If you received injuries in an accident and someone else is at fault, you may wonder if you should try to resolve the claim yourself, rather than having a lawyer represent you. If you have only minor injuries, settling your own claim may result in an acceptable outcome. However, if your injuries are severe, attempting to settle your own claim could be a huge mistake. There are six important reasons you should not negotiate your own personal injury settlement if you suffer significant injuries in an accident.
1. Insurance adjusters are expert negotiators.
Negotiating anything requires skill and knowledge. Insurance companies train their adjusters in negotiation strategy. Those adjusters use time-tested techniques when they discuss claims with injured victims.
The insurance company has one goal relating to your claim: To avoid paying you at all, or to settle your claim for the smallest possible amount. That goal underlies everything the adjuster says and does during settlement negotiations.
Adjusters know what works and what does not work in claim negotiations. They routinely argue with lawyers, who are equally skilled at negotiating. They welcome the opportunity to negotiate a claim with an injured victim who does not understand the finer points of negotiating a settlement of an insurance claim.
Adjusters try to prevail in negotiations by drawing on several different strategies: delaying payment, denying payment entirely, and minimizing the amount of compensation they owe you. Faced with a potentially large monetary claim, insurance adjusters excel at:
- Manipulating you into making and signing statements that hurt your case
- Convincing you to accept a settlement that is substantially less than you deserve
- Drawing out negotiations as long as possible to wear you down, even to the point where your right to file a legal claim expires under the two-year Virginia statute of limitations
Claimants often make significant mistakes when they negotiate their own claims. Common negotiating mistakes include:
- Accepting the adjuster’s legal and factual conclusions about the accident
- Making and signing statements about the accident or pre-existing conditions that harm the claimant’s legal position
- Turning over documents too early in the negotiation process
- Settling too soon and for an amount that does not fully compensate losses
If you suffer serious long-term injuries in an accident, you should not even talk to the at-fault person’s insurance company. Tell them (or better yet, have a friend or family member tell them) that your lawyer will call them. Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for your first consultation, so you have nothing to lose by talking with one.
2. Insurance adjusters know Virginia personal injury law and negligence rules.
Virginia personal injury law is extremely complex. It includes legal rules like strict contributory negligence, which means that you recover nothing if you were the slightest bit at fault in the accident.
Insurance adjusters know how Virginia negligence law works. They can use legal principles like fault and liability to convince you that your claim is not valid or not worth much. You have a real disadvantage in not knowing the law.
Personal injury lawyers are highly skilled at negotiating with insurance companies and navigating through the complex issues of Virginia personal injury law. With a knowledgeable lawyer in your corner, your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve increase considerably.
3. You can undermine your case and lose your right to compensation if you try to negotiate your own claim.
There are several ways you can hurt your case if you talk with an insurance adjuster. Any statement you make that the adjuster interprets (or misinterprets) as acknowledging your own conduct in the accident can lead to total denial of your claim. Once those statements are part of the record, there is no way to remove or retract them.
In addition, you have only two years to file a legal claim for a personal injury. Filing the insurance claim does not count. Only a lawsuit filed in court stops the clock. If your discussions with the insurance adjuster extend beyond two years after your accident, you can no longer assert a legal claim in court. The insurance company will deny your claim, and you will not recover compensation for your injuries.
There are more subtle ways that you can undermine your case as well by discussing the claim with the insurance company. It is best to avoid any chance of jeopardizing your case by having a lawyer represent you in settlement talks with the insurance company.
4. If negotiations fail or stall, you cannot file a court action on your own — and the insurance adjuster knows that.
When a personal injury attorney negotiates with an insurance company, the adjuster knows that if settlement talks do not proceed in a direction of potential agreement, the lawyer will file a lawsuit in court. That gives the attorney considerable leverage in settlement discussions. You do not have that advantage when you negotiate with the adjuster on your own.
While most personal injury cases do settle, sometimes it takes a lawsuit to convince the insurance company that settling is better than allowing a jury to award damages. You can read more about settlement in personal injury cases in our recent blog post, 3 Reasons Why Most Accident Cases End in Settlement.
If you try to negotiate your claim on your own and fail, and then retain an attorney to file a court action and represent you, your case may be in a much worse situation than it would be if a lawyer represented you from the beginning. While you always can turn to an attorney after your efforts fail, your chances of receiving full compensation improve considerably if a lawyer represents you from the very beginning of the claim.
5. The insurance company knows how much money they might have to pay you — and you probably do not know the full value of your claim.
The calculation of damages in personal injury cases is extremely complex. While you may be able calculate some of your economic damages, like medical expenses and lost wages, the non-economic damages you deserve are much harder to quantify.
When a severe injury affects your future and quality of life, you may receive compensation for different types of loss and damage, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost future earning capacity
- The value of a permanent disability or disfigurement
- Past and future inconvenience
The insurance company knows how to calculate these types of damages. So do personal injury lawyers. You probably do not. Because of that, you probably will significantly underestimate the amount of compensation you can receive for your injuries and settle for an amount that does not even begin to cover your losses and is much less than you deserve.
6. You may lose a substantial amount of your settlement if you have to reimburse your health insurer for your medical expenses.
In some cases, your health insurer may assert the right to recover medical expenses they paid from the settlement you get. If you negotiate a settlement without knowing whether your health insurer has the right to reimbursement, you may end up pocketing a significantly lower portion of your settlement than you expected, or even nothing at all.
Subrogation and lien laws in Virginia are extremely complicated. When a personal injury attorney handles your accident claim, your attorney determines subrogation and lien rights of your health insurer and considers them in negotiating the settlement amount. Your attorney also can dispute invalid lien claims from your health insurer or negotiate to lower the repayment amount.
Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyer
If you suffered significant injuries in an accident that was another person’s fault, Virginia Beach auto accident attorney Jeffrey Brooke is here to help. At The Jeff Brooke Team, we dedicate our practice to helping injured victims and their families. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.