How to Settle an Asheville Car Accident Claim without a Lawyer:
Not every Asheville car accident claim needs a lawyer. Often, potential clients come into my office and ask if I will represent them in their Asheville car accident claim. When a claim is small and simple enough that I think the potential client can handle the claim on their own, I recommend that they do so, and give them enough information to move forward on their own. Occasionally, these potential clients return to me a few months later and ask for additional help, or representation because they found the process too complicated. Settling your own claim is not for everyone.
If you are ambitious, you can try to settle your car accident claim without an attorney and avoid paying a personal injury attorney 33% of your settlement. Most personal injury attorneys will charge 33% of whatever they can recover from your settlement. So, if you settle a case for $10,000, your attorney will charge $3,333.00. If you can handle the case on your own, you will be saving a lot of money.
Not every claim should be handled without an attorney; in fact, very few types of claims should be handled without an attorney. If you want to handle your claim without a lawyer, make sure ALL of the following are true about your case:
1) The other driver has already admitted fault;
2) You have less than $5,000 in total medical bills;
3) You immediately presented to the hospital or a doctor following the accident;
4) Your doctors agree that your injuries are caused by the car accident, and not from a pre-existing injury;
In short, simple claims where you do not have to prove who is at fault, and you have relatively minor injuries can be handled without a lawyer. Keep in mind that you will need to be very organized and diligent when handling the claim on your own. Handling the claim on your own should not be confusing or complicated, but it will require discipline and organization.
First Steps in Handling Your Own Asheville Car Accident Claim:
1) Take photographs of the accident scene, the vehicle damage, and your injuries. Even if the at fault driver has admitted fault, you still want to preserve evidence of the severity of the accident. This evidence will be used later on to justify your injuries to the insurance company.
2) Obtain a copy of the Police Report. Every car accident should be investigated by a police officer; a report will be completed by the investigating officer. Contact the police department that responded to your accident and ask for a copy of the report.
3) Keep copies of all of you medical bills. You will use these later on when you ask the insurance company of the at fault driver to pay your bills.
4) Get medical treatment immediately after the accident, and consistently during the time that you are still recovering from your injuries. Follow your doctor’s orders and avoid large amounts of time without getting treatment (more than 7-10 days).
5) Do not provide a recorded statement to the insurance company of the at fault driver. They will ask for one, but you are not required to provide one. If you want to be smart, ask the insurance company if you can take the recorded statement of the at fault driver (guess what their answer will be?).
6) Check the statute of limitation for you state, and your type of claim. Most states require you to file a lawsuit if you have not settled the case in 2-3 years, depending on the state. I practice in N.C. and the statute of limitations is 3 years for personal injury.
After you have completed the first steps following your car accident you can focus on getting the treatment you need for your injury. Remember, follow your doctor’s orders. If you injury is turning into something more serious, and requiring additional medical expenses, you should consider hiring an attorney. I have dozens of clients who think they are relatively uninjured for weeks after a car accident, but it turns out they have a bulging disc in their back, or a torn ACL that didn’t present itself until a few weeks later. If this happens, you should speak to an attorney. For more information on what to do immediately following an accident, read about preparing for auto emergencies.
How much is your Asheville car accident claim worth?
There are essentially three kinds of “damages” that you will be able to recover from the insurance company. Again, we are assuming you are dealing with a relatively minor injury with less than $5,000, so I will simplify the “damages” explanation to only what’s relevant to your claim. You are entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Medical bills: You will be asking the insurance company to pay all of your medical bills related to the accident. If you have already paid your medical bills, you will be asking the insurance company to pay you back what you’ve already paid, along with what is still owed.
Lost wages: You will be asking to be paid for any time you missed from your job as a result of the accident. You will need a doctor to have written you out of work in order to prove that you had lost wages. You cannot just say that your back hurt so you wanted to stay home from work.
Pain and suffering: You will be asking for compensation for the injury that you suffered and the associated pain and suffering. This is hard to quantify, so I will give you more information about this when we I write about presenting this information to the insurance company.
Measuring your pain and suffering is very complicated, and based on many factors, including:
- The nature and extent of the injuries
- Whether you make a good witness
- Whether the jury likes you
- Whether the jury thinks you are lying about anything related to your case
- Whether you have a criminal record
- Whether it is easy to understand the injuries
How to Negotiate a Settlement for an Asheville car accident claim:
Once you have finished all of your medical treatment, you will write a “demand letter” to the insurance company. Before writing the demand letter you will need all of the medical records and medical bills associated with your injury. Contact the medical providers and ask them for copies of the medical bills and records. You will attach these to your demand letter.
The demand letter will be your way of detailing what happened in the accident, what your injuries were, where you were treated for your injuries, and how much you owe in medical bills. Your letter will finish with a demand to settle the claim for a certain amount of money. This not a formal legal document. There is no single way to write a demand letter. If you write a poor demand letter, you will still have a claim but the insurance company just may not take you as seriously.
A typical demand letter will be as follows:
1) Introduction. Briefly describe the accident and whose fault it was. Include references to the attached pictures of the vehicles and the accident scene, and a reference to the attached accident report. Attach the pictures and accident report to the end of the letter.
2) Description of medical treatment. Describe what your injuries were, and which doctors treated you for those injuries. Do not go into too much detail. Reference the attached medical records and attach any pictures of your injuries.
3) Summary of medical bills. This can be a list of what provider you saw, and how much they charged you. Include a total amount and reference the attached medical bills.
4) Summary of any lost wages. Briefly describe how many days you missed from work, provide the dates and reference which doctor wrote you out of work for those dates. Attach a letter from your employer stating how much you earn, and how many days of work you missed.
5) Demand. Tell the insurance company that you are demanding $XXXX to settle this claim. Tell them that you are giving them 30 days to respond, after which time you will be hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit.
The most difficult part of your demand letter will be deciding how much to ask for, and determining how much your claim is worth. This is beyond the scope of this article. What I tell prospective clients is an oversimplified formula for small cases with less than $5,000 in medical bills and minor injuries, such as a neck or back sprain.
Obviously, this is oversimplified and should not be used on larger cases. Take the amount of your total medical bills and start by including that amount as what you want the insurance company to pay for. Let’s say you have $5,000 in medical bills. Now, take that same number and include that amount for your “pain and suffering”. Add the two numbers together, in this example it would be $5,000 for medical bills + $5,000 for pain and suffering, which equals $10,000. Start the negotiating in your demand letter by demanding $10,000 to settle your claim. This is a crude way of evaluating your claim, but you have to start somewhere. In a small case with minor injuries, it’s unlikely you will be offered more than twice your medical bills anyway.
Once the insurance company receives your letter, they will usually respond in 30 days. If they don’t, call and leave a message. If you don’t hear back in a few days, call and ask to speak to the adjuster’s supervisor. If you still don’t hear back, call twice a day and leave polite messages until they answer your call. When they do respond, they will make you an offer. You should reduce your first demand slightly, and then negotiate back and forth until you reach a number that you both agree on. If you are really unsure of how fair a settlement offer is, call a local personal injury attorney and run the numbers by him or her. Many personal injury attorneys will not even charge you for this.
A word about insurance adjusters:
When negotiating your case, be nice to the adjuster. You don’t need to be a push over, but be professional. Yes, many of them are unkind. Many of them are dishonest. Many hate their jobs. But you will get nowhere if they think you are a jerk. Not only will they treat you poorly, they will offer you less money if they think a jury would not like you either.
Once you agree on a settlement number, they will mail you a check and a release to sign saying that your claim is settled. Out of your settlement money, you will need to pay your bills and you will keep the rest.
If you want more information on how to settle your claim, or are not sure sure whether you need a personal injury attorney, contact Minick Law, P.C.
James Minick is a criminal defense attorney in Asheville, NC and is the owner of Minick Law, P.C.