How to Maximize the Value of your Personal Injury Settlement
If you’ve ever been injured by someone else, whether from a car crash or from some other kind of negligence, you will know that recovering money for your injuries can be a long, complicated process. North Carolina law states that when you are injured because of someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to certain “damages”, or money for your injuries. These include things like payment for any medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Making sure you are fairly and fully compensated for these damages is usually the work of a personal injury lawyer. Whether you are settling a personal injury claim without a lawyer, or with a lawyer, here’s how to maximize your settlement.
Provide the insurance company with a full and thorough investigation of how you were injured.
Whether you’ve been in a car crash or you’ve fallen on someone else’s property, you will need to investigate how it happened. Take photographs. If you’ve been in a crash, use your cell phone to photograph both vehicles, the road section where the crash took place, any skid marks, guard rail damage or anything else that might be relevant. If your injuries are visible, such as bruising or cuts, photograph those too. Talk to witnesses who saw what happened. Talk to any witnesses, or at least get their names and phone numbers before they leave the scene so you can talk to them later on. You never know if an insurance company will deny what happened; eyewitnesses help you prove exactly what happened. If you speak to an eyewitness, have them sign a statement about what they saw. If a police officer investigated the incident, get a copy of his or her incident report or a statement from the officer.
Present evidence and case-law showing why the another person was at fault.
Once you’ve completed your investigation, look for other similar cases where Courts have found the other person at fault for what happened to you. Also, summarize all of your evidence in a way that is simple and easy to understand for the insurance company. Reference your photographs, witness statements, and incident report to show exactly what happened, and why it is the other person’s fault. You might say something like this.
“I was driving south on Highway 26 when Mr. Bradshaw turned out in front of me, causing me to crash into him. I had a green light, Mr. Bradshaw had a red light. The attached North Carolina Crash Report shows that Mr. Bradshaw was charged with failing to yield to right of way. Attached is also a statement from an eyewitness who states that the light was green for the green Honda (me) and the light was red for the Ford truck (Mr. Bradshaw). Finally, see attached photographs of the damage to both vehicles, showing that the front of my vehicle struck the driver side of Mr. Bradshaw’s vehicle.”
Attach to this summary any of the documents you’ve obtained that help prove what happened. This will not only prove your case, but increase the value of any potential settlement for your injuries.
Do a background search on the at-fault party.
Always do some research into the at-fault person before you negotiate a settlement. You can do a criminal background check, a driving record check, or hire an investigator to look into the at-fault person to see if they have injured someone in this way before. If you find out that the at-fault party has caused 4 car crashes in the last 2 years, the value of your case just went up. If you find out that the store where you fell on the damaged floor has had 3 other people fall in that same spot, the value of your case just went up. Always do some kind of background check before you negotiate your settlement. Usually, you find nothing. But when you find something that hurts the at-fault person’s case, it can dramatically improve yours.
Provide a full and thorough summary of your injuries and the treatments you’ve received.
Once you have recovered from your injuries, or at least you have reached a point where you will not get any better, you will need to review all of your medical records. Request all of your records from everywhere that you have been treated by a doctor. Once you have all of your records, go through them and create a summary of the injuries and treatment you received following the incident in which you were injured. For example, you might start your summary as follows:
“Following the crash, I was taken by ambulance to the Emergency room. The ambulance placed me on a stretcher and stabilized my spine. Upon presentation to the emergency room, I was immediately given morphine for pain. X-Rays were taken, revealing a fractured collar bone. Dr. Romero recommended that I follow up with an orthopedic specialist. I was released with instructions to fill a prescription for pain killers and anti-inflammatory medicine.”
It also helps to include the injury codes for any injuries you suffered. These codes are medical providers way to shorthand what your injury was. For example, the injury code for a broken collar bone is S42.022A. Some insurance companies use a computer to calculate your settlement value, and the injury codes are helpful for the computer to understand your injuries.
Get copies of all of your medical bills.
You will need to ask all of your medical providers to give you copies of your bills, even if your health insurance or Medicaid/Medicare paid your bill. Don’t forget to include the ambulance bill, and the emergency room physician bill (they bill separately from the hospital). When you have all the bills, add up the total amount that you were charged, regardless of how much of the bills have been paid so far. Write a summary showing the amounts owed to each provider, and make a total amount. If you don’t send a bill to the insurance company asking them to pay for it, they will not consider it when they offer to settle your case.
Provide opinions from your doctor about the cause of your injuries.
You will have to show that your injuries were caused by the crash. Sometimes this is very easy, and you won’t need a doctor to even give an opinion. For instance, if you’ve slipped and fallen on broken pavement at a store and you landed on your knee fracturing your kneecap, you probably don’t need a doctor to state that the fall, in fact, caused the broken kneecap. The broken kneecap could only have come from the fall. However, if you suffer a neck strain in a car crash, and you also had some neck problems before the crash, you will probably want a doctor to say that the new neck complaints and injuries are caused by the car crash. In North Carolina, you will want the doctor to state that “Based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, It is more likely than not that the car crash caused (or exacerbated) the neck injuries for which I treated the patient.” You may have to write a letter to your doctor asking for this opinion, and they may charge you a fee to do it.
Ensure that you have identified every possible insurance policy to recover from.
You need to know exactly which insurance policies cover the injuries that you are seeking to be compensated for. This can be very complicated in some instances, and help from a personal injury lawyer is always the best way to ensure you are handling things correctly. In short, you should be able to recover from the insurance policy of the at fault person. If your injuries are the fault of a store or business, they will almost always have some liability insurance to cover their negligence. Where it gets complicated is when you recover the entire policy limits from the at-fault person and still need to find insurance policies to cover even more. The short answer is that you should always carry enough car insurance so that you are covered if they at-fault person doesn’t have very much coverage. I always recommend at least $100k in liability insurance on your own car, which can be used for your injuries if the other driver has less than you. As always, talk to a personal injury lawyer for advice on this.
Write a letter to the at fault insurance company demanding settlement.
All of the above information should be detailed in a letter to the insurance company asking them to settle the case. This letter will include a description of the incident, a description of the evidence that the other person is at fault, a summary of your injuries and medical bills, and any opinions from your doctors. Attach to this letter copies of any photographs, witness statements, medical records, medical bills, doctor’s opinion letters, and anything else that will help show how these injuries have affected you. If you have missed time from work, include pay stubs showing how much you earn and an out of work note from your doctor showing the time you had to miss.
There is no such thing as a personal injury calculator or a pain and suffering calculator that helps you determine the value of your case. There are simply way too many variables to know the value of your case based on an online “calculator”. Talk to a personal injury lawyer or car accident lawyer about your case and get advice for what a fair settlement would be. Include a number in your demand letter that you are asking to settle the case for. Give the insurance company 30 days to review the letter and then follow up with them, asking if they’ve reviewed it. If you follow the documentation advice I’ve given here, you should maximize the value of your case.