As an Asheville personal injury lawyer, it is common that someone comes into my office asking if I can represent them in a minor car accident claim. When a car accident is minor and the details are simple, I often advise the potential client that they handle the claim on their own, armed with some basic knowledge and know-how. Occasionally, these clients return to my office down the road looking for help resolving the claim, if they are unable to reach an agreement with the insurance company or adjuster.
When can you handle a claim by yourself?
You can attempt to settle a claim by yourself, and avoid paying your personal injury attorney the 33% fee (that most all injury lawyers charge), potentially saving you thousands of dollars. For example, if you are able to settle your case for $10,000, you will not have to pay your attorney the $3,333 that they charge for representing you.
However, most claims are not appropriate to handle without a lawyer, and will result in a significantly lower offer, or no offer at all. Remember, insurance companies are playing a chess game with you, and will take any opportunity to put you in “check mate” if it means they can reasonably deny or devalue a case and save them money. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help ensure that you are fairly compensated, and will help you avoid the common pitfalls that adjusters rely on to minimize the amount of money they pay out on a claim. If you want to handle your claim on your own, make sure ALL of the following are true about your case:
You have less than $5,000 in medical bills;
You received medical attention immediately following your accident;
The other driver has already admitted fault;
Your doctors all agree that your injuries were caused by the accident and not a result of a pre-existing injury.
Simply put, claims that are very straightforward in nature and meet the above criteria can be handled without a lawyer. Remember that you will need to stay focused and organized when handling your claim by yourself.
Document all of your communications with the insurance adjuster (we recommend email correspondence for just this purpose), set deadlines for when you expect responses from them, and keep organized all of your medical bills and receipts. For more on this, read our post: How to communicate with an adjuster.
Handling your own Asheville Accident Claim: First Things First
Use your smartphone to photograph the accident scene, the vehicle damage, and your injuries. You will want to preserve evidence of the severity of the accident, even if the other driver has admitted fault. This evidence may be used later on to justify your injuries to the insurance company.
Get a copy of the official Accident Report. Every car accident should be investigated by a police officer; and an official report will be completed by the investigating officer. Contact the law enforcement agency that arrived on scene and ask for a copy.
Make copies of all medical bills related to the accident. You will need these later on when you ask the insurance company to pay your bills.
Get medical treatment immediately after the accident, and follow your doctor’s orders consistently during the time that you are still receiving treatment. Also, avoid gaps in treatment (not seen by a health care professional for more than 7-10 days during treatment phase).
Be very careful not to provide a recorded statement to the insurance company of the at fault driver. They will request one, but you are NOT required to provide it. Adjusters will often call shortly after the accident, looking to “check on your, or “make sure you’re OK”. What they’re really trying to do is get you on record saying something they can use later on to diminish the value of the case. Often times, trauma symptoms do not present right away, and they know this. If you tell them you are not hurt after the accident, you can be sure they will use that against you, as a way to downplay the severity of the accident when the time comes to settle your claim, regardless of how your injuries progressed afterwards.
Check the statute of limitation for you state, and your type of claim. Most states require you to file a lawsuit if you have not settled the case in 2-3 years, depending on the state. I practice in N.C. and the statute of limitations is 3 years for personal injury.
Once you’ve completed this checklist, its time to focus on getting the medical treatment you need to recover from your injuries. Remember to follow your doctor’s orders to the letter, and keep seeing a medical professional every week at least as long as symptoms persist.
If your injuries progress into something more serious or permanent or require surgery, you may need to hire a lawyer to help you with your case. Even though you’ll be paying them 33% of your settlement, the only way to ensure a fair offer is with the help of an attorney who has the know-how and the resources to navigate an injury claim effectively, to make sure you get the money you deserve.
Lakota Denton has been practicing in his own firm since 2013, focusing solely on personal injury. He is a member of the American Association of Justice, the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the North Carolina Bar association, the American Bar Association, the National Trial Lawyers, and was awarded Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers, the 2014 Top 40 Lawyers under 40, and the Avvo clients choice award. [ Attorney Bio ]