Can I settle my own car accident claim?
Yes, if you think of yourself as a good negotiator and you have the time to investigate, talk to witnesses, familiarize yourself with your medical records, add up your medical bills, and negotiate (or argue if necessary) with the insurance company.
But even though you can, you may not want to and here’s why:
If you have had a lot of medical care:
If you went to the doctor once and then got better after a couple days or weeks, that’s the type of claim that you’d probably be better off settling yourself since a personal injury attorney won’t be able to add much value under those circumstances. However, if your injuries are more severe and they are starting to affect your personal and work activities, or if your doctor has recommended follow-up care like MRIs or physical therapy, that’s where an experienced personal injury attorney can really add significant value to your claim. There have been several studies over the years (mostly conducted by insurance companies themselves) that show that people with a lawyer generally settle their claim for 3-4 times more than people with similar injuries but without a lawyer. That more than makes up for any fees you have to pay an attorney.
If you’re not comfortable negotiating or don’t know what to ask for:
When you’re not represented by an attorney, insurance companies will take advantage of you in several ways. One, they know that you probably won’t catch it if they cheat you out of something that you’re legally entitled to. An experienced personal injury attorney knows what types of harms and losses (or legal ‘damages’) you’re entitled to and what constitutes fair value for those damages.
Two, the reality is that insurance companies know that experienced trial attorneys are willing and capable of suing their insured if a settlement is not reached. If you are dealing with an insurance company on your own, you don’t have that same leverage so there’s no real consequences if they treat you unfairly.
If fault / liability or other facts are in dispute.
It’s important to know that insurance companies determine fault independently. So just because a police officer determined someone to be at fault in an accident, it doesn’t mean that the insurance company is bound by that determination. Or just because a driver apologizes to you after an accident, again it doesn’t mean that his/her insurance company is bound by that admission. Or just because the insurance company pays for your car repairs doesn’t mean that they will pay for your personal injuries too. That's because the insurance adjustor who handles your personal injury claim is not bound by the decisions of another insurance adjustor who handled your car repair claim.
And even if the insurance company admits fault for the accident, it doesn’t mean they will also admit that the accident caused the injuries you claim. For example, if you wait a couple of weeks before seeing a doctor after an accident, the insurance company might admit fault for the accident but still deny your personal injury claim because they don’t believe you were actually hurt in the accident. These are situations where having an attorney that knows how to respond to these allegations is helpful.
If you simply don't have the time.
Investigating, gathering records, negotiating, and settling personal injury auto collision claims is very time-consuming. If you're too busy with work and medical appointments, you may not have the time, or want to spend the time, to do all this on your own. A lawyer can take this off your plate so that you can concentrate on more important things like your health and your work obligations.
When in doubt, speak to an attorney first, then decide.
It never hurts to speak with one or more personal injury attorneys before deciding what to do. Aurora Colorado trial attorney Richard Gama is happy to speak with you about your claim and there’s no charge for the consultation.