Law & Legal & Attorney Criminal Law & procedure

Ask Your Lawyer: Can I Settle My Own Car Accident Case?

Q. I was in a car accident. I felt o.k. after the accident, but the next day I did have some pain, so I went to the doctor. The car accident was the other guy's fault, and his insurance company is offering to settle with me for some of the costs of my car repairs and doctor bills, but not the full amounts. Should I settle it myself?

A. The most minor of car accidents can cause serious injuries. People often "feel fine" immediately after the accident, but sometimes this is merely adrenaline kicking in, or the relief of not being severely injured. More often than not people tell the reporting officer they have no injury, and decline medical care. I theorize that people decline this because they would rather deal with the pain than take the time out of an already inconvenienced day to wait for hours in an emergency room. Others may not have health insurance and, unsure of reimbursement, forego treatment. But some injuries do not manifest themselves immediately. Hours or days later, you may feel your neck stiffening or pains and aches in your back, legs, shoulders, etc. If you seek treatment you may find that you have a herniated disc, whiplash, cervical strain or variety of other injuries. However, because you delayed seeking treatment the other driver's insurance company may deny those bills are related to the accident. The delay gives them a basis for an otherwise baseless argument, and a reason to deny or limit coverage. They may be basing their less-than-full offer on your delay.

For your specific case, I really can't answer your question without some additional facts. But in my experience I have found there are a few common paths that cases like yours take. If you have a minor injury, received little or no treatment, and it's clearly the other driver's fault, you can usually get fairly quick results without legal help. The other driver's insurance adjuster will ask you for a statement regarding the facts of the accident and your injuries; also, for medical bills and reports, proof of lost time at work, and other paperwork relevant to your claim. The adjuster should make you an offer based on all documented expenses of your injury, so keeping all your receipts and bills, and getting all repair estimates in writing, is crucial.

If your injury is more than just minor, or if fault is in dispute, it makes sense to consult an attorney before negotiating with the insurance company. Be up front. Ask the lawyer if it is worth his or her professional time or if you can settle it yourself. If you decide to handle it yourself, a good lawyer will make recommendations to maximize your settlement.

An attorney is trained to investigate and evaluate the facts of the accident. Most importantly, an attorney can tell you what your claim is worth and guide you through the legal process. A reputable lawyer will not talk you into suing anyone or making a claim for damages to which you are not entitled. And in personal injury cases, you should only pay your lawyer if you win, and even then only as a portion (usually 1/3) of your settlement.

Keep in mind if you deal directly with the insurance company, the other driver's adjuster owes you zero duty to see that you are fairly compensated. His or her job depends on paying you as little as possible. If you are offered an unfair settlement, you can still hire an auto accident attorney to counter that bad offer with the threat of litigation.

James Rowe is an attorney with The Law Firm of Rowe & Associates, and can be reached at 312-345-1357 or via email at E-mail him with your legal questions and he'll respond, selecting a few to be highlighted in this bi-weekly column "Ask Your Lawyer".

Leave a reply