Settling Your Personal Injury Claim: What Are Your Options?
You have done all the right things.
You’ve had your property damage claim resolved. Your medical treatment has been completed. You’ve tallied up all of your lost wages and benefit claims from your employer. You’ve assessed what the accident has caused both you personally as well as your family.
Now you are prepared to settle with the at fault driver.
But a few nagging questions still remain in your mind.
How do I negotiate a personal injury settlement? What are my options? How much money will I really get out of this? Will we go to court if the other side refuses to cooperate?
In large part, your settlement is driven by your injuries and your damages.
What Are Auto Accident Injuries Worth?
To understand why different injuries result in different compensation, you need to understand what damages actually are.
Damages are tangible and intangible losses a person suffers as a result of an injury. These include:
- Costs of past, present, and future medical treatment
- Repair or replacement of damaged property
- Lost wages, bonuses, and vacation days
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
All of these add up to monetary costs upon the person’s life — costs that otherwise would not have been incurred had the accident never happened. The point of a claim is get compensated for these costs through a settlement.
Realistic Assessment of Your Case
To recover the highest compensation possible, you must be realistic about your claim and its settlement potential.
This doesn’t mean you have to settle your claim for less than it’s worth. It just means you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking your claim is worth significantly more than it actually is. On the other hand, you also want to avoid the costly pitfalls of undervaluing your claim.
Don’t waste your time or effort trying to convince the insurance adjuster that your soft-tissue injury claim is worth five times the actual cost, when realistically it’s only worth half as much.
You’re better off knowing how to stand firm when the adjuster tries to offer less than your case is really worth.
Keep in mind that no two injury events are alike. The injuries sustained by one person in a rear-end car accident may be entirely different from those sustained by another person in a similar accident.
Don’t allow the insurance adjusters to convince you that their company settles all similar injury claims for the same amount.
The bottom line is to communicate your unique damages clearly and firmly.
Unique Injuries Result in Unique Damages
It’s impossible to automatically assign a settlement value to a claim. There are two reasons for this.
First, your injuries are unique. Different people also respond differently to treatment.
Second, you must prove you deserve the amount you’re demanding to get paid.
If your damages are well supported by medical records and other evidence, you should be able to get a higher offer than a claim without solid documentation.
But the adjuster won’t give an inch without a fight.
The key is arming yourself with enough knowledge and information before the settlement. By doing so, you will stand out from other claimants who usually don’t understand the relationship between injuries, documentation and total damages.
The type and severity of your injury will always directly affect the value of your claim. The more significant your bodily injuries, the higher the settlement. In theory, that seems obvious. In reality though, there is so much more that goes into determining your settlement amount.
Personal injuries are categorized into two main groups: 1) soft tissue injuries and 2) hard injuries.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries include injuries to the muscles, tendons or ligaments — hence the name “soft tissue injuries”.
Injuries of this type usually result in pain and discomfort accompanied by swelling and bruising. These can also include abrasions and contusions, including herniated or protruding disks.
The pain and suffering due to soft tissue injuries can vary from mild discomfort from a twisted ankle, to extreme pain from bulging vertebrae. For this reason, settlement amounts for soft tissue injuries can vary by a lot.
It remains important to collect evidence of your soft tissue injuries — photos, medical bills, doctor’s notes, treatment plans, physical therapy and prescription medications. The more evidence of medical treatment you have, the higher the settlement will likely be.
Hard injuries are more serious.
They can range from broken bones to permanent brain damage.
Facial scarring, organ damage, permanent injuries and other life-altering changes are also considered hard injuries.
Injuries like serious cuts and abrasions resulting in scarring, if severe enough, can also be considered hard injuries instead of soft tissue injuries.
In our experience, hard injuries almost always settle for substantially higher amounts than soft tissue injuries.
How To Negotiate a Personal Injury Settlement Like a Pro
Soft tissue injury negotiations are always controversial.
The adjuster will not empathize with the pain and suffering you endured. To distinguish your claim from those being lowballed by the insurance adjusters, you must deal with a number of qualifying issues.
There are several issues that directly affect the value of your claim.
Remember, each claim is unique. Even similar injuries can result in greatly varying damages from case to case. The issues which distinguish one injury claim from another are:
- Is your injury a soft tissue or a hard injury (or both)?
- How clear is the liability?
- What are the medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages?
- How long did your treatment last?
- Is the injury chronic or permanent? **
- What future medical treatment do you need? How much time off work do you need to get this treatment?
** For example, chronic injuries can be a herniated disc, and having a rod placed in your spine is a permanent injury.
You want to collect as much documentation as possible to fully address the above issues. The more documentation you can show the adjuster, the better you will do.
Hard injury negotiations can also be complicated and drawn out.
Damages in hard injury claims are normally much higher than those in soft tissue claims, so the stakes are higher. Adjusters will require convincing medical proof of the type and severity of your hard injuries.
The bottom line? Gather all the documentation you need to support your claim. It also won’t hurt to educate yourself about the legal process of settling your claim with the other side.
Playing the Settlement Game
Here’s one final point about negotiating settlements:
We understand you want to get compensated for the damages as soon as possible. But it is equally important to not be too eager to accept what the insurance offers you — at least initially.
Insurance companies will offer you much less than what they are actually prepared to pay. By accepting their first offer, you are saving the insurance company money at your own expense. And you will never know what they might have paid you had you not accepted the first offer.
Instead, learn how to play their game — and win.
When you get the first offer, ask for an itemized list of what they cover within their offer. Check to see what’s missing. They might list only some but not all of your damages. Since you want them to cover all of your damages, show them all of your documentation and highlight what was missing.
For example, they might have offered to compensate you only for lost salary, but not for the full amount of lost compensation — including paid time off work or sick days that you’d already used up during your recovery.
Once you gather all the necessary documentation, make a counteroffer and stand firm. However, be prepared for the possibility of your case going to court — or at least binding arbitration if there’s such a clause in your policy — if there is a stalemate in your negotiations with the insurance companies.
Using An Attorney For Your Settlement
A good personal injury attorney can provide assistance in evaluating a case.
What really matters most to you, other than getting your life back on track, is what your case is really worth.
There is no clear cut indication as to how much your case is worth because every case is different.
If you believe myths about cases being worth “three times medical bills” or the like, you are likely to be way off base. Medical bills, and even medical records, only tell part of the story. Even sometimes they tell you nothing.
Now let’s consider some specific examples:
Rollover Accident In Oncoming Highway Traffic
One of our cases involved a rollover accident on the highway into oncoming traffic. Sounds horrific, right?
The driver was in this terrible crash, rushed to the hospital and had numerous tests. Thankfully, he only had minor injuries that resolved quickly with chiropractic care. He did not have any permanent injuries, so he did not need any follow up treatment.
No time was taken off of work because the treatment was short in duration. His course of treatment did not disrupt any major life events. Such a case was worth just a little more than his medical bills — certainly not “three times his medical bills” no matter how horrific the accident was.
Simple Fender Bender Causes Long-Term Pain and Suffering
On the opposite extreme, we had a case involving minor car accident. A simple fender bender. However, the driver has been experiencing long-term pain and discomfort due to a cervical neck/spine injury.
Unfortunately, she spends most nights sleeping uncomfortably on the floor because she cannot get comfortable in a soft bed. She finds any work, even routine yard work, impossible. For some reason, she might not be getting relief because her doctors are still struggling to confirm an exact diagnosis. So her medical bills might be modest in relation to her debilitating soft tissue injuries.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
In a wrongful death situation, the medical bills are irrelevant because the claim is for the claimant’s lost relationship with their loved one. The damages recovered depends strongly upon the nature and extent of the survivor’s relationship with the decedent. Nothing is as profoundly personal.
Essentially, the way an injury case is evaluated is crudely based upon what juries or arbitrators in their particular jurisdiction are awarding for similar injuries. While each case is somewhat different, good attorneys will take the facts and distill them down to essential elements that allow for an objective comparison.
Even a wrongful death case can be distilled.
That is, one can get a partial view of the damages by looking at what juries have awarded survivors of the same age, ethnicity, gender and economic dependency. Other factors can be added as well, but at a certain point it becomes a little like predicting the weather — that is, an educated guess.
The Most Important Factor Is You
Despite all the moving parts and the settlement game being fraught with complications, it is important to be aware that the most important factor in evaluating your case is yourself.
Your presentation and overall credibility is more important than anything else while evaluating a case, particularly if it goes to trial and in front of a jury.
To be frank, the critical question often becomes: “What will the jury think of you?”
Who you are is important because you are the one who is being evaluated. You are not only asking for compensation above and beyond the cost of your medical bills and time taken off of work, but also for what you have suffered.
When you are evaluating your own auto claim, consider your medical bills, your injuries, your time taken off work and the most important part — you.
Call Us For a Free Consultation About Your Settlement
You can achieve a successful settlement on your own as long as you educate yourself about how the system works, and you arm yourself with all the information you need to fight for a fair settlement.
However, if you feel you may need an experienced attorney to negotiate a settlement agreement on your behalf after your car accident, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.
The professionals at the Thompson Law Firm, LLC are standing by with answers to any questions you may have about settlement and your legal rights after a car accident.