An insurance adjuster will approach you shortly after an accident that wasn’t your fault. This individual represents the insurance company of the person responsible for your accident.
They are responsible for determining what happened and whether their client is liable. If they are, they will calculate how much they should offer to settle your claim.
Early in the process, perhaps before you’ve consulted a personal injury lawyer, they will likely offer you a sum to settle now. They might even try to scare you with stories of claims dragging out and taking years, after which there’s no guarantee of you receiving any money. They’ll claim it’s in your best interests to accept a settlement so everyone can move on.
This can be tempting, especially if you have medical expenses you need to pay on top of utility bills and groceries. If you can’t work due to your injuries, the promise of a check in the post can seem silly to turn down.
But should you accept the first offer from an insurance company?
Why You Shouldn’t Settle Your Personal Injury Claim after the First Offer
Settling a personal injury claim is not a decision you should make lightly. It’s vital to remember that once you accept a settlement, you release the at-fault party of all liability for your accident. If your injuries worsen afterward and you need more time off work and incur even more medical bills and other expenses, you can’t claim again.
Let’s say you were in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. While you’re recovering from your injuries, you receive a call from an insurance adjuster who is prepared to offer you $3,000 on the spot if you agree to settle your personal injury claim.
You might be surprised that you could have $3,000 in your bank account by tomorrow — that would be more than enough to cover your medical expenses and lost wages.
But then you later find out that you need surgery and six months of physical therapy, and you won’t be able to work until after your recovery. What initially seemed like a handy payout is dwindling, and your settlement will unlikely cover the entire cost of your treatment, leaving you to fund the rest out of your pocket.
Sadly, this is a common scenario. There’s a reason personal injury claims take time. Your personal injury lawyer won’t file a demand — notice that you want to claim compensation and how much you think the claim is worth — until you reach maximum medical improvement. This is either when you finish treatment, or recover as much as can be expected. This ensures that when you claim, you know exactly how your injury has impacted your health over time, helping you maximize your settlement.
There’s also a second reason you shouldn’t accept the first offer from an insurance company: it’s much less than you deserve.
Let’s not forget that insurance companies are for-profit organizations. They make money by paying out less than the cost of their insurance premiums. As a result, insurers have no qualms about lowballing you.
By accepting an insurance company’s first offer, you could miss out on thousands of dollars.
The final reason many accident victims are tempted to accept the first offer from an insurance company is they’re worried the insurer will change its mind and revoke the offer — perhaps offering less than the initial figure of pulling an offer from the table altogether.
This is extremely unlikely. The best way to think of a first offer is as a kick-off to negotiations. Just as our Texas personal injury lawyers have plenty of experience negotiating with insurance companies, insurers understand what it’s like to work alongside lawyers fighting for their clients. They expect negotiations to take place, which is why their initial offer is so low — it gives them plenty of wiggle room.
When Should You Settle Your Personal Injury Claim?
So if you shouldn’t accept the first offer from an insurance company, when should you settle your personal injury claim?
There are three crucial considerations to take into account:
1. Your “Ballpark” Figure
Before starting negotiations, it’s helpful to have a ballpark figure in mind. You can calculate this figure using our personal injury calculator, remember that our calculator offers only a rough estimate. Every case is different, so you could be entitled to far more or slightly less than the figure provided.
Your personal injury lawyer will be able to give you a much more realistic figure based on their experience settling personal injury claims similar to yours.
When you have this figure, don’t give it to the adjuster. You should use this purely to determine how much room you have to negotiate. For example, suppose your ballpark is $10,000, and the first offer from the insurance company is $8,000. In that case, you can adjust your figure upward, especially since you now know that the initial offer is typically far below what you’re entitled to. Likewise, if you go in with a figure of $200,000 and the first few negotiations result in offers around $90,000, you may need to adjust your target.
Your ballpark figure will also depend on the strength of your evidence. If you’re in a car accident and it’s your word against theirs, having an eyewitness who saw the crash and is willing to offer a statement will help swing the outcome in your favor, allowing you to negotiate a higher settlement.
2. Your Attorney’s Advice
If you’re unsure if an offer from an insurance company is fair, ask your lawyer! It’s their job to fight for the best possible settlement and provide their expert opinion on whether you could be entitled to more. They’ll do this based on the strength of your case and evidence supporting it, how well negotiations have gone so far, and their experience negotiating settlements in past cases with facts similar to yours.
If you’ve done your due diligence when choosing a lawyer to make sure you can trust them to go after the maximum possible settlement — not encourage you to settle early so they can get a quick win — you can be confident they have your best interests at heart.
3. Know You Don’t Have To
Our final advice on settling your personal injury claim is that you don’t have to. Most claims settle during the negotiation phase, but a small percentage result in a lawsuit.
Personal injury claims often only get to this stage if you have a solid case and the insurance company refuses to budge on a low offer, as going to trial is a risk for both parties.
Your lawyer can advise you on your chances of success at trial and get the ball rolling if this is something you want to do. However, knowing that you won’t get your day in court immediately is vital. Before you can proceed to trial, both sides must go through discovery — the phase where evidence is collected and depositions are taken — and additional negotiations and mediation. It’s not uncommon for cases to settle at the eleventh hour, just days before you’re due in court.
Settling a personal injury claim can be tedious and confusing, and there will undoubtedly be times when you’re unsure what to do. Our personal injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio strive to take as much stress off your plate as possible and are always here to answer your questions about how much compensation you deserve.
To see if you have a claim, call 855-LAW-NINJA or fill in our contact form for a free, no-obligation case review.