When you’ve been involved in a car accident, it’s natural to panic and feel like you’re helpless in the aftermath of the trauma you’ve experienced. Collecting yourself and looking at the situation calmly, however, is always the right way to proceed — and after you’ve had a chance to calm down, you might find that getting a settlement for your accident will be easier than you expected.
Whether or not you end up deciding to hire a lawyer, trying to get a settlement yourself is an option that some people take, and it certainly is possible. In this guide, we’ll help you decide whether you can argue for a settlement yourself… or whether it’s better to have an experienced lawyer take over your advocacy.
Believe it or not, there’s no law requiring that you hire a personal injury attorney for your car accident case. In fact, these cases are theoretically designed to settle themselves outside the legal arena; in an ideal situation, you’ll simply make a few calls to the relevant insurance companies, and you’ll get a fair and equitable settlement. However, as many of our clients can tell you, car accident injury cases are hardly ever as simple as they should be.
If you decide to seek a settlement by yourself, keep in mind that you’ll essentially be serving as your own lawyer. Therefore, you’ll need to have a decent understanding of accident law and know your way around paperwork if you want to receive anything resembling a fair settlement. If you think you can settle your case without putting in a significant amount of effort, you’re in for a rude awakening.
When you forgo the expertise of a car accident lawyer as you seek a settlement, you leave yourself wide open to being ripped off by insurance companies. Only try to handle your settlement by yourself if you’re confident that you won’t make any unfortunate statements or perform any other blunders that might hurt your case.
The simpler the case, the easier it is to handle it yourself. If your injuries are relatively minor and the details of the accident are straightforward, some people feel there is better value in trying to handle the case themselves.
You might be surprised to learn, however, just how complex car accident scenarios can be. While the scene of the accident might seem straightforward to you, it’s impossible to determine ahead of time which obscure questions an insurance company might ask; and while that injury might seem to be short-term, there’s nothing worse than kicking yourself 10 years down the line for not seeking a greater settlement.
Only try to settle your case yourself if you’re fully confident you know all the details surrounding your accident and you’re sure you won’t accrue unexpected medical expenses as time goes on. Since you’ll have a hard time assessing these factors without formal legal training, it might be safer to simply hire a lawyer.
NOTE: Keep in mind that going without a lawyer might not actually save you any money. Experienced car accident lawyers can usually get you at least twice as much in settlement value as you can get on your own, which would more than cover even the most expensive legal fees.
You’ll need to be well-equipped with all the relevant documentation before you try to settle your case without a lawyer. Here are some examples of the documents and data you’ll need as you proceed:
In most cases, an official statement regarding your role in the accident, which is called a “recorded statement,” is not required. As a layman, you might have a hard time figuring out whether preparing a recorded statement is a good or bad idea, and there’s no simple answer to this question.
On one hand, a recorded statement clears the waters and firmly affirms your role in the accident. On the flip side, however, it’s all too easy to accidentally incriminate yourself with a recorded statement, which could harm your settlement. Our best advice? Make a recorded statement, but don’t hand it out unless you must. Even if you’re fully honest about what happened, your recorded statement could still hurt you.
There’s nothing wrong with going crazy with the number of pictures you take at the scene of your accident. With the wonders of modern smartphone cameras and increased storage capacity, it’s easy to make a folder on your phone with a gigabyte or more of detailed images and photos that clearly depict exactly what happened.
Make sure to also take plenty of photos of any injuries you might have sustained. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no obvious correlation between the value of property damage and the degree to which a car accident injures you, so providing proof of the damage to your car won’t be enough to secure adequate compensation for your injuries.
When in doubt, photograph everything. Even if you never use 90% of the pictures you take, being more prepared is better than being less prepared when it comes time to make demands from insurance companies. You can’t go back in time and collect extra evidence. This is true whether you’re planning to represent yourself or not.
Do you know what the collateral source rule is? Insurance companies are hoping that you don’t, but a full grasp of this principle will help you get everything you’re owed for your accident.
Essentially, insurance companies are legally bound to pay all the medical bills associated with car accidents even if these bills have already been covered by insurance. If you don’t specifically cite the collateral source rule, however, the insurance company you’re dealing with might try to weasel its way out of this obligation.
Don’t simply rely on your hospital or clinic to forward all the relevant medical information on to the insurance company. Take possession of your medical bills and records personally, and flex this evidence to make sure you get compensation for the costs associated with your injury.
There’s more to consider when you decide to go it alone with your car accident settlement. Make sure you’ve covered all these points before you strike out on your own:
Figuring out exactly how much medical care you should get after your accident is tricky. If you don’t get enough medical care, the insurance company will think you’re overstating your injuries. If you get too much medical care, however, the insurance company will claim that you’re seeking frivolous care to rack up the amount you can seek in a settlement.
Unfortunately, getting medical care after your accident isn’t as simple as visiting the doctor whenever you’re in pain. You’ll need to think strategically if you want to get the type of settlement you deserve. This is a tricky balance that an experienced attorney knows how to strike.
Under California law, there is a two-year statute of limitations for all personal injury cases including car accident settlements. If you try to seek compensation outside of this two-year window, it’s likely that a California judge will throw your case out of court.
Keep in mind, however, that statute of limitations law in California is another area of complexity. Like many other states, California sets a shorter limit on cases against government entities, and there may be other restrictions you’ll need to follow if you want your case to be heard. While it seems silly, it’s not uncommon for California judges to dismiss cases based on easy-to-miss statute of limitations technicalities.
Assume that you’ll get caught if you lie. We can’t emphasize this enough: There’s no such thing as a “little white lie” in car accident law, and if you make false statements or try to falsify your records, your case won’t stand a chance.
Let’s be clear though: You shouldn’t spill every detail of your life of misdeeds to your doctor or insurance company just because you want to be honest. Oversharing could actually hurt your case. Instead, just answer any questions fully and truthfully.
Remember that insurance companies have access to all your previous claims, so you can’t hide previous injuries. This wide-ranging access to your personal information doesn’t, however, force you to disclose incriminating details that you’ve never made public.
Now that you understand some of the benefits and pitfalls of settling a car accident case without a lawyer, it’s time to cover the most important process of the settlement process: Filing your demand with the relevant insurance company or companies.
Before we proceed, it’s important to make one point abundantly clear: No insurance company will care about your personal story. Instead of writing a long missive about what a great person you are, your favorite things about your dog, and who you think should have been in a car accident instead of you, stick to the facts and only provide the information that the insurance company wants to see.
We’ve covered some of the relevant information already, but here’s a full list of the materials you should include in your demand package:
1. Your demand
2. Brief explanatory statement
3. Medical bills records related to the accident
4. Proof of lost wages
5. Photographic evidence
6. Any other materials the insurance company requests
Make your demand package look professional. Clearly demonstrate that you put time and effort into making your demand. Handwritten statements on loose-leaf paper are not acceptable. Even if you don’t hire a lawyer, make it look like a lawyer compiled your demand.
Determining exactly how much you should demand is one of the hardest parts of settling a car accident case when you don’t have a lawyer. Without a personal injury lawyer’s expertise, it’s easy to demand too much and be rebuffed. At the same time, you could also demand less than your accident is worth, which is potentially even worse.
Remember that insurance companies will usually be fair if it doesn’t seem like you’re shaking them down. Don’t make any veiled (or not-so-veiled) threats, don’t demand $1 million in cash in a briefcase down by the pier, and in general, don’t look like an uninformed amateur.
Take a look at similar accident-related injuries, and come up with a number that seems fair and equivalent. Just keep in mind that whatever number you come up with won’t come close to the value of a carefully calibrated figure that a veteran attorney can dial in.
How much you’ll get from your settlement all depends on the severity of your case and how well you present yourself. Before you get carried away, keep in mind that it’s rare for car accident injury cases to settle for more than $50,000. In rare circumstances, settlements of $100,000 or more will be granted, but don’t assume that you’ll get a huge payout. Always keep in mind that the right lawyer can get you a bigger settlement than you can acquire on your own.
So, you’ve submitted your demand, and you’re awaiting your settlement. Remember that if things don’t go as you planned, insurance companies hate dealing with lawyers. If the insurance company tries to skimp on your settlement, simply threaten to hire counsel, and see if the reluctant insurer changes its tune.
Even the simplest types of personal injury cases can get complicated quickly. While deciding to take on your car accident injury case without a lawyer is admirable, doing without an attorney’s expertise could harm your case to the point that you don’t receive adequate compensation.
Whatever you do, don’t proceed rashly. While you might be convinced that your back and neck injuries will dissipate within a few weeks of your accident, you might be left with your injuries for the rest of your life. Remember that protecting your long-term health with a lawyer’s help won’t cost you anything up front: confident car accident lawyers only charge once you’ve won your settlement.
A qualified personal injury lawyer will be able to take a look at your medical records, and together, you and your attorney will develop a plan for receiving the greatest possible compensation for your injuries. To learn more about how to get just compensation for your car accident, reach out to us at Dordulian Law Group at 866-342-1687 today!
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and workers compensation concerns.