When people suffer the kind of traumatic situations that lead to personal injury claims, the days and weeks afterward are nearly as bad as the incident itself. You will be aching and trying to recover from your injuries and distress while getting your life back in order, and you will almost certainly be out of pocket for expenses and missed opportunities. When you are offered an insurance settlement, it will sound like a quick way out of your immediate difficulties. Should you take it?
As with everything in the law, it depends on your situation, but it is almost never the right move to accept an insurance company’s first settlement offer.
Insurance company adjusters almost always handle claims for motor vehicle accidents and workers’ compensation. Since businesses usually purchase liability insurance for personal injury claims, insurance companies—or attorneys that they hire—also frequently deal with:
When it is clear that you have a valid claim for damages, the insurance company may offer you a settlement. Unfortunately, at this point, companies have every incentive to “lowball” you, especially if they can see that you are not represented by an attorney.
One way that insurance companies make lowball offers is by claiming you were more at fault than you really were. According to Georgia personal injury law, you can only recover your damages to the extent that you were not at fault for the incident—and if you were 50% at fault or more, you cannot recover anything. By law, a court is supposed to determine your percentage of fault. In practice, since most claims are settled, the insurance adjusters make the determination of fault, usually in a way that favors the company as much as possible. Then it is up to the claimant—or their attorney—to challenge the insurance company and detail the reasons that they are entitled to a larger settlement.
When you do accept an insurance settlement, you will have to sign away your right to sue for your claim in the future. What if your injuries are more severe than they seemed? If you have settled, you will not be able to claim damages for further medical expenses. Some injuries only appear or develop complications well after their initial cause. These include:
The only way to be confident that you are not giving up a valuable right is to consult a personal injury attorney about your case before you accept a settlement. In fact, an attorney can handle the entire process for you, and the sooner you contact them after your injury, the sooner they can shield you from the pressures of negotiation.
Once you consult an attorney, they will evaluate your case, reviewing evidence such as:
The attorney will then assess your economic damages and your non-economic damages. Economic damages are quantifiable: lost wages, property damage, bills for medical treatment, and other concrete losses that you can put a number to. Non-economic damages are subjective—pain and suffering; loss of enjoyment of life—but no less serious.
To arrive at a figure for non-economic damages, attorneys often use the multiplier method. They consider the level of suffering involved, both physical and otherwise, in light of similar cases. They then choose a multiplier—a number between 1.5 and 5—and apply it to your economic damages. A typical case might involve a multiplier of 1.5 to 3. But if you suffered an injury with lifelong consequences and had no fault in the accident, your attorney may use a multiplier of 4 or 5. In such a case, if you had economic damages of $50,000, the resulting claim for non-economic damages would be $250,000.
Experienced personal injury attorneys make estimates for non-economic damages every day, and they understand how insurance companies work. They know how to challenge adjusters’ assessment of fault with the evidence available. If you have not yet made a claim on your own behalf in your case, your attorney will do so. If the insurance company has already made an offer, your attorney will send them a counterclaim with a detailed analysis of the case, explaining why you are entitled to your damages. The attorney will negotiate for you, and if necessary, they will take the case to court to get what you need.
Although some people handle these matters without an attorney, they risk leaving themselves at a permanent legal and financial disadvantage in the future. Moreover, insurance adjusters and attorneys are skilled at gaining the upper hand in verbal and written negotiations. As long as you are still healing and under great stress, you can be vulnerable to pressure and misrepresentations.
Let an experienced attorney handle this for you. At Scott Pryor Law Group, you don’t have to pay us unless we settle in your favor or win a case. Our Gwinnett County personal injury lawyers can speak to you in Peachtree Corners, Lawrenceville, or Atlanta. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today at (404) 474-7122.