How to negotiate settlement for pain & suffering from auto accident
August 14, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on negotiating settlement for pain & suffering for an auto accident.

Hello MeFites - thank you for taking the time to read my question.

(YANML)

In summer of 2009, I was broadsided while crossing an intersection. A driver ran a red light driving at double the speed limit. There were three witnesses that verified that the driver ran the light and the driver was cited by the officer for so doing.

My car was totaled. I suffered an injury to my lower back which required approximately 7 visits to a chiropractor/physical therapist over period of 45 days following the accident. The total amount of medical bills were approximately $1,600, which were paid by my insurance company in full.

I received an offer from the responsible party's insurance company of $2,800 for pain and suffering. I need to settle by the summer of 2011.

Questions:
Is $2,800 a reasonable offer? If not, what is the best way to persuade the insurance company to make a better offer? Is involving an attorney likely to increase the net compensation?

Jurisdiction: Pennsylvania

Thank you in advance for your advice.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (19 answers total)
 
$2800 is next to nothing if you sustained any permanent injury. I think you need the advice of both a lawyer and a doctor, so you can understand both the legal and the medical aspects of this. The responsible party's insurance company is not looking out for your well-being.
posted by jon1270 at 10:04 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is $2,800 a reasonable offer?

No.

If not, what is the best way to persuade the insurance company to make a better offer?

Hire an attorney. PI lawyers work on contingency basis.

Is involving an attorney likely to increase the net compensation?

By several orders of magnitude.
posted by fixedgear at 10:07 AM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Insurance companies are not going to give you a penny more than they think they have to in order to make you go away. $2,800 is a ridiculously lowball amount. This is exactly what Personal Injury attorneys are for. Ask around among people you know, or your local bar association often has a referral service to help you find one. It is very common for this type of lawyer to work for a percentage of the award, meaning you aren't out of pocket if you lose.

My mother was in a very serious car accident years ago and the insurance company did not really begin to play ball until she hired an attorney.
posted by ambrosia at 10:17 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lawyers are free in this case, they work on contingency, they get a third of whatever you're awarded. So if you want, speak to an attorney, with all your medical records, and they'll tell you what they reasonably expect to get and decide if it's worth suing/arbitrating with the insurance company or if you should take their nuisance payment.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:32 AM on August 14, 2010


You should at least ask for one or two years of related medical bills to be paid as well.
posted by thorny at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2010


Hell no. My husband was in a car accident more than ten years ago, and since it was his friend driving, took the maximum insurance coverage he had, which was $25k. This was accomplished with a lawyer and from the way he described it, wasn't insanely difficult to get (he had several arm breaks and was in an upper body cast, and back issues). The lawyer said usually his case would be worth $150-200k but my husband obviously wasn't about to garnish his friends' wages for the money - but in the next ten years, it became obvious why this large amount of money is necessary - back injuries can be recurring, and very painful and limiting. He was out of work for a good bit of time, and needed round the clock help.
posted by kpht at 10:38 AM on August 14, 2010


You may find it worth your while to consult an attorney to help you here. Not only can an attorney can check comparables in your area and help you determine a fair settlement range for your claim, she can can help you deal with your own insurance company, which will likely want to subrogate the expenses they paid for your injuries against any settlement you receive.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:01 AM on August 14, 2010


Actually, that sounds about right. Soft tissue issues are calculated as a multiple of the medical bills and they are offering you a little less than 2X, which is what my wife got last year for a similar injury. She had about 3 months of physical therapy and the medical bills totaled about $5000. We had a lawyer. Mileage to the appointments, lost wages etc all count too. That said, personal injury attorneys work on contingency, so I'd give up 1/3 of the settlement to make sure you are protected. When you take the check you are relinquishing all future claims, so you want to make very very sure you are 100% recovered before you settle.
posted by COD at 11:08 AM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had a slip and fall accident at a big chain supermarket in Los Angeles. I injured my knee, and had about $3500 - $4000 worth of medical assistance including emergency room the day of the accident, consultation with orthopedist, physical therapy, etc, all covered by my insurance.

I got a lawyer and got an arbitration settlement of $10,000 (the process of this took about two years). Had I rejected that amount we would have gone to court, which my lawyer discouraged. He basically didn't think I could do better since my injury was relatively minor, and also it would have increased his expenses which would have to be paid out of whatever settlement we got. (Had we lost the case in court and received $0, he would have just eaten those costs.)

My lawyer took 1/3 of the amount. My insurance company got reimbursed in full -- this was a legal necessity in my jurisdiction. When all was said and done, I walked away with about $2500. So, a little less than they're offering you. But you should at the very least consult with a lawyer to find out if your insurance company would have standing in your jurisdiction to go after you for reimbursement.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2010


One other thing that I should say -- because my legal process took so long, by the time the settlement came around I was 100% sure that my injury and recovery process was finished. You must make sure that the same is true for you, because when/if you accept the settlement you are not going to get any more money out of them, period.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


My husband was hit on his bicycle by a delivery van. It was a slow-moving accident and he had no injuries which required hospitalization, but there was a lot of energy transfer (even at 4mph a big delivery van packs a wallop) and he had a lot of pain and rehab. We ended up needing to hire a lawyer, and the lawyer asked initially for something like $40K. The other guy's insurance offered $28K to include what they had already paid; we ended up with something like $18K, of which the lawyer took a very justifiable third.

So, no. $2800 is not even remotely reasonable. Absolutely call an attorney. And remember, this has to pay for every "crap my back is acting up from that old accident" for the rest of your life.
posted by KathrynT at 12:51 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suffered a permanent facial injury due to dog-related negligence but did not hire a lawyer because I wanted to avoid litigation. However, I did ask for all my medical bills to be paid, and they were. My own health insurance company was reimbursed as well.

I pretty much did not respond to the insurance company, which kept contacting me because they were afraid I was going to sue. Right before the deadline, by e-mail, I told the company I was going to hire a lawyer. They immediately made an offer to me directly, which had one more zero on it than I expected. I accepted the offer so I could put the whole thing behind me. A couple personal injury lawyers who know people whom I knew said they could've gotten me a lot more. However, I just wanted to move on. So that's one way to go about it.

Another story. Years ago, my husband was crossing a street in NYC when an unlicensed, underaged passenger took the wheel of a Hertz rental car and backed into my husband. The impact fractured a hip bone. There were many witnesses, including a cop. We could've sued bigtime, but didn't because we're not litigious types, wanted to move on, the hip healed,got the medical reimbursement etc. Flash forward a few decades. My husband has arthritis at the site of the injury. Probably down the road, he will need a new hip. Keep in mind that your injury may flare up at some point in the future.
posted by Elsie at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2010


According to my friends who practice in this area, you almost never can do better negotiating on your own than with a personal injury lawyer. Right now you are in a position of virtually no power relative to the insurance company. With legal representation the power imbalance is eliminated.

If you are still a ways away from your limitation dare, why not sit tight and see how your injuries make out over time? The worst thing you can do is rush into settlement when the prognosis remains a mystey.
posted by Pomo at 3:20 PM on August 14, 2010


IAMNYL.

If you have recovered from your injuries I think this is definitely a reasonable amount of money. You have very little treatment. Do you have any diagnostic testing? Are you full or limited tort? If you elected limited tort on your insurance you are only entitled to damages if you have a serious impairment of a bodily function. This means if you go to trial and can't prove serious impairment you are entitled to nothing.

Where will the case be filed? Some jurisdictions in Pennsylvania are more Plaintiff friendly than others. What insurance company did the other driver have? Some insurance companies are more reasonable than others. Also, just because it seems as though you are not at fault for this accident, if the witnesses don't appear at trial it will be your word against the other driver's. The insurance company's evlauation of the worth of your case is not effected by whether or not you have an attorney involved.

If you hire an attorney and bring a lawsuit you will be required to attend a deposition, an arbitration, and perhaps a trial. The litigation process can be invasive and time consuming. In the end you might settle for 2,800 but you will owe your attorney 1/3 and fees.

If your injuries have resolved and you have no positive diagnostic findings why not try making your own demand to the insurance company. Demand 6,000 and see if you can drive their offer up.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 5:53 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


lawyer.

IANAL, but I was a commercial auto insurance adjuster (damage to cars, not people, but I had plenty of colleagues on that side).

I agree with everyone upthread who notes that, in addition to what you've suffered up to now, this injury will have lasting impact on your life, and you may need additional treatment or physical therapy.

In addition, do you have a romantic/sexual partner (especially if you are married)? they may also be owed damages - called "loss of consortium" - because you were too hurt to have sex or otherwise be a full partner in your relationship.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:08 PM on August 14, 2010


Also, just because it seems as though you are not at fault for this accident, if the witnesses don't appear at trial it will be your word against the other driver's.

Go back and re-read the question. The other driver was issued a citation.
posted by fixedgear at 8:15 AM on August 15, 2010


Go back and re-read the question. The other driver was issued a citation.

Although the other driver received a citation, this is probably not admissible. Did he plead guilty to the citation? Was the citation dropped? Was this an emergency situation? Liability for an accident, although it may appear clear, is not always that simple.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 8:42 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liability for an accident, although it may appear clear, is not always that simple.

This is very true. In our case, had the at fault party just paid the ticket without admitting guilt (which you can do in VA) it would have made it harder for us to collect. However, she stupidly showed up in court, completely unprepared to fight the ticket, and was found guilty. That made our lawyers job a lot easier.
posted by COD at 9:24 AM on August 15, 2010


A few observations...the at-fault party ran the light at "double the speed limit"...what's this mean objectively? What was the speed limit? Was that the speed at which the impact occurred? A 25 mph speed limit would mean they hit you at 50mph, in which case...you would not be able to post because you would have been killed in a t-bone impact. This is typical of victims of auto accidents....the reality of the impact is frequently exaggerated. I'm sure it was a traumatic event, and that you were really injured. However, the settlement offered sounds very reasonable based on the duration of treatment, the symptoms (low back pain), and no indication of permanency or long-term effect, based on what you've told us. Think big picture...is this amount of money representative of the pain and suffering you endured? Attorneys take a third (at least)..so, at the end of the day, after months of hassle and negotiation, what will you net EVEN if you get another thousand or two from the insurance company?
posted by kskiivv at 9:58 PM on August 15, 2010


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