Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Whether it's your fault or not, you will likely get into a car accident at some point in your life, and you will have to deal with an insurance company that is not going to just throw money at you. Just because you pay all your premium payments on time, and drive carefully doesn't mean your insurance company is going to pay you for everything to which the law entitles you. If you're dealing with the other drivers insurance company, then the situation is even less in your favor.
To make sure you get the money you need to cover all the related expenses and losses, here are some tips to be aware of when negotiating with an insurance company after an accident.
1. Know the Basics
You'll see these tips all over the internet, and you should follow them:
- Call the Police and Get a Report - You'll want this later when determining liability.
- See a Doctor - Get checked out, and get medical records. Sometimes it may take days or weeks for car accident injuries to manifest themselves. If you've been in a substantial car accident, you know how you end up hurting more and more over the few days following the accident.
- Don't Make Any Statements Too Soon - Insurance adjusters will contact you quickly to assess their liability, and determine if they can avoid serious costs. Give yourself some time to determine the injuries, property damage and other losses before you make your statement.
- Don't Sign Anything without Review - The insurance company will likely try to get a release of liability early on. If you're asked to sign something, take it home, review it then sleep on it for a few days. Tell the insurance representative you want your attorney to review it first. They love it when you say that! Don't let them talk you into signing it right away.
2. Know What You're Entitled To
Generally speaking, you're entitled to a variety of damages, including but not limited to medical expenses, property damage, car repair costs (or fair market value of your car if it's been totaled), lost income and potentially non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
Calculate the value of each of those factors and you should have an idea of how much money you should expect.
3. Hire a Lawyer
I know this little piece of advice loses it's value when it comes from an injury attorney, but let me assure you, it is usually a real good idea, especially when injury and lost income is involved in an accident claim. To make the point that I'm not simply trying to sell myself, please don't hire me.
I have had so many people come into my office after they've taken care of their case, asking me whether I think a settlement amount is fair. Almost 100% of the time, the number they've negotiated is less than 20% of what they should have received.
Unfortunately, many times, it's too late at that point, because they've already made some mistakes in handling their case and there is not a lot I can do.
4. Know Your Opponent
I use the term "opponent" for the insurance company (whether yours or another drivers) because they really are not in the business of helping you out. They are in the business of making money. You don't think they hire geckos and cavemen to sell their products because they are good hearted people right?
A training manual that was given to Allstate insurance adjusters had an interesting part about getting clients to settle their claims as quickly as possible. Why? To ensure fast service right? Wrong. If they can settle a case early on, they know they can avoid medical expenses for injuries that haven't been discovered yet, and they also know that the injured party probably hasn't had a chance to talk to a lawyer yet.
The handbook had an interesting statistic that backed up the advice they gave their adjusters: Claimants that were represented by attorneys averaged two to three times more settlement money than those that represented themselves. Specifically, their statistics showed the average Allstate injury claim settlement represented by an attorney was $7,450, vs $3,464 for those claimants that represented themselves.
That is why I refer to them as the opposition.
5. Don't Be Intimidated or "Handled"
The number one bit of advice is to take your time and stand your ground. If you've re-read your insurance policy, done the math and figured you're entitled to $10,000, then you probably should get more. The insurance company will probably try to offer you $3,000 in that case. Don't feel like you have to a "take whatever you can get". You have the right to be compensated to the level that makes you "whole" again, per our countrys' civil tort law system.