Negotiating a Settlement: Part 3
If you are ready to take on the challenge of navigating and settling your own insurance claim, you’ll need to set the claim up properly in the early stages and keep track of all the details to position yourself for success. Properly navigating the first few steps is crucial. Otherwise, you won’t have the opportunity to pursue the best possible settlement. By following the checklists in this article, you should be well on your way to negotiating a fine settlement.
Before you Begin: A Checklist for Preparing your Settlement Case
Whether you’ve decided to handle everything on your own, you’re considering hiring an attorney, or you’ve already committed to seeking legal help, these tips will keep you on the right track for your claim. Setting up a claim properly and keeping it on track throughout will ensure that you have the evidence to support your claim regardless of who’s handling it.
Use Your Own Insurance if Possible.
If you have your own coverage for collision or PIP, use your own insurer to handle your damages and injuries. If you were not at fault, this won’t affect your rates, since your insurer can pursue the at-fault driver and their insurer for reimbursement. Additionally, you’ll get better service from your own insurer.
The financial benefit of using your own insurer for medical claims, even when you aren’t at fault, is that the funds reserved by the other insurer will remain untapped. (Keep in mind that this option is only available for those with PIP or collision insurance policies.) Though the funds of the other insurer are available to compensate you, if you choose to tap into the at-fault driver’s policy for medical payments, you’ll be draining the reserve of money that you will ultimately draw from for your pain and suffering settlement.
Essentially, by using your own insurer as a fail-safe for medical payments, you gain access to two different pools of money, and if you feel as though you deserve more compensation for your pain and suffering, you may be able to prove your right to a portion beyond your initial medical bills, which will be covered by the at-fault driver’s insurer.
In this instance, your insurance company won’t lose any money in the long run, as it will be allowed to seek reimbursement from the other insurer, but you want to ensure that you have first dibs on the available funds. (You’re the injured one, after all.) To avoid complications, it is very important that very early on in the claim you tell your insurer they must wait until you’ve gotten a settlement before they can seek reimbursement from the other insurer for medical payments.
If your insurer claims to have a right to that money first, ask that they provide you the policy contract language and/or legal regulations that say so, and consult with an attorney to find out your rights. If the law is on their side, so be it, but taking these steps will protect your interests.
2. Keep Track of Medical Expenses.
Regardless of which insurance company is footing the bill, keep tabs on what items are being covered and what might be getting refused. It’s generally your doctor’s responsibility to bill the insurer and make sure they are paid for services, and in some cases doctors will waive any expenses the insurance refuses to cover. However, you should be an active participant in this. Never assume that everything’s covered by insurance, so be sure to ask.
Ask both your doctor and your insurance adjuster to be sure: What is getting covered? Has anything been left out? If so, why? The last thing you need is an unexpected medical bill. Once the medical bills are released, be sure to keep them organized. You may want to make copies in advance as evidence to support your settlement claim. In addition to medical bills, you will need to keep receipts and records of all expenses related to the accident, such as the cost of fuel while traveling to see a doctor.
Keep a Record of Everything
Be sure to document how the injuries from the car accident have affected your life. The best way to do this is to keep a journal. Keeping a record of your level of pain, as well as any impairment to physical activities, chores, or pastimes is exactly the type of narrative you’ll need to have ready when it comes time to settle your claim. If the adjuster (or judge and jury) doesn’t know what you went through, it will be difficult to justify a good settlement. And if you don’t keep track, you might forget how many nights of sleep you lost due to pain.
You can start the journal at any time, but it’s helpful to begin as soon as possible. Whether it’s the day after or the month after the accident, take time to sit down and think back to the first days following the accident, and talk with family members and friends about how you seemed, any impairment to your physical abilities they may have noticed, and any impact to your professional, personal, or family life as a result of the injury.
In addition to detailed narratives, you will need to save any other evidence from the accident itself. Save detailed photos of the vehicle damage and any physical injuries, bruises, or lacerations from the crash. Photos showing injuries and damage from a crash serve two purposes: First, they offer a record of the injuries and damage; second, they give a dramatic representation of the severity of the moment of the crash. If your photos show a badly wrecked car and make someone say “How did anyone survive?”, your insurance adjuster won’t want to see those put in front of a jury and will be more compelled to settle out of court.
Keep medical records between you, your doctor, and your own insurer.
No, your medical history isn’t top-secret information, but if the other driver’s insurer asks to see your medical records, politely decline. Especially if you have an attorney, be sure not to sign any medical information approvals for either your insurer or the other driver’s insurance without your attorney’s approval. You don’t want to release your complete medical history to an insurer who may use it to justify a small settlement. Remember that time you dislocated a disk in your back when you were in high school? As long as that didn’t cause a lifelong condition, you don’t need that being used against you now. When the time comes to seek reimbursement, only provide them the medical records and expenses from your recent treatment for injuries.
By staying organized and keeping track of your damages, injuries, treatment, and any other expenses, you’ll be well prepared to move towards a settlement. This will also help you identify what you’re owed and keep you in a good state of mind to gauge what your “pain and suffering” is worth, financially speaking. When your recovery is nearly complete and your expenses have all been tallied, you can plan to move on towards negotiating and finalizing a settlement. If you’re ready to wrap up your claim, read onwards to the next section.