9 Things You Need To Know About Your Personal Injury Case
Successfully resolving your car accident claim can be lengthy, complicated, and frustrating.
At our office, our focus is solely on personal injury cases. We have helped thousands of clients navigate the complex landscape of injury claims, settlements and jury trials. We know just how difficult and confusing the process can be for our clients and wanted to offer a relatively simple guide to help people understand the process. Our “9 things you need to know” list outlines what we feel are the most important aspects of your case for you to have an understanding of. We hope you find this helpful, so you can make the best, most well-informed decisions going forward in the process of successfully resolving your claim.
#1 – It is Crucial to “Build” Your Case
In certain cases, it is in the best interest of an individual to handle their case without a lawyer. Other times, a person wishes to avoid the attorney’s fee’s involved in hiring a lawyer and opt to handle their case on their own. In this case, these are the steps you will need to follow:
- Obtain/collect all relevant evidence
- Complete all documentation
- Get in touch with all involved parties, including insurance adjusters, police officers, witnesses, lawyers, medical providers, and their billing agencies
- Write a demand letter
- Submit your demand and all records and bills to the at-fault insurance company
- Negotiate a reasonable settlement
- If a reasonable settlement cannot be reached, be ready to take them to court
This involves a lot of effort but is required in order to show that: you were in fact injured in the accident, these injuries have impacted your life in a substantive way, and that the accident was definitively caused by the other driver.
#2 – Think About Future Damages
In your thinking about what your case is worth, be sure to consider that you can be compensated for future damages. By calculating what this accident will cost you financially, emotionally and physically in the long run, you safeguard yourself to ensure that you’re properly compensated for the full extent of the impact this accident has had and will have on your life. In many cases, accounting for the future impact of a serious crash on your life can substantially increase the value of the case. Future damages include:
- Financial hardship/decreased income from an inability to work at a previous level
- Continued medical costs
- The expense of continued physical therapy or counseling
#3 – Be Patient
It is perfectly understandable to want to be done with this process as soon as possible. Between the unpleasant and inconvenient nature of tracking down and dealing with adjusters and medical providers and the financial strain that a serious accident can place on your life, many people are very eager to settle their case. And insurance companies know this all too well. They are known to lowball a client, knowing that in many cases an individual will be tempted and take a lower offer now, instead of a fair offer when the case has been fairly evaluated and negotiated. This is why it’s essential to gather all of the necessary information to know exactly what your case is worth.
It is important that you know that an adjuster is not here to help you, their role to save the insurance company as much money as possible, and they will work very hard to do so. You have to be patient, knowledgeable and well informed in order to make sure that you’re properly compensated for your crash. It is easy to miss a medical bill (for example, ER visits often contain bills from the hospital and the ER doctor separately, as well as the radiologist) that can pop up down the road after you’ve settled your case. And once you accept payment for your claim, you release the insurance company of any additional responsibility in this matter. Guess who will be solely responsible for any bills that magically pop up down the road? That’s right, you.
#4 – Understand Why Their Initial Offer Is Not Sufficient
If you have done the first few steps outlined so far, you hopefully are starting to get a decent picture of what your injuries are worth. While it may not be a precise number, knowing the exact total of your medical expenses (both paid and still owed), the functional impact of the crash on your life, and potentially your future, the amount of wages you’ve lost, and the physical and emotional pain and suffering will help paint an accurate picture of what is fair. You will probably know right off the bat whether the insurance company is trying to lowball you or undervalue your claim. In order to get full value, you will need to be prepared to explain to the insurer why their offer is not sufficient, and why its worth more than what they’re offering. If you’ve submitted a proper demand letter that catalogs all of the relevant data, you will be able to reference these elements and the negotiation process should go more favorably.
#5 – Your Personal Life and Medical History Are Fair Game
While this may seem unfair and irrelevant, the fact remains that in an effort to save money and gain leverage, the insurance company is prepared to dig deep into your personal medical information and personal life in order to find ways to get themselves off the hook or minimize their responsibility in this matter. This includes looking into your:
- Medical history/records
- Facebook and other social media
If they can find anything they can use against you from one of these places, rest assured they will. Maybe you posted on Facebook that you got in a crash, “but thankfully weren’t seriously injured” or something similar. Similarly, details of your personal life are factored into their offers. Criminal background or patterns of financial delinquency can severely impact the offer for compensation. Regarding your injuries, suppose you’re claiming injury to your neck in the accident, and they find a doctor visit from 5 years ago where you complained of neck pain. It may be clear that the two are unrelated, but they may use that to say that you may have had a previous injury or pre-existing injury in an attempt to devalue the claim.
You may have to prove that your injuries are real, and are related solely to this accident. This can take an overwhelming amount of evidence, including:
- Expert medical testimony from your doctor
- Medical record documentation
- Statements and affidavits from witnesses
#6 – It May Take A Very Long Time To Resolve Your Personal Injury Claim
At our law firm, we routinely see certain cases take a long time and a lot of work to successfully resolve. You need to be prepared to wait it out if you want to be fairly compensated. We know that many individuals can’t afford to wait it out, and so do insurance companies. Making sure that your medical providers know that this is a personal injury claim or “MVA” case can help ensure that your bills won’t go to a collection agency, but it doesn’t guarantee it by any stretch. In North Carolina, you have 3 years from the date of the accident to resolve your claim before the clock runs out on collecting compensation. After the 3 year statute of limitations, you cannot recover any money. Hiring a lawyer can help shorten the time it takes to help resolve your claim, and if your lawyer files a lawsuit, the statute becomes obsolete. Once a case is filed, it takes as long as it takes to resolve.
#7 – Make Sure Your Injuries Have Reached “Maximum Medical Improvement” Before Settling Your Claim
“Maximum Medical Improvement” means that your injuries and symptoms have improved as much as they’re going to reasonably improve, and you have reached the end of your prescribed treatment by your doctors. This also means that you’ve finished your physical therapy and/or chiropractic care. One reason why its important to wait until this point before settling your claim is that you will have the total bills from all of your medical providers. Settling before this point makes it very hard to know what the total of your bills will be when all is said and done. Another reason to wait until this point is that you need to know the status of your injuries and to what extent they’re going to improve before reasonably evaluating the value of your claim.
#8 – You Become A Target
As an accident victim, your name and personal info will become available to all kinds of solicitors, including agencies that offer accident victims quick money at very high-interest rates. While these may seem appealing ways to keep the budget balanced in the short term, they usually amount to predatory lending and can leave a person in worse shape in the long term. If you do consider options like this be sure to triple check the fine print on these loans, as many times they leave the lender with the lions share of your settlement due to interest and fees.
#9 – Be Prepared to Go To Court
In many cases, despite your due diligence and exhaustive effort, an agreement cannot be made, and a case fails to settle. In these instances, your only option is to take your case in front of a jury and hope for a fair day in court. Sometimes this is strategic on the part of the insurer, like a slow-motion game of chicken, with them hoping that in the end you’ll back down and take their low offer or get frustrated and walk away. This impasse can happen when:
- The insurance company is unwilling to meet your fair offer
- You don’t have enough evidence available to convince them that the injury was real and connected
- You are unable to prove that it was their driver’s fault
- The medical records don’t accurately reflect the full extent and severity of your injuries
It is possible to defend your case by yourself in court, and while we agree that occasionally it can be in a client’s best interest to settle a case on their own, when it comes time to try a case in court, we strongly recommend having an experienced trial attorney in your corner. There are too many procedural and technical pitfalls that can seriously damage your case and your trial, even triggering a mistrial without knowing it. Even though personal injury lawyers charge what seems like a lot of money to represent you, that money is well spent on protecting the investment in your financial security.
Knowledge is Power
If you’re embarking on this process, we highly recommend learning everything you can about the claims process, your injury and the laws in your state. The more you know, the more effectively you’ll be able to fight for your legal rights, showing them that you know what you’re talking about, and are not going to be intimidated or back down. On that note its important to be firm but civil. Getting angry or emotional in your communications is a quick way to stall or damage negotiations.
We hope you find this list helpful, and if you need to talk to an experienced, reputable personal injury trial lawyer, our consultations are free. Contact us by phone or email to schedule a free consultation with Lakota to see where you stand.