7 Biggest Mistakes Made by Accident Victims
The justice system used to be simple. For example, at the founding of our nation, if your neighbor’s livestock escaped and ate your crops, your neighbor had to pay you for your destroyed crops. The system was based on common sense and dignity.
Today, it is a different story. The legal system that has evolved around getting compensated for injuries caused by the carelessness of others has become incredibly complicated and unfair. As a matter of fact, the system is now tilted against injury victims, and the system makes it very difficult for injury victims to obtain a fair and reasonable reimbursement for their injuries and out-of-pocket costs. Consequently, it is vital for injury victims to avoid these mistakes to give themselves a fighting chance and to ensure peace of mind.
Discussing their injury claims with the other party’s insurance company
Injury victims should not speak to the other person’s insurance company about their injuries. This advice applies only to the injury portion of the claim, meaning, it is perfectly fine for you to speak to the other person’s insurance company about any property damage claim. In fact, we recommend that you settle the property damage claim on your own, as it is not necessary to waste money paying a lawyer for this part of the claim because the insurance companies are usually fair and reasonable with the resolution of property damage claims.
However, the manner in which insurance companies resolve bodily injury claims are decidedly unfair. From the very first contact you have with the company, there is an effort to limit your claim. The company will do this by recording everything you say in case it can be used against you at a later date or in court.
Right after the accident, you will not know enough about your injuries to speak intelligently on the subject anyway. Injuries have a way of changing, shifting or showing themselves at a later date. This is a normal part of being injured and of recovering from those injuries. However, the insurance company will use this normal medical fact against you to deny your claim in whole or in part. It is far better to wait until you have some visibility as to your injuries to start discussions with the insurance company.
Signing a Medical Privacy Release for the Other Party’s Insurance Company
Colorado law does have one quirk that is helpful to injury victims getting reimbursed for damages caused by an accident. This is the legal doctrine called the “collateral source rule.” This rule helps to soften the requirement forcing injury victims to reimburse health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid out of the injury settlement for whatever those health insurers paid toward your treatment.
An important thing for you to know going through this process is that the health insurer has a right to be paid for whatever that health insurer paid for your treatment. However, the insurer only pays a portion of the amount actually billed by the treatment provider. The amount billed is the amount that legally should be used to determine your damages for your injuries, not the lower amount that the health insurer paid.
If you sign the release for the other party’s insurance company, they will have access to the information that says what the health insurer paid, and the other party’s insurance company will analyze your claim based on that lower figure. Consequently, your recovery will be much lower. It is therefore, a big mistake to sign the release.
Settling Their Cases Too Early
We know and understand the urgency to get an injury claim resolved as soon as possible. You are struggling with paying the bills, and you also just want to check this claim off your list and get on with life.
Since we do injury cases on a contingency fee, we are working for free until we win your case and get paid out of the recovery funds. Consequently, we feel the same sense of urgency in getting your claim wrapped up quickly.
But you shouldn’t accept pennies on the dollar for your injury claim just because you are anxious to get it over with. Once you settle your claim, it is over forever. If, God forbid, you end up needing a surgery or some other procedure to address lingering issues from the injury caused by your accident, you cannot recover for that procedure after you have resolved your claim.
Consequently, it is best to wait until you have reached what your doctors will call “maximum medical improvement” before you even file your claim with the insurance company. At the very least, you will want to wait until we have some visibility as to the severity and nature of your injuries.
The insurance companies have figured out that it is a better business model to simply collect premium payments and be stingy with paying claims. Consumers have become more savvy about shopping around for the best insurance premium rates, which has limited the amount that insurance companies can charge for premiums. The only way to increase profits then, is to limit the amount paid in claims. Consequently, they have implemented more and more strategies to limit the amount they pay in claims.
One of these strategies is to offer pennies on the dollar to injury victims shortly after the accident to see if they can get the injury victim off their books for very little money. Once the case settles, you cannot go back and try to obtain a larger recovery, except in limited circumstances. By offering these small and early settlements, the insurance company can avoid paying for any future problem the injury victim has, while getting rid of the claim for very little money.
Being Too Aggressive
We have found through handling thousands of cases that it is always worthwhile to fully work the settlement process with the insurance company before filing your case in court. The reason is that it is not smart to waste time and money fighting a case in court if we can resolve the case outside of court and instead put that money in your pocket.
Fighting your case in court is expensive and time-consuming. Even just to file the case costs over $400. Now, your law firm should be fronting the costs of the expenses. That is, the firm should give you an interest-free loan to cover the costs and expenses of fighting your case in court. You will have deposition fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, exhibit fees, mediation fees, etc. That is why the decision to file the case in court should not be undertaken lightly.
It is a mistake to fail to fully work the settlement process before going to court. There are aggressive lawyers who will file the case in court prematurely without attempting to settle out of court. This is a bad strategy because the insurance company will hire a lawyer who is paid on an hourly basis. Consequently, you have just signed yourself up for years of battling in court because the attorney hired by the insurance company will want to bill as many hours as possible and therefore has zero incentive to resolve your claim until that attorney has milked the biggest fee he can. Meanwhile, the money from your eventual recovery that could be going into your pocket is being wasted by fighting the case unnecessarily in court.
There is a time and a place for fighting your case in court. In fact, it is absolutely necessary in some instances. However, we see way too many injury victims not being fully compensated due to attorneys having a hair trigger and filing cases without fully leveraging the settlement process.
Analyzing Their Cases Emotionally
Clients often ask how we feel about their case or what our feelings are in relation to a certain legal problem. The answer is that we do not feel anything about your case as it relates to the legal system. We make all our decisions in a cold and calculated manner, as we do not want our emotions or feelings about a case to cloud our judgment or analysis of that case.
It is your life, and we care deeply about our clients. However, our clients need from us the pure, unvarnished truth. In caring for our clients, we need them to make a smart, fully-informed decision. How would we be caring for our clients of we walked them into a buzz saw and took an unjustified risk based on emotion?
Unfortunately, the legal system is not about fair and unfair. It is not about justice, to be totally honest. The legal system is a system, just like any other, and it has its own set of unintelligible rules and customs. The key for you is to navigate your way through this system in the smartest way that is going to maximize your recovery. Now, this is not to say that you can eliminate all risk from the process. Of course, this is a risky business. The key is minimizing and analyzing that risk in a totally cerebral way, and not in an emotional way that clouds your judgment.
Filing Their Claim Without a Lawyer
The only certainty in the entire injury claim process is that injury victims will always end up with more money in their pockets if they use an injury attorney to file their claims. And it follows that if you have a really good and highly recommended attorney, you will do even better.
If you try to handle the claim by yourself, the insurance company has you exactly where they want you. They will be able to low-ball you without consequence. They will take advantage of you because this is the strategy used by the companies to limit the amount they pay in claims.
If you have a good lawyer, you will be able to analyze the offer to resolve your case from the insurance company armed with the knowledge and information about the upside and downside of accepting the offer or rejecting it and proceeding to court. You also will have the leverage that is so crucial in any negotiation, namely, the ability to walk away from the negotiation and fight your case in court.
Not Following Up on Treatment
There is a tendency among certain people to just “suck it up” and hope that they recover from their injuries by simply grinding through the pain. However, medical technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and there are more treatment options to get you back on your feet, living the life you had prior to your accident. Your doctor can talk to you about these options, or you can ask for a referral to a physical medicine specialist called a “physiatrist,” who is an expert in rehabilitation after injuries.
If your treatment provider recommends you follow up with a treatment option, and you choose to suffer in silence instead, you’ll limit the amount of your eventual recovery. Not only does medical treatment make you better, but it also helps to document and verify your injuries through a trusted medical professional. So if your case ends up going in front of a jury, you will have more evidence to quantify your injury instead of you just trying to explain what it was like by yourself. Juries often think that it is really easy for someone to just make up a sob story about an injury, but juries also trust the judgment and opinions of medical professionals who can explain the injury on your behalf.
At Laybourne Law Firm, we are able to obtain medical treatment for you even if you do not have medical insurance. There are financing options available where the treatment provider is paid back at the end of your case when you have money available from your eventual recovery.
If you are having trouble dealing with the time and inconvenience of seeking medical treatment, just know that you can get reimbursed for this after your case is over. You should keep track of your mileage getting to and from your appointments. The time you invest in your recovery will pay off greatly, most importantly because you will recover from your injuries much more quickly if you follow the treatment recommendations.
The Laybourne Law Firm Difference
You are not just a number at Laybourne Law Firm. In fact, our success comes from our caring. It’s what drives us to seek justice on your behalf. We don’t have cheesy ads on television, and we don’t rely on meaningless catch-phrases to get clients. Instead, we focus on having satisfied clients who spread the word about us. Just check out our online reviews!