know what the outcome of that treatment will be. This is a significant fact because a permanent injury’s value is very different from an injury that resolves or heals.
The problem is that if you wait too long to present your claim to an insurance adjuster, you won’t leave time to negotiate. Once we get a settlement package over to an adjuster, it can take weeks or months for the adjuster to review the records and get back to you with a settlement offer.
This can be a problem if the statute of limitations is fast approaching.
Vermont & New York Car Crash Statutes
The statute of limitations is three years for most injury claims in Vermont and New York, particularly ones that arise out of car crashes. If you don’t already have a settlement agreement in place and don’t file a lawsuit, your claim disappears forever when the statute of limitations passes. Be sure you know the exact limitation on the type of claim you have!
If you wait until a few weeks or even a few months before the statute of limitations expires to present your claim to an insurance adjuster, you’re putting yourself in a bad position.
An insurance adjuster, under those circumstances, may feel like they can put out a lowball offer and that you’ll feel compelled to take it. They may recognize that you don’t have much time to negotiate or find a lawyer to handle your case, and you may feel pressure to accept before the statute runs out.
So when making a settlement proposal to an insurance company, give yourself six months, or three months at an absolute minimum, before the statute of limitations is about to run to present your claim and give yourself time to negotiate.
Don’t Settle Your Claim Too Soon.
So this advice may seem counter to the advice I just gave you, but stick with me. At its most basic, an insurance settlement is an agreement, the insurance company agrees to pay you money and you agree not to file a lawsuit.
A settlement can happen anytime after an injury occurs, but just because you can settle quickly doesn’t mean you should.
Why you shouldn’t settle right away
Unlike many other types of insurance claims, such as health insurance, workers’ compensation, or even unemployment, liability settlements – like from a car crash – are a one-shot deal, and that settlement has to cover all of your harms and losses past, present, and future.
So if you haven’t fully recovered from your injuries yet, or your doctors are still looking for ways to help you, you shouldn’t settle just yet. For instance, if you’re considering back or neck surgery because of injuries sustained in a car crash, all other things being equal, you should probably wait until after that surgery to consider settling your case.
For one thing, the insurance company will likely offer you more money after surgery. But also, you don’t know the outcome of the surgery, surgery might fix your condition, or it might not, but either way, the person responsible for the crash is liable for all the harm they did.
Generally speaking, unless there’s only a small insurance policy and your injuries are severe, a quick settlement is usually not the best idea.
Do Your Best To Live Your Life Fully After The Crash
Sometimes people involved in a car crash will ask me whether it’s okay to do something they’d like to do. They will ask something like, will this hurt my case? For instance, somebody with a back or neck injury might ask, is it okay to keep going for bike rides?
These folks are concerned that an insurance adjuster may be putting them under surveillance, will see them doing something fun and active, and think, ‘Oh, well, this person isn’t very hurt.’
That’s a fair question.
But you may be surprised to learn that what’s good for you as a person is also good for your claim. Never choose to do something or avoid doing something just because you’re thinking about how it will affect your insurance claim or lawsuit.
If your case ultimately goes to a jury, everyone will be able to spot this, and it’s not a good look for you.
But that said, get medical care. Even if you’re the type of person that wants to try to tough it out, it’s the doctors and treating healthcare providers who can tell us what’s wrong with you and how long it will be expected to last.
How insurance companies value car crash claims
Many insurance companies look primarily or entirely to the medical record itself to determine your injuries and how much to pay you.
A lack of treatment will ultimately mean less money for you. Long stretches without medical care after a crash or injury are called gaps in treatment by insurance companies.
These gaps in treatment are much worse for your claim than any evidence of you doing something and having fun. Insurance adjusters will focus on these gaps, and so will juries. At the same time, live your life, do your best, and have fun.
If you can’t, or it hurts too much to live your life the way you’d like to, back off as necessary, but don’t stop trying. There are a lot of virtues to this approach. It’s honest; the people who see you trying to make the best witnesses, and everybody roots for somebody who’s giving their best.
Don’t Neglect Liens and Subrogation Interests after the Crash.
Liens and subrogation issues are topics that I’ve covered in several other videos, in particular, in my videos on Medicaid and Medicare. Also, I’ve covered it in my video on workers’ compensation and personal injury claims.
So if any of these circumstances apply to you, check out those videos.
At its most basic, a lien or subrogation interest arises when one insurance company has paid for something, usually medical care related to your accident or injury. Then they want to get paid back out of your settlement.
The biggest concern usually arises from public benefits, like Medicare or Medicaid, but other insurance companies also have these rights.
Vermont medical insurers
For instance, in Vermont, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont always asserts an interest in one of their insured’s injury claims and expect to be paid back. Typically, medical bills are reviewed by insurance companies to see whether they’re incurred as a result of something that appears to be an accident.
These insurance companies want to know if another company should be properly on the hook. You may receive a letter shortly after an ER visit asking if your visit to the ER resulted from a car crash or some other injury.
Or you may get a letter saying, we know you have a claim. Please put us in touch with your lawyer. The letter may ask if you know the name or insurance company of the person responsible for your injury.
Repaying your insurer
Regardless of how it happens, you will almost certainly receive a letter from your insurance company at some point letting you or your lawyer know that they’re asserting a financial right in your personal injury settlement.
You cannot ignore these claims, especially regarding public benefits, like Medicare or Medicaid, but even with your own health insurance company, you must know what these numbers are and consider them when you’re thinking about resolving a personal injury claim.
When I represent someone, it’s my job to make sure that I know what these numbers are and who has a legitimate claim to my client’s injury settlement.
But if you’re representing yourself, it will be your job. If you don’t take care of that, you risk having to pay way more than you might otherwise.
If you aren’t assertive about dealing with these claims up front, you may wind up paying more than you should out of your settlement. Even worse, you may wind up owing more than you settle for.
This is especially true once you’ve received an injury settlement.
Liens and subrogation interests are, like many of the things we talk about in these videos, complicated topics which could warrant an entire seminar on their own.
At the very least, you should know who has an interest in your case and whether you will have to pay back some money out of your settlement.
Your takeaways from the article should be:
First, don’t wait too long to settle your injury case. If you get too close to the statute of limitations, you may be forced into a position where you have to accept a lowball offer.
On the other hand, don’t try to settle your claim too soon before you know the full extent of your injuries, or else you might not get full value for your claim.
Get the medical care you need and avoid gaps in treatment. At the same time, do your best to live a normal life as best you can.
Number four, under no circumstances should you settle a personal injury claim without knowing what insurance companies are interested in the outcome and whether you’ll have to pay any money back.
I hope you find this information helpful. Please feel free to call me if you want to talk to me about your injury, claim, or lawsuit. I can help injured people with their claims and lawsuits in Vermont and New York.