Give me advice on settling a bodily injury claim for a car accident.
January 30, 2007 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I had a car accident a few months ago and am now talking with the insurance company about the bodily injury claim. I've heard a lot from folks (on mefi and elsewhere) that you shouldn't settle quickly and to ask for more than they offer at first. I'm wondering how I do that. How much more do I ask for? What can I expect as far as the insurance company's response? How do I rationalize my bargaining?

A quick version of my story: A guy runs a red, smacks into the side of me, totals my car. My back hurts, I go to my chiropractor for some help, they're great and after about three months get me back together again (yay). Just got a call from the company hoping to settle and they're offering me $2500 which the insurance guy explained included $1136 for medical costs, $250 for lost earnings and $1114 (he said he "rounded up") for general damages.

Since I'm a grad student and an instructor, I don't have the ability to "lose wages" so even though I was in pain, irritable, took time off of work, and the accident caused me to delay tasks I would otherwise have done more quickly this doesn't change my salary. The $250 was a project I was working on that I couldn't do on time because of being injured. The guy made it sound like a big deal that he was giving me that money. I have a hard time knowing what else to say except that the accident made my ability to do my work very slow for two + weeks. Which didn't mean I didn't have to do it, it just piled up and I felt overwhelmed afterwards. Is there any way to argue this?

The second issue is that when the insurance company took away the rental car, I had to bike everywhere which was not ideal given my back pain. I did eventually find a good car, but there was a week there where my mobility was limited and my body in more pain than necessary. Is this something I should comment on to get more money? How do I do this?

I'm guessing that they're low balling me here and wanting me to accept the money gratefully and move on. But I don't know how much I could expect to get for a totaled car and a bunch of pain. When I asked for rationale the guy fed me some lines about how "he does this every day" and "we know what juries are likely to award". I'm wondering how much of that is just what they say to get me to accept gratefully and how hard I should push.

Any advice or thoughts hive mind? I'll accept those gratefully!
posted by mulkey to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might want to consult a (personal injury) attorney. Much of their job is negotiating on your behalf with insurance companies.
posted by dcjd at 12:07 PM on January 30, 2007

well, what amount do you think is right? were you in $1114 worth of pain? if i offered you $X to be in the pain that you were in for the period of time that you were, would you take it? for what value of X? that's how much you should ask for.

maybe this advice isn't very helpful, but to be honest your motives here sound a shade less than perfectly ethical. i mean, i understand what it's like to not have very much money and how a few grand can really help especially when you're a poor grad student, but it's not like you just hit the lottery. it sounds like you're wrangling for more money because you can.

i think the amount seems reasonable, anyway, based on what you've described.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:14 PM on January 30, 2007

If you really want more money, you should consider calling an attorney in your area and consulting with him/her.

That being said, here are some general thoughts I had which should not be construed as legal advice--just as generalized hypothetical thoughts.

When I asked for rationale the guy fed me some lines about how "he does this every day" and "we know what juries are likely to award".

He does. And therein lies your distinct bargaining disadvantage. He has a number in his head which is the maximum he will pay based on the numbers and his knowledge of what you are going to get if you took a case to a jury.

I don't do car wrecks. Never have. I have a friend who does a lot of them. He told me that in Texas, even if you prove liability, you are likely only going to your expenses and, if you are lucky, maybe twice your meds for pain and suffering, inconvenience, etc. Of course, this applies to juries here. I don't know where you live. But I suspect that general rule probably applies elsewhere.

And that appears to be what the guy offered you. But it may not be. His number may be higher and that he has left himself negotiation room. Or it might be his highest, and you won't get him to budge an inch no matter what you tell him.

The things that don't help you is that it sounds like you have a soft tissue injury, which are largely un-proveable and juries don't like awarding money for soft tissue injuries. Moreover, you are going to chiropractor which juries don't like. The whole car wreck-chiropractor connection has often been linked to scams. Insurance agents know this.

So can you negotiate? You can try. How much money should you try to get? You should talk to an attorney in your area. But if I was in a basic car accident, I think I would be happy to get my med expenses, lost wages, and maybe the value of my meds again as noneconomic damages.
posted by dios at 12:16 PM on January 30, 2007

One more thing about contacting an attorney in your area who does these: it is a good idea to make sure there is not something special about your case that might drastically effect damages. But if it is as straightforward as you said, an attorney may not be able to get you much more than what the agent is offering. You are then left in the situation of taking what the agent offered you now, except this time, the attorney gets to take a cut out, as well.

Some things to consider.
posted by dios at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2007

Sargeant - It is true that I'm taking it as a given that the insurance company is trying to give me the lowest possible amount of money, perhaps you believe this to be untrue? I didn't win the lottery here, I'm figuring out how to advocate for myself and to get a fair recompense for my pain and suffering. I've been reading lots of advice that suggests the first offer is the lowest and they want to give as little money as possible, so I'm trying to figure out what is fair and how much of what they tell me is really true.

Dios - My question then is what is that number - how does he come up with that number? Where does what he is offering me look like in comparison to those numbers?

Plus does the loss of time at my workplace which is salaried count as work loss? It sounds like it's all designed around losing a day of work when you are paid hourly.

And the point is taken that this is a legal matter and that a lawyer could help me out here. I'm thinking that the tradeoff in terms of paying off an attorney vs. my settlement might make it not worth it.

Thanks for all the advice - keep it coming!
posted by mulkey at 12:38 PM on January 30, 2007

I was in an accident where I was injured - back injury, painful, but not debilitating. The other person totaled a Caddy. I got $5,000 in a settlement, but have had to live with constant back pain for the past 15+ years.

I like what sargeant sandwich said - I would NOT take $5,000 to live with the pain I have had. It's a good way to tell how much you have suffered.

Unless your pain is permanent & provable, they're not going to give you a lot. The dollar damages to your car are fixed. It's not that your pain isn't real, or that damage wasn't done, just that it wasn't horrific permanent injury. You will be able to walk & talk. Your employment potential hasn't been reduced.

The main reason for not settling quickly is in case some other damage turns up to your car or your person - not just because you want more money.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:59 PM on January 30, 2007

Dios - My question then is what is that number - how does he come up with that number? Where does what he is offering me look like in comparison to those numbers?

I can't tell you that. I don't know Tuscon juries. Even if I did, it would legal advice to tell you what I thought you could get, so I would be prohibited from telling you that.

The benefit to going to see an attorney (and you can usually get free consultation) is that they can tell you if there is some fact which you haven't mentioned here might make your case worth a unique amount of money. If it is, then they might be able to get you more money. If it is a plain vanilla car wreck, they will let you know. And if it is that, I would strongly consider the benefit to you of using the attorney.

While I can't tell you specific numbers based on your experience, I can address a hypothetical for me. If I was in a car wreck here in Dallas, Texas with only a soft tissue injury, I would be happy to recover the following (all numbers being purely hypothetical):

All medical expenses I paid based on invoices: $1,750
The amount of money for lost work: $500
The value of the damage to my care: $5,000
Pain and suffering: $1,750 (value of meds).

I definitely will recover the first 3. The last one is the wiggle room. But, as I said, juries around here aren't inclined to give you the value for an unproveable thing such as pain and suffering in amount more than your meds. It just some shorthand juries seem to use.

As far as lost wages, it would basically be this: if I get paid every two weeks on a salary and I missed 1 day, I would get paid 1/10 of my biweekly salary. If I got paid hourly and can prove I missed a 5 hour shift, I would get back 5 x hourly wage.

I would probably get the value of the damage to my car from the at fault insurance company. But sometimes, for some reason or another, my own insurance company might pay for the repair and then try to recover from the other insurance company.

So that's what I would look for.
posted by dios at 1:00 PM on January 30, 2007

This is what lawyers do.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2007

Lawyer up.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:16 PM on January 30, 2007

I agree with dios.


*earth cracks*
posted by empyrean at 2:29 PM on January 30, 2007

a little advice based on my family's experience: my dad really messed up his back in an accident. the insurance company kept sending him to different doctors to confirm it, and, thinking that being helpful and obedient would aid his case, my dad went to every doctor. every doctor confirmed that his back was seriously injured. then, when they offered an absurdly low settlement, he told his lawyer he wanted to go to court.

the lawyer said, "you can't go to court unless you're willing to spend a lot of money. since you saw all those doctors they sent you to, they'll insist on bringing every single one into court, and you'll have to pay for the doctors to testify. i advise you to settle."

...and that's how we got screwed. experiences with insurance companies are a good part of the reason i want to go to law school- so I can fuck them as hard as possible in the future.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 3:46 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm noticing in some of the comments a sentiment of "get as much money as possible" or "insurance companies have deep pockets so we should screw them". You should be approaching your situation from the standpoint of actual financial impact and not the standpoint of entitlement (i.e. how much can I profit from having to deal with this situation).

If you have car damages of X, medical bills of Y, and lost wages of Z, your total recovery should by X+Y+Z. The fact that you are getting W in addition as compensation for the aggravation is a bonus, not an right.

Feel free to argue and consult an attorney if X+Y+Z does not equal your actual damages as documented through reciepts, invoices, and financial records. On the other hand, if they're offering more than X+Y+Z and you just want more money, accept the offer and move on.
posted by galimatias at 4:01 PM on January 30, 2007

I appreciate all the responses that I've gotten. I realize that I framed the question in a way that suggests that I am just trying to get more money. What I want a fair settlement and it is clear that this may not be what the insurance company is interested in giving me if they can help it. Hence the question.

The trick for me is figuring out how to convey to them that even though I didn't lose work in the sense of not being able to attend the three hours a week where my work is time oriented (teaching), my work was affected. I couldn't do my job at home, which made life difficult. And my work is such that there is a detrimental effect of not doing reviews and being a crappy teacher (who stands motionless while lecturing because she's in pain). Bad reviews or seeming "flaky" is very problematic for me. This is hard to convey in a monetary sense. I can tell you I didn't get any work done for two weeks, but that doesn't translate into missing work for two weeks because I made it to teach class.

But thanks to your advice I've gotten an appointment with a lawyer to ask for some advice.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by mulkey at 6:29 PM on January 30, 2007

dios said, correctly:

He has a number in his head which is the maximum he will pay based on the numbers and his knowledge of what you are going to get if you took a case to a jury.

What he did not tell you is that that number is probably about three times what he is offering you. You need to get from A to B. Often a lawyer is needed to do that.
posted by megatherium at 7:55 PM on January 30, 2007

First off, sergeant sandwich needs to STFU. You didn't ask for an opinion of ethics.

I was hit, on a motorcycle by a drunk driver. My case was big enough for a lawyer but I don't believe yours is. Lawyers take 33%.

A lawyer can get you about 3x your medical bills and expenses. Looks like you were offered almost 2.5x. Were there any other expenses? Emergency room? Ambulance? Prescriptions? Even if your health care covered you, that is still an expense.

I would counter with an offer to settle for $3k, no lawyer needed. Let them sit on the offer for a month. They may take it or meet you half way.

You didn't ask or want this to happen to you. You are entitled to compensation. Make the best of it.
posted by vaportrail at 9:28 PM on January 30, 2007

Lawyer up as the man said. Do you think the insurance company hasn't 'lawyered up'? Think again. From what you say, they have played typical insurance games with you so far.
posted by toucano at 9:51 PM on January 30, 2007

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