Anthony McMullin of McMullin Legal Group explains the five most influential factors one should consider before resolving an injury case. If you live in Southern Utah and you have additional questions for our attorneys, give us a call, free of charge, at 435-673-9990.
Top 5 Things to Consider Before Settling Your Personal Injury Case
This article brings up 5 good questions to ask yourself before you take a settlement from an insurance company when you or a loved one has been injured in an accident. These are questions that you may not have considered as you have made your way through the process of making a claim and dealing with the sometimes complicated process that goes with it.
#1 Have you consulted with an attorney?
It is the norm across the legal field that an initial consultation in a personal injury case is free of charge. The first visit with an attorney who has been trained to handle accident and injury claims such as yours is not an expense to you. A personal injury attorney's job is to help people that were not expecting to be hurt. They have been injured by no fault of their own. Because of this, a personal injury attorney is paid on contingency. The contingency is that he will be paid if he wins the case. The risk and potential reward of your case is passed along to your attorney. In order to assess your case and determine if they can take your case and effectively and realistically help you, an initial consultation will need to take place. The attorney will meet with you to help you fully understand your options and also to decide if your case is one that he thinks he can win and help you recover the damages to you, your property and your family. If the case is frivolous or doesn’t have any merit, the attorney will tell you that. In order to have a case decided in your favor you will need to have evidence such as medical bills, photographs, statements from witnesses, and expert testimony. If you don’t have these things and insurance company will not settle with you and a jury will be unlikely to find in your favor.
Also, in most personal injury cases the claimant is limited to compensation for their injuries, loss of income and other considerations by the limits of the policy which is covering the claim. The insurance is intended to compensate you as close as possible to your pre-accident state, not to allow you to make money to which you are not entitled from the accident. There are generally laws that limit the amount of compensation one can receive.
A meeting with an attorney will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and make sure that you have covered all the bases and considered all the repercussions of your accident. This will help you understand fully the process in front of you and what your possible options are. Why wouldn't someone take advantage of this free service?
#2 Do you feel like you have been heard?
Ask yourself if you feel that you have been heard. In your conversations with the insurance adjuster, have you felt like your full story was heard? Was the impact of your injuries on your life discussed at length with all of the aspects of your life being considered such as the emotional, physical, mental and financial aspects. Or at the opposite end of that spectrum, do you feel like you are just a claim number and that you are not being valued as a human being. Ask yourself were you taken seriously and dealt with fairly?
Are you aware that claimants involved in accidents may be eligible for compensation of other expenses beyond their medical treatment expenses? Reimbursement of lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering are also possibilities depending on the state you reside in and the type of insurance you hold. Your specific claim would need to be evaluated by someone that understands the law and how it pertains to your case to determine what benefits apply to you.
It is standard practice for insurance companies to make a low offer at the beginning of the negotiation process. They may even deny any liability right up front. They begin this way for two reasons. They are trying to determine how much you understand about your case and your rights and also how impatient you are to settle the case and get the payment owed you. This is the time for you to do your homework and prepare yourself by understanding the law and how it pertains to your loss.
If you don't feel like you are being heard or had the opportunity to tell your story, it is probably not time to settle your case. A lawyer can listen to your case, evaluate your damages and help you assess what it will take to make you whole and restore what was lost.
#3 Are all of your medical bills being paid?
Have all of the medical bills related to the injury been paid? Insurance companies are looking for ways to cut cost. One common practice that we see is insurance companies reducing their expenses by denying payment for medical treatment that they deem as unnecessary or excessive. They may tell you that your doctor overcharged for a treatment and they will only pay for part of the charge. The problem with that logic is that it leaves you responsible for the remainder of the bill when you didn’t even want to have to go to the doctor to begin with. These medical bills are accumulating through no fault of your own. Because your medical bills were directly and proximately caused by the negative action of another, that person and in turn their insurance should bear the full cost charged by any medical providers to provide you with the medical services that you need.
As soon as you make a claim, the adjuster that works for the insurance company involved begins to work on your case to determine what the lowest payout will be. However, their ultimate goal is to make you an offer that will suffice and keep them out of court and a lawsuit. The adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. Their job is to keep costs down. The adjuster will consider several factors in determining what their offer will be on your claim. They will consider actual expenses such as medical bills and other costs pertaining to your injury. They will also consider loss of wages from work and pain and suffering as well as emotional suffering.
#4 Do you know what your future looks like?
It is impossible to value an injury, to put a price tag on human pain without fully understanding the complexities and the length of recovery for that injury. Or in worst case scenario, maybe full recovery is not possible. For example having your arm hurt for six months might be worth one amount, but living with pain in your arm and the inability to recreate or work or do activities that you normally would with that arm for the rest of your life is a completely different injury and it is worth a completely different amount under that law. As you move forward with your life after the accident, do you feel that the settlement that you are receiving will be sufficient to compensate you or your loved one for the medical bills that have already accrued and also the medical services that you may still need in the future.
When insurance companies pay a settlement, they are hoping for a discount of an amount that they think you could get from them with a judge or a jury. It makes sense to give them a discount in order to get the settlement earlier and get that money released and in your pocket so you can get on with your life. It can be good business for both sides but, it has to start at a place where both parties are at least looking at the same injury and considering the same lifestyle changes and implications from the injury. Accepting a settlement on an injury when you have no idea how long you are going to be hurt and what your future may look like would not be a smart idea. Because the factors that pertain to each case are unique and individualized and the laws of each state and the limits of each policy differ, coming to a fair settlement amount can be complex. Besides the nature and extent of the initial injury, additional considerations will need to be made as your claim payoff amount is reached. How much time was missed at work because of doctor appointments or inability to work? What emotional duress was caused? Were you disfigured or were familial relationships strained or damaged as a result of the accident? An injury attorney will be able to help you understand what the implications of all of those factors may be as well as the future costs that may result from your injury.
#5 Do you understand all of the options available to you?
The fifth factor to consider before you settle with the insurance company on your claim is that you understand all of the options that are available to you. Insurance companies are looking to settle your claim in order to avoid those alternatives. A settlement is not the only option available to you to fairly settle your case. If you do not understand what the alternatives available to you are, then you are not in a good place to negotiate your injury case. An injury case is not worth some definite amount. It's worth an amount that you have the legal leverage for. Understanding your options provides you with that leverage.
Options other than a settlement are a jury trial, a bench trial, arbitration, or mediation. One could consider moving forward with a trial by jury. This is where a jury of average people will be assembled to come in and hear both sides of the case and hear all of the evidence and then decide what your injury is worth. Another option would be a bench trial with a judge. The judge would hear the facts of the case, consider the evidence and then make the decision regarding your case. A third option would be arbitration. You could file for a jury trial and then choose to agree to go to the binding arbitration. Actually, in Utah, you can force an insurance company into binding arbitration so long as your case is worth less than $50,000. Another option would be mediation. Mediation can be done before filing a lawsuit or often times afterward. Mediation can be a good opportunity to put both parties in the same room with their attorneys to discuss the likely outcomes of the case and have a full conversation to try to reach resolution. Sometimes it can be very difficult for two sides that actually see something very differently, to get on the same page and understand one another without meeting face to face and taking the time to fully discuss the problem. These are all options that an experienced personal injury attorney understands and can determine which option would be the best one for you. You can confer with him/her and decide which option is more likely to produce optimum results for you and your loved ones.
In summary, there are many possibilities that one should consider when dealing with a personal injury case and working with adjusters from insurance companies. You may be wise to accept an offer from an insurance company but then on the other hand you may regret not getting some advice from an expert to help you make an informed decision on something as important as your future. There are laws and regulations that pertain to your case that you may not be aware of and a legal professional can help you understand those laws and consider what your life will be like after sustaining the injuries that you did in your accident.
McMullin Legal Group is in Southern Utah and we are here to help. Give us a call at 435-673-9990. Our primary focus is helping car accident victims in St. George and Cedar City, Utah.
This article and others on this site do not constitute a legal opinion or advice. Interactions on this website do not create an attorney-client relationship and do not serve as a replacement for consulting with an attorney. McMullin Legal Group expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken based on contents of this site. This article is for general education purposes, if you are seeking legal advice, contact an attorney.