Right now I’m working on a personal injury case where a couple got rear-ended. They, and their passenger, were injured. One of my clients has two herniated discs is his low back, which is a serious and very painful permanent injury. Initially, they tried to negotiate and handle the case themselves, because they thought the liability insurance company would “do the right thing”.
Not so much. They got frustrated and came to me a year later, after really mis-handling their own claim. Now, about another year later, I’ve about got the mess they created straightened out and am able to reach a settlement which more closely resembles reasonable compensation.
So, Here are a few reasons to at least consult a lawyer immediately after getting injured, and BEFORE talking to an insurance liability adjuster.
1. You don’t know how to put a liability insurance claim together.
Insurance adjusters consider “specials” — special damages — more than anything else. “Specials” are your medical bills and lost income records. There are very specific and effective ways to compile and send them to an adjuster which will improve the value of your case. Giving the adjuster an unlimited medical authorization and trusting her to get the bills and records gives the insurance company carte blanche to review ALL of your medical history, and virtually ensures that she will not see all of your medical records, bills, or lost income records. Medical records, medical bills, photos of the scene, photos of injuries, lost income reports, medical reports, anatomical diagrams, and definitions of medical terms are just a part of effectively communicating the severity and costs of an injury.
2. You don’t know how to evaluate the worth of your claim.
Liability claims are evaluated according to jury verdicts in similar cases. We get a publication every two months (and so do the insurance companies) that tell us every verdict in federal and state court in Oklahoma along with a short synopsis of the case. Plus, we have represented thousands of injured people and tried LOTS of jury cases, so we can reasonably estimate the value of your case. You, on the other hand, only have one case plus some information from Uncle George who heard that his cousin Susan got X amount and all she had was a sprained neck. Or, you rely on the internet to help you figure out what’s reasonable. You trying to negotiate an insurance claim on your own would be like me trying to coach the Oklahoma Sooners football team. I know we all think we could do a better job than Coach Stoops, but I guarantee he knows TONS more about football and football players than you or me.
3. You are virtually guaranteed to say something that the insurance company will use against you.
Whenever someone tries to handle their own claim they make statements to insurance adjusters. Usually they think they are helping their case. BUT, “anything you say can and will be used against you.” One of the things we tell our clients in our first meetings is to NOT say anything about their case to anybody … and ESPECIALLY not on social media. Even if your Facebook is set to “private”, it is usually retrievable and discoverable if you ever get into litigation. In general, the more information the other side has about you, the better prepared they are going to be to defend, rather than pay fair value for, your case.
4. You do not know which insurance coverages you have that will help you.
In addition to the other party’s liability coverage, you may have medical payments coverage or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to assist you in getting more reasonable compensation. I’m commonly asked: “But why should my insurance company have to pay, when it was that other guy’s fault?” The answer is that you paid premiums to have additional coverage in case that other guy didn’t have enough liability insurance to cover your claim. And, your insurer is forbidden by law from targeting you for a rate increase for making a claim in a case in which you were not at fault.
5. You may destroy the real value of your claim by settling it without knowing your options.
Did you know that if you settle with a driver who was on the job for his employer, that you just released any claim you might have against the employer for the actions of is employee? Or, did you realize that if you accept an offer from a liability insurer and give them a release, you have destroyed any chance you have of making a claim on your underinsured motorist coverage? There are very specific rules in place that govern UM coverage and how to settle a liability claim for liability policy limits, but still being able to proceed with your UM claim. It really takes a lawyer to make that process work.
Another tactic that can victimize you: we frequently see cases in which an injured person has settled a claim early for property damage, incurred medical bills, and a small payment, but realizes later that they are more seriously injured than they thought. In almost all of those cases we can do nothing to help them, because they have already signed a “Release of All Claims” which is an enforceable contract by which they sold their claim for far less than its real value.
6. But, not every case requires a lawyer
Just because you’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean you have a case. Even if it is valid, it may be something you can handle yourself, with a little informal guidance and advice. One of our ethical obligations when a client calls us is to help them evaluate whether they really need a lawyer or not. Personally, I will not take your case unless I think I can do you some good over and above what you could do on your own.
So, if you think I may be able to help you, use the contact information down below, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you.