December 24, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Contrary to the many television commercials from nasty looking lawyers who shout, “We Fight for You,” and claim that everyone in an auto accident needs to call them, in reality, not every auto accident case requires hiring a lawyer.
If you have been in an accident and are tempted to call one of these “800″ numbers, St. Louis, Missouri, personal injury attorney Matt Devoti just might help prevent you from making a costly mistake and hiring a “Settlement mill.”
“A Settlement mill is a law firm that takes any personal injury case — especially those which do not require a lawyer — rapidly settling them, taking their fee, and frequently leaving the client owing a great deal of money to medical providers. They advertise heavily on late-night television and online,” he points out.
Of course, right now you are thinking, “How do I know if my case requires a lawyer, or if I can handle it myself?” The answer is: Minor property damage with minimal bodily injury.
“Generally, a lawyer is not needed when the impact was minor or at low speed and there is not a great deal of body damage to the vehicle. It is important to not think that you have a major case based primarily on the cost of repairs, as claims adjusters look at how badly the car was damaged, not at repair costs which often include expensive electronic sensors, cameras, radar units and a lot more which can push repair cost into the stratosphere.
“Minor injuries do not usually require hiring a lawyer. This means no broken bones, damage to ligaments or tendons. Soreness and achiness for a few months are the classic signs of soft tissue injuries–which we often call whiplash–and a lawyer can’t do much with this to increase the value of your case,” Devoti observes.
“Missing work for a week or two still keeps the case as one you can consider resolving on your own.”
If his description sounds familiar, stay with us, as we’re going to look at how to put your case together and what not to do.
Claims adjusters have highly stressful jobs and are often treated badly by both members of the public and sarcastic attorneys. To Devoti, “You want to stand out as someone who is polite and responsive to their requests.”
It is important to realize that an adjuster can’t just pick a number out of the sky to settle a claim. Proof–not emotion–is the basis of settlement figures which are generally determined by software programs, such as Colossus.
Therefore, documenting the accident is critical: Who was at fault? What are your injuries and losses? Devoti gives us a by-the-numbers list of what must be included:
• The more things which point to fault, the better, such as a police report, the driver who admits running a red light, a witness, and photos showing the damage to your car.
• List all of your health care providers, including the ambulance, ER, and each health care professional you visited. Medical records and itemized billing are critically important in establishing your injury. Providers have forms for you to fill out and sign before this information can be released.
• Keep a daily log of how you feel, with detailed notes describing your symptoms. What is bothering you? Be specific: head, neck, right knee? Headaches? Where? Low back aches? Where?
• When do you experience these problems? Are they constant or do they come and go?
• Don’t exaggerate! “I can’t ever, or I can never do this or that,” are terrible! You’ve got to be real, for example, “When I wake up it is OK, but if I stand on a ladder, or reach above my head, at that point I have these symptoms.”
More than 20 years ago, “Three times the medical bills plus lost wages” was a fairly realistic settlement figure across the country. But much has changed in the amount of money insurance companies pay to settle cases, and it is important to avoid common mistakes which can even reduce the amount an adjuster will offer.
“People make mistakes in two main areas,” Devoti observes. “They become too emotional, asking for an amount of money that cannot be justified. They will say something like, ‘I have to pay off my student loan, so I expect you to pay me X [amount of] dollars to settle the case.’
“When you announce that your settlement demand is to take care of an unrelated debt, this is a red flag to the insurance company,” he concluded.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.