This is part one of a two-part series on what to expect when you’re handling a small claims auto accident case. The first post covers the first steps in dealing with your small claims case, from collecting evidence at the scene of the accident to documenting your injuries and treatment. This post will cover writing your demand letter and negotiating with the insurance adjuster.
How to Negotiate a Small Claims Auto Accident Without an Attorney
After your doctors have determined you have fully recovered from your accident, you will have to write a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You should have all of your medical bills and records from the dates of treatment related to your injury. This will allow you to make a demand for the full amount you are responsible for. You should attach copies of all your medical bills and medical records to the demand letter when you send it to the insurance company.
There are many different ways to write a demand letter since it is not a formal legal document. However, it is crucial to write an effective demand letter so that the insurance company will take you and your claim seriously. You can also hire a third party service that specializes in personal injury demand writing to assist you with putting together a proper demand.
In your demand letter, you will tell the insurance company about your small claims auto accident:
What happened to you
- describe the accident
- emphasize that the insurance company’s client was at fault
- refer the reader to the accident report and any photos of your property damage or the scene of the accident
What injuries you suffered and how severe they were
- list your injuries
- specify what doctors treated you
- be thorough but do not be overly detailed
- refer the reader to your attached medical records and photos of your injuries
What hospitals, urgent care centers, or doctors treated you
- list the doctors who treated you or the facilities where you received treatment
- specify what each provider charged you
- refer to your attached medical bills and emphasize their total amount
Your lost wages
- list the days or time periods you missed work
- specify which doctor ordered you to take time off work to recover
- attach a wage verification letter from your employer. This should state your wage or salary and how many days of work you missed.
- specify what amount of money you want the insurance company to pay you for your damages
- state that they have 30 days to respond to your letter and settle
- state that if you receive no response within 30 days that you will hire an attorney to file suit against the company
How Much to Demand from the Insurance Company
The most important part of your letter can also seem the most difficult. You must determine the amount of money to demand after your small claims auto accident.
When people ask me for advice on representing themselves in their personal injury claim, I usually give them a simplified formula for determining a demand:
- take the amount of their medical bills – for example, $3,000
- set your pain and suffering equal to the amount of your medical bills – again, $3,000
- add the two numbers together
So if you have $3,000 in medical bills, add another $3,000 for pain and suffering. In your letter to the insurance company, you will demand $6,000. The insurance company will probably not offer you this amount, but you will at least have a starting point for negotiating your claim.
This is a highly oversimplified formula that only works for small claims auto accident cases. If you have a more complicated case, this formula will not work for you.
What to Do After Your Demand Letter is Sent
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for about a month. The insurance company will probably answer your demand in 30 days.
If they don’t respond:
- Call and leave a message. Remember to ask them to call you back!
- After a few more days have passed, call again. This time, ask to speak to the insurance adjuster’s supervisor.
- If you still get no response, start calling twice a day, keep leaving messages, and politely ask that they call you back each time.
Eventually they will realize that you’re serious and call you back with an offer. This will probably be drastically reduced from your demand. You will have to go back and forth with them, slightly reducing your demand amount each time until you and the adjuster can agree on the amount.
It’s not always easy to determine what is a fair car accident settlement. Most personal injury attorneys will not charge you for an opinion on a settlement figure in your small claims auto accident case. If you’re concerned a settlement offer is too low, you can call an attorney and ask whether the numbers seem reasonable.
What Happens After You Accept a Settlement Offer
Once you agree to the insurance company’s settlement offer, they will send you a check for the agreed amount along with a release form that states that all claims have been settled. You must use your settlement to pay your medical bills. Any money left after you pay your bills goes in your pocket.
How to Deal With an Insurance Adjuster
Although trying to get a reasonable settlement amount can be frustrating. The insurance adjuster may be rude or even deceitful to you.
However, it’s in your best interests to be persistently polite. Remember that people are less likely to cooperate with you if they don’t like you. If the adjuster doesn’t like you, chances are they think a jury probably won’t like you, either – and they’ll offer you less money because they’ll think they can get away with it.
Call an Asheville Personal Injury Attorney for Help
If you’re uncertain about any aspect of your small claims personal injury case, it might be best to contact an attorney before sending your demand letter. Personal injury attorneys will usually discuss your case with you at no charge at your initial consultation. You can call or email our Asheville personal injury law firm to schedule an appointment and talk to a lawyer about the details of your case.
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