If you’ve been injured by another driver you may be able to recover compensation from their insurance company. Filing a personal injury claim with the insurer is generally the first thing you’ll do after an accident. The personal injury claims process can be confusing. How does the process work? Who determines how much your case is worth? How can you be sure that you’ll get the money you deserve?
The San Diego personal injury attorneys at Injury Trial Lawyers, APC want you to be prepared when you begin to negotiate your claim with an insurer. We’ve drawn on our own experience in dealing with insurance companies and created a simple guide to help you through the process. Knowing what to expect and how to approach your claim will help you maximize your financial recovery.
1. Contact the Insurance Company
It’s important to contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company as soon as you can after an accident. Many companies require you to notify them of your intent to file a claim within a “reasonable” amount of time after your accident. Others require you to contact them within 24-48 hours. Getting in touch with them immediately will help you protect your legal rights.
There are a few ways you can submit a claim for damages: online, by phone, or by mail. The specific process will depend on the insurance company’s own internal policies. When you submit your claim you’ll include:
- The name of the insured driver
- The time, date, and location of the accident, and
- A preliminary explanation of what happened.
Filing your claim gets the process started.
2. Gather Information to Support Your Claim
Once you’ve let the insurer know that you intend to pursue damages, it’s time to begin gathering information and evidence that supports your case. This can include:
- Police reports
- Accident reports
- Video footage
- Witness statements
- Medical reports, and
- Any other relevant pieces of evidence.
You’ll be using the documents you gather to supplement your formal request for compensation. This request is known as a “demand letter,” and you’ll typically send this once you’ve recovered (or mostly recovered) from your injuries. Gathering evidence during your recovery will help to make things easier in the future.
3. Receive Reservation of Rights Letter
Once the insurance company receives your personal injury claim they’ll send you a Reservation of Rights (ROR) letter. The letter will probably be full of language that seems intimidating. Don’t worry. The ROR is simply the insurance company’s way of saying they:
- Will begin to investigate your claim
- Aren’t accepting liability at this time, and
- Reserve the right to deny compensation at the conclusion of their investigation.
Receiving this letter simply lets you know that the process is moving along. If you have any questions about the ROR letter you receive, do not hesitate to contact an attorney for help.
4. Submit Your Demand Letter
The demand letter is your opportunity to state your case and demand specific compensation for your injuries. It’s important to review the evidence you’ve gathered and determine the extent of your damages before you craft your letter.
Determining Economic Damages: Economic damages are paid to compensate you for the financial costs of your accident. This includes things like medical bills, rehabilitation, and lost wages. Waiting until you’ve recovered from your injuries can help you better identify your economic damages. You can calculate your economic damages by adding up your actual expenses and adding in costs you can reasonably anticipate having in the future.
Determining Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages are paid to compensate you for injuries that don’t have a specific financial cost. This includes things like chronic pain, suffering, and emotional distress. These damages are typically calculated by multiplying your economic damages by a number between 2 and 5. The more severe your injury, the higher the multiplier.
When you craft your demand letter you should:
- Present the facts and explain what happened
- Show how and why the at-fault driver is to blame
- Detail the extent of your injuries and financial costs
- Emphasize emotional damage you’ve experienced because of the accident, and
- Demand that the insurer pay you a specific sum of money.
Your demand letter should be supplemented with any evidence you’ve gathered during your recovery. This is your chance to explain why you deserve to be compensated for your injuries.
5. Wait for Insurance Company to Consider Your Request
The insurance company will complete its own investigation and review your demand letter before it responds to you. The company’s investigation is intended to undermine your allegations and disprove the statements you’ve made. They are searching for any evidence that can hurt your case. The company’s main goal is to minimize any payout you receive.
The insurance company will consider a few things when reviewing your claim and demand:
- How strong is your case?
- Would you be likely to win if your case went to trial?
- How would a jury value your injuries?
If an insurer thinks that you have a slam-dunk case that would be successful in court, they may be inclined to offer you a fair settlement. If they’re not so sure, they’ll probably extend an offer that you find to be insulting.
6. Consider the Insurer’s First Settlement Offer
How does the insurance company come up with a settlement amount? Most companies rely on a software program that analyzes every detail of your claim. You can probably expect the insurance company’s settlement figure to be much lower than the amount you’ve requested.
When you receive the insurer’s first offer you have three options: accept, reject, or extend a counteroffer.
Accept: If you accept the offer you’ll have to sign a waiver that prohibits you from seeking additional money in the future. It’s important to consider this if the offer you’ve received is low.
Reject: You also have the option of rejecting the offer altogether. This decision will stop the claims process.
Counteroffer: Extending a counteroffer is actually a way of rejecting the settlement. However, negotiations continue.
7. Negotiate With the Insurer
If you’re not happy with the settlement offer you’ve received, the best option is to make a counteroffer. This option allows you to contest claims made by the insurer, demand they justify the low offer, and ask for more money. You can either request the initial amount or meet the company somewhere in the middle.
Negotiations can continue for a short amount of time. However, at some point, you’ll receive the insurer’s final offer. If you’re satisfied that the offer will cover your expenses, you may want to accept. If you are insulted by the offers or can’t get the insurer to budge, you may want to reject the offer and consider alternative legal action.
8. Consider Alternative Legal Action
You always have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit if you can’t recover the compensation you need from the insurance claims process. A lawsuit is a good option if:
- The insurance company refuses to accept liability or extend a fair offer;
- Your costs exceed the insurer’s ability to pay; or
- It is difficult to determine the full extent and value of your injuries.
Contact Injury Trial Lawyers, APC if you need help understanding your rights or weighing your legal options. Our San Diego personal injury lawyers are dedicated to helping you get the money you deserve. We’ll fight to hold negligent drivers and their insurance companies responsible for the harm you’ve suffered. Call us today to schedule your free consultation.