If you've been hurt in a Charleston car accident, the at-fault driver's insurance company is legally bound to evaluate your claim for damages in good faith. That means the insurance company is supposed to be fair, reasonable, and honest about compensating you for your accident-related medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, insurance companies are for-profit businesses that want to maximize their earnings by paying you as little as possible for your claims. Accordingly, they often use different tactics to try to get you to settle for less than your claim is worth.
The Charleston car accident lawyers at Derrick Law Firm do not want this to happen to you after an auto accident. We know the games insurers play and how to protect your right to recover compensation. We encourage you to contact an experienced Charleston car accident lawyer today and to read this article to learn (1) the things insurance companies don't want you to know, (2) how a car accident claim should work, and (3) what happens after you reach a settlement.
Insurance Adjusters May Appear to Be Your Friend: They Are Not
The insurance adjusters will likely call you shortly after the accident, sounding friendly and compassionate. They'll inquire about your health and say they are just asking routine questions to get you a settlement as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.
How an Insurance Adjuster Will Try to Trick You After a Car Accident
The insurance adjuster's job is to keep the insurance company profitable, which can mean denying car accident claims or offering low settlement offers for serious injuries. An adjuster's real reasons for calling you could be to:
- Catch you when you're not thinking clearly because of trauma or medication
- Ask you to make a recorded or written statement
- Ask misleading questions to confuse and make you misspeak or contradict yourself
- Ask for a blanket medical authorization to get all your records
- Get enough information to friend you on social media
- Discourage you from hiring an attorney
- Offer you a quick, low settlement before you have a chance to see a personal injury lawyer and find out what your personal injury claim is worth
The adjuster will compare your recorded or written statement to police reports, depositions, and other accounts of your motor vehicle accident. If you've misstated anything or forgotten some detail that creates a discrepancy, the adjuster will use it to question the validity of your claim. A medical authorization can be used to look for preexisting conditions that the adjuster will cite as evidence your injuries were not caused by the accident. An insurance adjuster might even send you an anonymous social media friend request, hoping you'll post something about your injuries that can be used to dispute your claim or offer you a low award.
You Can Control What Happens When You Speak to an Insurance Adjuster
After getting the insurance adjuster's name, title, company, and contact information, you should simply say that your car accident attorney will communicate on your behalf. Keep in mind the following:
- Do not admit any fault, full or partial
- Do not give any information about your accident, injuries, level of pain, or medical history
- Disclose no more than your full name, address, phone number, and email address
If you've already given an insurance adjuster information that could affect your claim, it's not too late for you to retain an attorney. You may do so at any stage of the claims process.
Using Formulas to Calculate Damages
While fairness, reason, and honesty are positive traits we usually associate with human beings, insurance companies often remove the human element from the process of evaluating car accident cases. In some cases, an insurance company uses data mining to evaluate your claim by computer, using a formula that multiplies your "special damages" by a certain factor. The factor is determined by analyzing statistics from settlements and trials of cases similar to yours.
Your special damages are basically your financial losses due to the accident. They generally include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
Once these numbers are generated, the insurance adjuster multiplies them by a factor from approximately one to five to estimate the value of your total claim, including pain and suffering. This gives the company an idea of the award a judge or jury might grant you if your case should go to trial. If you accept a settlement that's less than what you might be awarded in court, the insurance company saves the cost of a trial.
If your medical bills are comparatively low, the adjuster might assume your injuries were not so serious. In this situation, an adjuster could multiply your special damages by a fairly low factor, perhaps between one and two.
If your medical bills are very high, this indicates you were probably hospitalized for a time and perhaps needed long-term treatment and physical therapy. A more extended recovery period means more physical and mental pain and suffering, so an adjuster might multiply your special damages by a larger factor between three and five to determine the award you could get in court if your case went to trial.
Because your award depends on the numbers a computer generates, the information that goes into the system is essential to your case. That's why we recommend the services of a Charleston car accident lawyer who understands the formula for calculating your award.
Your First Insurance Settlement Offer Will Likely Be Low
The insurance company knows you're probably not experienced in South Carolina car accident law and may offer you a low settlement. Adjusters may downplay the extent of injuries, dispute liability, or undervalue property damage to justify smaller settlements. They know that you likely need money after the accident and are counting on you to agree to a low settlement to resolve the matter quickly. Unfortunately, you will not recover additional compensation once you settle your claim. Accordingly, we encourage you to research value of your car accident claim before you agree to any insurance settlement offers.
Your Car Insurance Claim May be Wrongfully Denied
After denying your claim, many insurance companies hope you won't take the matter further, and they may not be particularly helpful in explaining why your claim was denied in the first place. A Charleston accident attorney can help guide you through the process of appealing an insurance denial by:
- Reviewing your policy to ensure the carrier adequately covers your accident
- Investigating why the claim was denied to determine next steps in an appeal
- Acquiring medical documents to show the injury wasn't a preexisting condition
- Gathering supporting evidence to strengthen your case
- Handling all communication with the insurance company and negotiating on your behalf while you are recovering
With an attorney's help, you may be able to appeal the denial.
A Charleston, South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Make a Fair Recovery
Your Charleston car accident lawyer may do many things to strengthen your case and be sure that all the proper data is in the insurance company's systems when it calculates your award. This may include the following steps.
- Get statements from witnesses
- Obtain police reports
- Gather detailed medical records
- Provide extensive photographic evidence of your injuries and property damage
- Hire an independent investigator
- Collect dashcam or security video footage of the accident
- Put a dollar value on your damages
- Negotiate with the insurance company for a fair settlement
- File a lawsuit and go to court if necessary
While the law doesn't require an attorney to represent accident victims who are considering a settlement offer, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer for the following reasons.
1. Insurance Companies Are Not On Your Side
Insurance companies are out to protect their own interests, and that means providing as little compensation as possible for victims. However, an attorney will be your advocate. They will examine your situation and demand compensation based on your current and future medical bills, lost wages, probable household modifications, pain and suffering, and property damage.
2. Once You Agree to a Settlement It Cannot Be Changed
In most cases, it is impossible to change the terms of a settlement agreement after the fact. Often, these early settlement offers are much lower than a victim deserves. An experienced attorney can gather the information necessary about the accident, as well as the victim's current and future prognosis to determine how much compensation is needed for a complete recovery.
3. An Attorney Can Ease the Stress of the Settlement Process
While simply accepting the settlement and moving on may seem like the easiest path to recovery, accepting a settlement that doesn't meet your needs can make life more difficult. An experienced attorney can take on the frustrations of dealing with the insurance company while victims focus on what's really important—their physical and emotional recovery.
Steps in a Charleston Car Accident Settlement Process
The process of receiving an insurance settlement has several steps:
1. Verifying insurance and filing claims. Your attorney will obtain the insurance policy of the defendant(s) in your case and notify the insurance companies that you're filing claims against them.
2. Conducting an investigation. Your lawyer will investigate your accident and collect evidence.
3. Waiting for maximum medical improvement (MMI) before filing your claim. MMI is the point at which you've recovered as much as you're going to recover. Only then do you know what your future medical needs and expenses, lost wages, and disabilities might be.
4. Sending a demand letter. Once you've reached MMI, your lawyer will send the insurance company a demand letter, including evidence of the at-fault driver's negligence, itemized medical expenses, lost wage statements, and a calculation of damages for your pain and suffering.
5. Negotiating with insurers. Your Charleston car crash lawyer will work hard to negotiate a fair settlement with all applicable insurers.
6. Filing a lawsuit, if necessary. If the insurance company refuses to offer a reasonable settlement, your attorney might take your case to court.
It's difficult to estimate how long your particular settlement process might take. Some cases can take much longer, depending on:
- Severity of injuries
- Quality of evidence
- Recovery time before maximum medical improvement
- Whether there are multiple defendants
- Whether there is a dispute or denial by the insurance company
- Whether a personal injury lawsuit is necessary
What Happens After You Settle a Charleston Car Accident Case?
Once the settlement process is complete, the insurance company will issue a check, and another multi-step process begins. Specifically, you can expect:
- Releases and other documents to be signed
- Your car accident lawyer to deposit the check in an escrow account and pay your liens
- Your car accident lawyer to deduct legal fees, court costs, etc.
- Your legal team to forward a check to you
Although there's no way to say exactly how long it will take for you to receive your check, an attorney will work to expedite the process.