The process of presenting an injury claim to an auto insurance company.
Beware: Insurance adjusters can appear out of a tailpipe after a car crash. They will offer money — sometimes several thousands of dollars — and offer to pay it now. They will also present a seemingly harmless medical authorization (sometimes referred to as a HIPPA release), which allows the insurance company to gather all of your medical records and bills so they can, as they say, “process your claim.” All of this is presented in a very friendly and sympathetic tone. The injured person is lulled into thinking that this congenial insurance adjuster is going to take care of him/her.
The alternative? Calling an attorney to have your claim presented. Many people feel the attorney route is costly and aggravating, and perhaps they should simply allow the insurance adjuster to handle the whole thing. Before you decide, consider what to expect after the crash has occurred.
Your health is more important than your claim
If you were injured in a car crash, the most important thing is recovering from your injuries. Follow your doctor’s orders and keep all appointments as best as possible. This will help you heal more quickly, and it will also serve your injury case well. By being a compliant patient and keeping your appointments, the insurance company will have less ammunition to use when it tries and devalues or downplays your injuries. Patients who fail to keep appointments or disregard their doctor’s advice are the kinds of patients insurance defense lawyers love to cross-examine at trial. These are also the types of claims having less likelihood of getting a favorable settlement.
Until you have reached a point of maximum medical recovery, there is no reason for you to talk about settling your claim. In fact, there is no claim to even present until you have fully healed and been released by your doctor. On the other hand, if you accept the money from the insurance adjuster only days after the crash, and sign their paperwork, you will have just discharged and been released forever from any liability. Once you have fully recovered and been released by your doctor, your claim has fully matured and a conversation can take place with the insurance company about settling your case. Or, worse yet, if you have a permanent injury, the doctor will recommend future treatment which can be part of your claim.
Building the claim
While you are recovering, your attorney will be writing to your healthcare providers and getting copies of your treatment records and bills. Also, in the event your medical bills exceed $12,500 (which is easy to do), the attorney can write to the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier and demand they reveal the driver’s policy limits and home address. This allows you to evaluate whether the at-fault driver has enough insurance coverage or whether you will need to make an additional claim on your own auto policy through your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
When you have been released from treatment and all of your bills and records have been collected, your attorney will prepare what is called a demand package, which contains a letter written by the attorney explaining how the accident occurred and detailing the nature of your injuries. The letter will also provide the total dollar amounts for your medical expenses and any lost wages. Enclosed with the letter are copies of the police crash report, photographs of the injuries and/or the vehicle, copies of medical bills and records, and anything else that could be important to the claim.
After receiving the demand package, the insurance company will review the contents, make a valuation and contact your attorney to begin discussing settlement. A lawyer can best advise you as to an acceptable range of where your case should settle or what to expect if you filed suit in court. The lawyer can also best advise you in which court to file suit, if it comes to that.
The moral of the story is that, if you have been seriously injured in a car crash, don’t go it alone. If it is just you and the insurance company, you won’t be in good hands, you won’t have a good neighbor and you will likely end up with less money in your pocket.