Many drivers will have to deal with insurance companies at some point. While most car accidents are minor and drivers can usually resolve these cases with insurance companies, car accidents involving injury are another story entirely. Victims often wonder how much of the case they can handle on their own and whether they need a lawyer to negotiate their case with the insurance company.
In every case involving injury in a car accident, you should always work with an attorney. Never attempt to negotiate with the insurance companies on your own because they will usually take any opportunity given to them to deny payments, cancel claims, and blame the victim for the crash.
For help negotiating a car accident claim and dealing with insurance companies, call the Yonkers car accident injury attorneys at The Martello Law Firm today at (914) 685-6950.
How Negotiating with Insurance Companies Works for Car Accident Cases
Many people may see the insurance process as a simple, two-step process: you file a claim, your claim gets paid. For many low-dollar accident cases or property damage cases, that may be the case. However, insurance companies are often reluctant to pay damages for more expensive issues like injuries. As such, car accident cases often require tactful negotiation to get the damages you need.
When you file a claim, the insurance company may get back to you with a valuation of what your damages are worth and what they are willing to pay. Insurance adjusters will use various formulas and charts to come up with many of these numbers. With vehicle damage, adjusters may require appraisals to estimate the damages and repair costs (or “total” the car and estimate the total value of the vehicle for replacement if repairs are worth more than the car). They may also look at bills and expenses you send them, such as hospital bills.
You and your car accident attorney can often counter their number and then go back and forth with the insurance company. These negotiations, like any others, have some formalities and rules (both spoken and unspoken) about how things work. In many cases, negotiations will take time, and cases are often not resolved right away simply by requesting higher damages. Instead, you will usually need to get your own appraisals and valuations done to attempt to convince the insurance company that the offer they gave is too low.
In many cases, how you actually begin negotiation is not clear. Many people may think that the next step to take after the insurance company offers you a low value is to appeal the claim – and that’s not incorrect. Negotiation usually comes as part of that appeal process: you reject the claim and ask for reconsideration, then, as part of that denial and the appeal process, you get a chance to sit down with the insurance company and negotiate for a better settlement.
Is a Lawyer Needed for Insurance Settlement Negotiations?
In most settings where people hire a lawyer, a lawyer is never absolutely necessary. However, when you try to assert your claims and stand up to insurance companies without a lawyer, you are essentially expected to act as your own attorney. This means following the typical forms and procedures, understanding legal and financial jargon, and advocating within the terms of the insurance policy and legal frameworks, all without help.
Without a legal background, some of this may be nearly impossible. Additionally, trying to negotiate with insurance companies without a car accident lawyer can leave you vulnerable to being taken advantage of, to having your words used against you, and to being told that you are out of options in many cases where a lawyer would still have the skills and knowledge to be able to move the case forward.
How a Lawyer Can Help Deal with Insurance for Car Accidents
Having a car accident lawyer on your side is especially helpful to negotiations with insurance companies. Your car accident lawyer will be able to do many things that you cannot do on your own or that you might not have thought of. Having a car accident attorney help you negotiate with the insurance company is helpful for a few major reasons:
Your Westchester car accident attorney will have legal experience that you might be lacking. This will allow your attorney to point to certain factors and conditions that have legal ramifications on the case. For example, thorough knowledge of the relevant rules of evidence might help stop insurance companies from trying to use certain evidence against you if that evidence would be inadmissible at a potential trial. Additionally, your attorney will know what damages can and cannot be attributed to other parties through various legal doctrines.
For example, we may be able to use your state’s comparative negligence rules to reject claims that you were totally at fault for the crash. Alternatively, respondeat superior vicarious liability rules might help victims of commercial vehicle accidents press claims against the at-fault driver’s employer and their insurance company in place of the individual driver and their insurance.
Knowledge of the law might also be relevant if there are questions about traffic violations and how they would affect fault in your case.
Knowledge of the Insurance System
A car accident attorney with experience handling insurance claims will have knowledge of how the insurance system works. This can help us know how much your case might be worth based on statistics about payouts and the results of past cases involving the same insurance companies. We may also know what thresholds and values insurance companies are willing to settle for, helping identify when a case is going well and when the insurance company is low-balling or stonewalling.
Practice and training in exactly these kinds of settlement negotiations can be invaluable when going up against insurance companies. Trying to handle negotiations with a powerful insurance company and their legal team without a car accident attorney and without practical experience in insurance negotiations puts you at a severe disadvantage.
Allowing “Cooler Heads” to Prevail
The phrase “let cooler heads prevail” is often applied to lawyers helping their clients. Your car accident attorney will represent you and your rights vigorously but professionally. An injury victim may be frustrated and hurt that the insurance company doesn’t believe them or refuses to help in spite of a contractual insurance policy saying they need to help. An attorney should avoid those kinds of feelings and work to calmly yet aggressively pursue your case.
Many people who handle insurance claims and negotiations on their own end up getting into screaming matches or storming out of meetings and phone conferences. Our Mount Vernon car accident attorneys can stick with it and work on your behalf to help insulate you from the difficult emotions of having your claim rejected or denied to your face.
A Legal Team on Your Side
Our car accident attorneys work together, along with our paralegals and other staff, to pursue your case. When it comes to legal research, going through records, organizing medical care and records, and presenting a case, having a team is always better. Our attorneys and staff can work together to help push your case through negotiations instead of leaving you to do all the work on your own.
Your White Plains personal injury attorney will be able to take all of the information and knowledge gained from insurance disputes and put it to work at trial if your case needs to go to court. We can also help explain your options to you and give you choices about how to proceed. Without a car accident attorney on your side, you may be unaware of what other options you have to proceed, and you may be more likely to accept low-dollar offers if the insurance company backs you into a corner and tells you there are no other options.
People do not always know the legal ramifications of their words. Insurance companies look for any statements or admissions they can latch onto as admissions of fault. Even saying something as simple and typical as “I’m sorry” could be construed as an admission of fault. When you work with our car accident lawyers, we can help advise you on what to say and what could be taken the wrong way to help lock down the information and avoid giving the insurance company too much info or info that could be mistaken as admissions.
Going to Trial after Insurance Negotiations Break Down
In many cases, a breakdown in insurance negotiations is not the end of your case. There may be additional options you have not yet pursued that your car accident lawyers can inform you about and pursue for you. One of the most common routes to take after insurance negotiations fail to get you the damages you need is to file the case in court.
Right to Sue
In some states, lawsuits are not allowed in every car accident case. For example, in New York, you need to file an insurance claim with your own insurance company and use your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. You are only allowed to file a lawsuit if your injuries meet certain definitions of “severe.” This is similar in many other “no-fault” insurance states.
In other “fault” or “tort” states, victims can almost always choose to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver(s) if the insurance companies are just getting in the way. Ultimately, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance will typically provide them with a lawyer, meaning that any further negotiations could be between your lawyer and their lawyer rather than between you and any other parties directly.
How Trials Work
Many people have some idea of how trials work because of TV and movies. However, those usually depict criminal trials. In a civil trial for injuries, the case is still often decided by a jury, though you may choose to have a “bench trial” where the judge makes the decisions instead. In either case, there are many rules and procedures about how evidence is presented, when arguments are allowed to be made, and how the trial proceeds.
Before getting to the trial itself, there are stages for evidence exchange, pre-trial meetings and negotiations, and motions regarding evidence and what claims can progress to trial. In most cases, judges are busy and will ask parties to take another shot at negotiating a settlement before the case is allowed to be scheduled for trial.
Settling In and Out of Court
When your case is awaiting trial, settlement negotiations may still be underway. The pressure of a pending lawsuit and an upcoming trial may help to pressure the insurance company into settling, which will ultimately save both sides time and money. In the majority of cases, a settlement is eventually reached before the case goes to trial – potentially even in the days or hours leading up to trial. Because of this, you should always have a Westchester personal injury attorney on your side and be open to ongoing discussions as the case moves through the courts.
Suing Your Insurance Company for Bad Faith
The reason that many insurance negotiations break down is that the insurance company doesn’t want to pay your damages. When your own insurance company refuses to pay you, your lawyer will look at two things for violations that can form the grounds for a potential lawsuit: your insurance policy and the “implied covenant of good faith.”
If the insurance company denies your claim in violation of the insurance policy, their denial could constitute a breach of contract. An insurance policy is nothing more than a contract that says how much you pay the insurance company and what circumstances and conditions must be met to get payments from them. If they violate that contract, you can seek redress in court.
Additionally, insurance policies come with an implied promise that the insurance company will make a good faith effort to follow the terms and pay claims as required. If the insurance company drops your claim without warning, cancels your claim, “loses” the paperwork, or otherwise gives you the runaround, they may be violating that implied promise. This can also be grounds to take the insurance company to court and get the money you were originally promised under your policy.
Call Our Car Accident Attorneys Today
The Yonkers personal injury lawyers at The Martello Law Firm work to help car accident injury victims get the compensation they need through insurance claims and car accident lawsuits. For a free case review, call our law offices today at (914) 685-6950.