If you’ve been in an accident, you may need to hire an attorney to negotiate an insurance settlement on your behalf. It is possible, however, to negotiate your own settlement, especially when the injuries are relatively minor and the other party’s fault is obvious.
Negotiating an Insurance Settlement Yourself
If you became permanently disabled or require long-term medical care as a result of an accident, it’s generally recommended that you hire an attorney to represent you to ensure that your settlement is fair and will cover your long-term needs. However, if you think your case is clear and decide to represent yourself, here are four negotiating tips.
1. Keep Accurate Records
The most important step, of course, is to take care of yourself and get the medical care you need as soon as possible. After that, it’s helpful to have photographs of the accident scene and any property damage and injuries, plus a copy of the police report, if there is one. Be sure to keep copies of your medical records and bills and attach receipts for things you’ve already paid.
Finally, don’t give any recorded statements and don’t post anything about your accident on social media. The other side can use your words against you to damage your case and minimize your injuries – especially if there’s anything that can be taken out of context (which there usually is).
2. Calculate a Fair Settlement
Determine the minimum settlement figure that you’ll accept, taking into account your current expenses (medical or otherwise), estimated future expenses, lost earnings, future lost income and property damage. While it’s difficult to quantify, you should also take into account any pain and suffering you endured as a result of the accident.
A common strategy for determining the value of these “general damages” is to add up all the other expenses and multiply the total by a number between 1.5 and 5 (this is known as “the multiplier”). In general, you’ll use a lower multiplier if your injuries are relatively minor and you expect to make a full recovery. Use a higher multiplier if your injuries are significant, with permanent or long-lasting effects.
3. Send a Demand Letter
Once everything is in order and you’ve determined a fair settlement, it’s time to send a demand letter to the insurance company. Describe the accident, your injuries, your financial losses – including medical expenses, property damage and lost income – and details about any pain and suffering you’ve endured. The letter should also include details about why the insurer (or defendant) is liable for your injuries.
Because insurance companies typically reply with a counteroffer, many attorneys suggest that you ask for an amount that is 25% to 100% higher than the minimum settlement figure you would accept. It’s worth noting that most insurance adjusters are more willing to settle a claim if you are reasonable (i.e., not seeking a windfall settlement), polite and do a good job of explaining your side of the story.
4. Consider the Counteroffer
After the insurance company reviews your demand letter, it will either acquiesce to your demand or reply with a counteroffer. You can decide if you want to accept the offer or not. If you do, then you must sign a release from the insurance company stating that you won’t make any additional claims for the accident, and it will send you a check.
If you don’t like the offer, you can ask the insurance adjuster to give you a detailed explanation about why the offer is so low. Respond to each point in a reply letter explaining why you won’t accept it. If you can’t reach an agreeable settlement after going back and forth several times, it’s probably time to speak with an attorney.
Caveats About Going to Court
If you don’t accept an offer and decide to go to court, it’s important to note that your settlement may be reduced if you contributed to the accident. Some states and jurisdictions, for example (including Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia), have very strict rules on shared fault. If you are found even 1% at fault, you can’t win an award in a lawsuit. In most states your award can be reduced by your percentage at fault – and if your fault is greater than 50%, you can’t win any damages.