The vast majority of personal injury claims are resolved through a settlement. According to data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), just 3% of all personal injury cases go to trial. But just because your accident claim is likely to end in a settlement doesn’t mean that you should be quick to accept any offer that comes your way.
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. They make money by accepting premiums from their customers (insureds) and paying out as little as possible on claims. Large insurance companies bring in billions of dollars in profits each year, in part due to a practice of denying or minimizing legitimate claims.
It isn’t unusual for an accident victim to be unhappy with the amount offered by an insurance adjuster. If you find yourself in that situation, you may benefit from a consultation with a personal injury lawyer. In many cases, an attorney can negotiate with the insurer to get a more reasonable settlement for your injuries.
Understanding the Value of Your Claim
Before you can figure out if a settlement offer is fair, you need to know how much your injuries are worth. An offer for $30,000 to settle the claims against the at-fault driver may seem generous — until you realize that this amount won’t even begin to cover your medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages.
There are three types of damages that may be available in a Pennsylvania personal injury case. First, economic damages are meant to compensate you for the financial losses that you have suffered. This type of damages may include items such as medical bills, the cost of future medical treatment, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, and property damage. You can calculate your economic damages by gathering bills, pay stubs, and repair estimates then adding up the amounts.
Second, non-economic damages cover intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, and scarring or disfigurement. It can be much harder to determine a value for this type of loss. One method that may be helpful is multiplying your economic damages by a factor of 2 or 3 to come up with a rough estimate.
Third, punitive damages are rarely available in personal injury claims. They are designed to penalize a person who acted intentionally or recklessly. In most accident cases, you will not be able to recover punitive damages.
Once you have totaled up your damages, you will be able to compare the number that you have calculated against the insurance company’s offer. In most situations, the amount offered by the insurer will be far less than your estimated damages. There are a number of possible reasons for this, such as:
- The insurance company believes that you are partially at fault for the accident, which would reduce your total recovery (comparative negligence);
- The insurance company is lowballing you to try to get you to accept far less than what the claim is worth; or
- The insurance company doesn’t think that you will fight back to get a fair settlement.
Keep in mind that your estimate of damages may be lower than the true measure of your damages. Some types of damages — such as reduced earning capacity or the need for future medical treatment — require input from an expert. For this reason, the settlement offer may be too low even if it is close to your own calculation of damages.
No matter what an insurance adjuster may say, you have a right to reject a settlement offer from the insurance company. Accepting an offer will require you to give you important rights, including the ability to file a lawsuit for your injuries. That is why it is so important to understand the full value of your claim and to know that you can and should reject any offer that doesn’t fairly compensate you for your losses.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
If you believe that the insurance company’s settlement offer is too low, it is often a good idea to talk to an attorney. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations, so you can get advice on your claim without any cost or obligation.
In some cases, it makes more sense to represent yourself. For example, if the car accident was minor and only involved property damage, then your best bet may be to simply allow the insurance company to pay to fix (or replace) your vehicle.
However, if you suffered an injury in the accident or if there is some question as to fault, you should consult with a lawyer. Compared to people who go it alone, injury victims who are represented by counsel receive settlements that are 3.5 larger. An attorney will protect your interests and advocate for you to get the maximum possible compensation, including money for your pain and suffering and any future medical treatment that you may need.
The process typically starts with an investigation into the accident itself. This may include interviewing witnesses, reviewing police reports and other evidence, and even hiring an accident reconstruction expert to prove fault. From there, your lawyer will research case law and draft a demand for damages that takes into account the full extent of your losses.
This starts the negotiation process, where the insurance company will make a counteroffer and the parties will go back and forth until they reach an agreement that works for everyone. Throughout negotiations, your lawyer will make sure that your legal rights are protected, which includes preserving your ability to file a lawsuit if necessary. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations (deadline) for filing a personal injury claim is 2 years from the date of the injury.
If the insurance company won’t give you a fair offer, then it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. Negotiations usually continue after the lawsuit is filed, with most claims resolving before trial. However, your lawyer should be ready to take your case to trial to get you the compensation that you deserve.
Weighing a Settlement Offer? Let Us Help.
After an accident, you may be eager for your life to get back to normal. Accepting a settlement offer from the insurance company may seem like a good way to do that. But if the offer doesn’t cover the full extent of your losses, then you could spend years dealing with the aftermath of the accident.
At Solnick & Associates, we have decades of experience taking on big insurance companies. We work hard to make sure that our clients get the money that they are entitled to for their injuries. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a Pennsylvania car accident attorney, contact us today at 215-481-9979 or email us at any time.