I'm getting "rear-ended' by an insurance company on an auto accident settlement. Advice please?
December 9, 2011 2:32 PM   Subscribe

No lawyer wants to touch this, so how do I negotiate a settlement with an insurance company on my injury claim for a motor vehicle accident?

The adjuster for the at-fault driver is offering me $500 firm with no compensation for time off from work (taking sick days, doctor's appointments, etc.) or anything else. I'm not looking to profit from this, but every time I think $500, I get upset to the point where I can't even think rationally.

It's upsetting to think that this company thinks $500 is the fair amount for my "pain and suffering" despite the fact that I missed out on a mini-vacation due to the whiplash injuries, my work suffered, my social activities dissolved to nothing but staying in bed evenings and weekends, and still almost 9 months later, I can't lift a suitcase or carry a child without feeling pain and soreness in my neck and back for days!

So when they tell me $500 is what they're willing to give in compensation, it feels like they're minimizing the impact this accident had on my life. I'm not severely or permanently injured, my car suffered only some superficial scratches on the rear bumper, but nonetheless, I've had to deal with some more than inconvenient things as a result of this accident.

With car accidents so unfortunately common, I'd like to ask people about their experience of the negotiation process and what advice might help me get to the point where the sum they offer doesn't evoke such an emotional response. Because if this is really about compensation for my pain and suffering, that $500 is just insult to my injuries!
posted by loquat to Law & Government (21 answers total)
Do you mean no lawyer will take your case on contingency? You can't get one to write a letter for you for a couple hundred bucks? Some adjusters will instantly improve their offer if a lawyer gets involved. No guarantees here, of course, but I would consider the risk well worth it.
posted by grouse at 2:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

No lawyer wants to touch this

Really!? This type of case is precisely what a lawyer is for.

IANAL, TINLA: $500 is a joke compared to the amount for missed work, doctor's bills, and missed vacation. Pain and suffering goes in here, too. You really need to find a personal injury lawyer.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was a lad and the insurance company wanted to stiff me on my parked car which had been totaled by a drunk I called my uncle, the judge. His advice was to threaten to take them to court (district court, not small claims) without a lawyer. The court clerk would help me draft the papers. Basically his point was that merely answering my complaint would cost them far more than the amount in dispute. I am not sure how much you seek but it probably costs about two thousand dollars minimum to attend to a lawsuit filed by you. If no lawyer will take your case it might be because it is not worth too much and they have probably told you why they feel that way. Nevertheless, it likely is worth more than zero, or $500. If you truly feel that it is worth thousand, then it might pay for you to hire a lawyer by the hour.
posted by caddis at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lawyer. It won't cost you a thing. (They take a third of what tour suit gets you.) Call your local bar association.
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:47 PM on December 9, 2011

(that is thousands, as in many multiples of one thousand, as lawyers are $$$)
posted by caddis at 2:47 PM on December 9, 2011

The insurance company's offer is related only to some estimate of what your legal damages are. It sucks, but try to decouple their offer from what you think the shittiness of this experience is "worth" in any broader moral sense. If you've been able to work (as in for an extended period, not a sick day here and there) and haven't incurred serious medical bills, then, as obtrusive as its been on your life, the other stuff simply may not be worth all that much monetarily. (I don't know for sure. This isn't legal advice. Just saying that these are the most obvious reasons they would pay you bigger bucks and they seem to be absent in your case.) I think accepting that the insurance company's offer is not supposed to be a meaningful accounting of what your experience is worth. So try not to be angry about it. Workers' comp is a similar sort of situation. Actuarial estimates of what losing a limb is "worth" can seem cold, not to mention stingy, but it's not really intending to take all those intangibles into account.

That said, have you tried showing them in writing an itemized list of all the negative consequences of this accident, with realistic financial demands associated with each one? What steps have you taken to try to get them to budge? Leverage here would seem to derive from evidence that they are in the wrong plus a demonstrated willingness to take them to the mat over it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2011

I think you should try accepting
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:52 PM on December 9, 2011

When I got rear-ended I got piles of lawyer advertisements in the mail within a few days. Why can't you get a lawyer?
posted by Slinga at 3:09 PM on December 9, 2011

There should be about 20 ambulance chasers willing to take this case in your home town. Grab any phone book. If none of them are willing to take the case, then there must be something shakey about your story.
posted by empath at 3:11 PM on December 9, 2011

This happened to us. Accident, my (pregnant!) wife injured, car damaged. Insurance company was the same for both us and the other driver (who was clearly at fault). Insurance company's offer was inadequate. We contacted a personal injury lawyer recommended by a neighbor and it was a very positive experience. The lawyer was a bit surprised that they didn't want to be fair to us, but agreed to take on the case on contingency and it was easy after that. We didn't become rich (nor did we want that!), but the car was fixed and my wife's injuries were properly cared for, our attorney got paid, and we didn't have to put up with negotiations or intimidation from the insurance company. It was puzzling, as we thought it would all be pretty straightforward but the company didn't want to play it that way. Instead it cost them somewhat more. Odd. But we had a good recommendation, ymmv, etc.
posted by zomg at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2011

It's possible that $500 is a lowball offer but the "real" value of OP's claim is not high enough to justify a lawyer's time, as caddis suggests. No one is going to put in the hours on this to net a hundred bucks or whatever it might turn out to be.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2011

I'm really shocked that you're having trouble finding an attorney, given that I know many people who have gotten 5 figure settlements for injuries with no lasting effects. You have chronic pain as a result of this incident, as well as documented expenses. Can you write back to clarify what you mean when you say "no lawyer will touch" your case? How many lawyers have you spoken to, and what did they say about the reasons they declined to take the case?
posted by decathecting at 3:19 PM on December 9, 2011

When you say "no lawyer wants to touch this," is that based on talking to any lawyers?
posted by rhizome at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

How would you feel about providing more details about why you say no lawyer will touch your case? Really, you should be seeing a lawyer about this. You might get a more productive resolution if the HiveMind can help gain you access to one who will take your case.

Otherwise, my advice on negotiating is this:

-Put together a demand letter that explains your position. Give enough detail in the letter that the insurance company sees that you might have some kind of actual claim/really suffered injury, but don't make it too exhaustive. You want to paint the picture in broad strokes without telling the entire story and locking yourself in. Obviously make sure everything you say is accurate. You can say something like, "In addition to the damage to my car, the injuries caused by ___ have had a profound and continuing effect on my life. I still feel pain when I carry a child or even lift a bag of groceries. I missed work. I suffered a financial loss when I canceled a trip. Therefore, I would be willing to release my claims for a settlement of $__________."

Make the number as big as you think is comfortable for you, since it will only get smaller from there. They may or may not counter offer. I'm guessing they won't if you're not represented. Say no to their low offers.

But, seriously, get a lawyer.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011

We can't tell you anything meaningful without knowing what jurisdiction you're in. If you're in a state with a "no fault" insurance law, you may have no legal right to compensation at all for "pain and suffering" unless you can show that you have what the law describes as a "serious injury," which may mean some kind of permanent injury, or a minimum of something like 90 days of missed work. See the Wikipedia article for a summary. This might explain why lawyers aren't chasing your ambulance.

Were you also driving at the time? Do you have auto insurance? If yes, it may be your own insurance which should be paying for your financial losses, like medical bills and time lost from work. If you're in a no-fault jurisdiction, it's only when the injury passes a threshold level of seriousness, defined in law, that you have a right to compensation for pain and suffering from the at-fault driver's insurance.
posted by Corvid at 3:51 PM on December 9, 2011

I had a slip-and-fall accident that led to a low-level but nagging injury and I found that several of the lawyers I spoke to didn't want to take my case because it was too small. But by asking friends & family i was eventually referred to a lawyer who ran a small practice and specialized in these smaller-type cases. He did very well for me -- meaning, I didn't get rich but I did get compensated for my pain and suffering. Keep looking for a lawyer.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happened to me.

I got a lawyer on contingency. They're everywhere, and you can get one, too.

The $500 offer is pretty standard. That's what I was offered, and declined.

Then my lawyer filed all the papers, did all the right things, and told me it would probably take two years for the final settlement to come through. What typically happens is the big insurance companies wait out the statute of limitations and offer you a better settlement in order to avoid a trial case (these things rarely go to trial).

So yeah, two years later my settlement was reached. I got the standards "hospital bills times 3" formula which was 1/3 for hospital/bills, 1/3 for pain, suffering and lost wages and 1/3 for my lawyer.

posted by devymetal at 7:21 PM on December 9, 2011

OP here:

I'm in Oregon and I contacted about 6 lawyers from the google search result of "personal injury lawyer portland, or". Each time I contacted them, I was asked for basic details, put on hold to pass the info. on to a lawyer, and then told they would not be taking the case. I understand it's small potates here but I am wary of getting a shady ambulance chaser type lawyer. Even the lawyer who I was referred to by the state bar referral service hasn't returned my call.

I simply want the closest thing to "making things right" and the only thing that represents that here is a settlement. It is really the point they even offer them at all because you can't undo the harm, and I did and continue to suffer pain from my injuries not to mention other tangible losses. It seems like the insurance company wants to compensate only a fraction of that and the idea I should bear any loss here at the preservation of their financial interest just seems wrong.

posted by loquat at 2:37 AM on December 10, 2011

I have no legal qualifications whatsoever.

When my parked car was struck and damaged by falling signage, I got quotes for what it would cost to make my car right, plus rental car hire for the time that mine would be off the road, and sent a letter of demand directly to the sign owner and refused point-blank to deal with their insurance company in any other way except to confirm acceptance of compensation in full. This worked just fine.

You have no business relationship with the other driver's insurance company. Why are you even talking to them? Of course they'll try to screw you, and in any case they have done you no harm; the other driver did that. Document what you feel is fair compensation for the harm done to you and why, and send that as a counter-demand to the other driver along with a statement that if no reasonable offer is forthcoming then you will see them in court.

Sure, they will just forward this instantly to their insurer anyway; they're required to do that by the terms of their policy. But there's no reason at all for you to act as if your dispute is with any third party. There mere fact that they happen to have engaged an insurer who has made you an inadequate offer contingent on your agreeing to pursue the matter no further in no way compels you to accepting that.

It won't be the insurer you take to court; it will be the other driver. Make sure everybody involved (especially you) knows that's your position. Betcha they cave.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 AM on December 10, 2011

Someone other than the OP said "The lawyer was a bit surprised that they didn't want to be fair to us".

A sign of an inexperienced lawyer. The insurance company ALWAYS makes a low-ball offer as its first pitch. That is how the game is played.
posted by megatherium at 5:41 AM on December 10, 2011

a shady ambulance chaser type lawyer.

But this may be exactly what you need. Why do you think these lawyers chase ambulances? Because while they are waiting for the Perfect Storm of sympathetic injuries and deep pockets, they are making a living off PI claims. A PI claim is what you have, you are getting screwed with your current approach, and you have other recourse open to you. You really should go explore it. The most you have to lose is 1/3rd of 500 bucks.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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