Individuals who have been injured due to an accident caused by someone else's negligence have the right to seek compensation for their injury's financial and psychological costs through the personal injury claims process.
This process includes first filing the claim with the at-fault party's insurance provider. If the insurance provider fails to pay the claim, it can also be filed as a personal injury lawsuit in civil court, which is a legal claim made before a judge or jury in order for them to make a determination on liability for the accident and compensation owed to the claimant.
Most personal injury claims resolve through a negotiated settlement before reaching the courtroom. If an insurance company makes a settlement offer that does not constitute fair compensation for the injury, you do have the right to refuse the company's offer. However, for the sake of your claim's value and the ability to use the court process when seeking compensation, there are some considerations to consider.
The Risk of Negotiating Directly With the Claims Adjuster
Two big risks are associated with negotiating directly with the claims adjuster, and they both result in an impairment to your ability to obtain the compensation you need. Here is a look at each of these issues.
Settlements Are Final
When you agree to an offered settlement, you will have a legal agreement with the insurance provider. A cornerstone of this agreement is the waiver of any future liability on the matter. What this means is that the settlement is final and you are legally barred from going back and seeking additional compensation from the at-fault party's insurance policy if you later discover that the amount you accepted was not enough to fully compensate for the expenses and quality-of-life impacts of your injury.
Without assistance in understanding how claims are valued and what constitutes a fair settlement, claimants are left to determine whether or not to accept the offer.
Insurance claims are almost always made during one of the scariest and overwhelming moments of the claimant's life when they are experiencing physical pain and likely a good bit of stress trying to determine how to pay unexpected expenses when they are too injured to work and earn the income they need to pay the expenses of life that they do expect. In this set of circumstances, it is tempting to jump at any offer that is made, even if it provides less than half of the compensation they need.
Your Ability to Obtain Compensation Is Under a Deadline
Every personal injury claim has a deadline, known as the statute of limitations. This is the date on which a personal injury lawsuit must be filed for the claimant to have the right to use the court process to seek compensation for their injury's monetary and emotional costs. For example, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Illinois is two years after the date on which the accident occurred.
Allowing the statute of limitations to expire will generally result in the loss of the ability to obtain compensation through either litigation or a settlement, as the avoidance of litigation is the most compelling reason an insurance company has for making a settlement offer in the first place. If a claimant seeks compensation on an expired claim, they will not have much luck getting an offer.
As noted, claims adjusters will engage in several tactics to reduce or eliminate payouts on claims, exploiting the claimant's lack of understanding of the process to achieve this mission. This can include stalling on making a reasonable settlement offer in the hope that the statute of limitations will run out and they will no longer need to compensate the claim.
What a Rejection of a Settlement Offer Must Include
When rejecting a settlement offer, a claimant needs to follow several steps, including providing their rejection of the request in writing.
Some of the elements of the letter include:
- A statement as to why the offer that was made is unacceptable
- An explanation of why any of the adjuster's statements in the offer letter were inaccurate
- A re-statement of the demand for payment of the claim's full value or a counter-offer of an amount you would consider fair compensation
- An explanation as to why the amount you're demanding is appropriate, including supporting documentation to justify the level of compensation that is requested
Your personal injury lawyer will present your rejection and counter-offer professionally and without anger or accusation to show a good faith attempt to work with the claims adjuster to resolve the claim.
How an Attorney Can Help You Negotiate a Higher Offer
A personal injury attorney brings the important elements of experience and understanding of the law to your claim.
Your attorney protects the value of your claim in three ways:
- Managing communication with the at-fault party's insurance provider. When dealing with an attorney, claims adjusters often avoid many tactics they use to take advantage of an inexperienced claimant. An attorney is aware of the type of compensation available through a personal injury claim, how long they should work on negotiating a settlement before training their focus on filing a lawsuit, and the minimal instances in which a claims adjuster needs to see the claimant's medical information.
- Helping you understand the personal injury claims process and how they evaluated your claim. Even when working with an attorney, a personal injury claimant remains the sole individual capable of deciding whether to accept a settlement. Your attorney can negotiate a settlement on your behalf. They can make counter-offers if directed by you to do so. They can also ensure that you have the information necessary to document the expenses and impacts of your injury and make informed decisions that reflect your best interests in the matter.
- Managing your claim's deadline protects your right to use the court to seek compensation for your injury. An experienced personal injury lawyer understands that you must file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Lawyers also understand that filing the lawsuit is often the catalyst to more serious settlement offers, which can be made at any time in the process from when the claim is submitted until a court has rendered a decision on the matter.
Affording an Attorney to Help You With Your Claim
Personal injury attorneys can provide several services focused on assisting their clients in obtaining fair compensation for the expenses and impacts they incurred because of the at-fault party's negligence, including:
- Determining liability
- Valuing the claim
- Communicating with the insurance provider
- Managing the statute of limitations
- Gathering evidence needed to prove liability and justify the claim's value
- Managing the court process, including filing motions and deposing witnesses
- Litigation services such as presenting evidence, examining witnesses, and delivering opening and closing arguments
- Assisting the claimant in receiving their settlement or award
While these services are crucial to obtaining the level of compensation you need, many personal injury claimants avoid the topic of hiring an attorney because they don't believe they can afford one.
Luckily, the contingent fee billing method that personal injury lawyers use ensures access to legal assistance to anyone who needs it, regardless of their financial status. The contingent fee billing method means you needn't pay your attorney until the claim resolves.
Here is how it works:
- When you and your attorney agree to work together on your claim, you will be asked to sign a contingent fee agreement. This agreement details services to assist you and designates a percentage of your settlement or award to be paid to the attorney.
- You navigate the personal injury claims process with the assistance of an experienced attorney who performs the services necessary to garner a negotiated settlement or court award on your behalf. Because you are not required to pay a retainer, work can begin on your claim immediately. Because you are not billed by the hour, work can continue without worry about whether you're current on your bills.
- After your case, your attorney will receive your compensation and deposit the proceeds in a trust account. From that account, they will receive their payment and pay any medical liens placed on the award by healthcare providers or group health insurers. After you meet to finalize the case, the attorney will turn over the rest of the compensation to you.