Should I find a lawyer and ask for more money from the other party's insurance company?
May 17, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Does this sound like a reasonable insurance settlement? Should I find a lawyer and try to negotiate more, or just accept it and move on?

I was involved in an auto accident about a week ago. The other driver pulled a fairly crazy and illegal traffic maneuver and my car was totaled. I was bruised from my seatbelt but declined an ambulance. I carry liability and uninsured motorist coverage. Both I and the other party were the only people in our vehicles. The accident occurred in Texas.

The other party's insurance company contacted me today to offer a settlement amount. The person I spoke with said the amount is based on the resale amount for my vehicle in my location, the new tires I recently purchased (nothing fancy, just new), tax, and title.

Other items (like the car seat for the toddler) that were in the car that were damaged will be reimbursed after I purchase them and submit a receipt.

While I don't think the settlement offer would be enough to get me the same car in the same condition, it's pretty close to what I would guess, and I'm not an expert at these things. I've been looking at craigslist and will probably take out a 401(k) loan to augment the settlement and buy a replacement vehicle that'll get me and mine from point A to point B safely and comfortably.

I feel very inconvenienced by the other party. I understand that accidents happen, but the other party gave an incredibly different account of the incident (so incredulous, actually, that it probably helped my case much more than him, due to the photographs of the scene and the laws of physics). They changed their story from "My bad, I didn't see him, but it's not my fault because I was trying to evade this other accident" to "This is totally the other driver's fault because the other driver was being crazy and reckless".

It's basically that last statement that's got me riled up. Had the other party just given a truthful account of the event I'd probably be accepting this settlement offer.

Before you answer, I know you're not a lawyer. I know that some of you may be a lawyer, and that you're not my lawyer. I understand that contacting a lawyer immediately would be a wise thing to do, but my wife and I are not sure that it's in our budget right now. If contacting a lawyer would pay for itself then we could go that route, but if our settlement is $x and the lawyer fees are $x/2 it's not really worth it.

If I'm going to contact a lawyer, what kind of lawyer do I look for? I don't think I'm really looking for a personal injury attorney, because my person wasn't really injured. I also loathe the idea of gouging someone because they made a mistake. I'd like to know if the amount I'm being offered should be accepted, or if I should ask for more given the circumstances.

Sorry it's long, first time asking, wanted to make sure I gave you all the info you might need. I looked at this thread but it didn't seem to fit my question.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Insurance agents typically have a "range" that they are able to offer you in terms of a settlement. Let's say your car's blue book value was $5000 and an anecdotal search of cars similar to yours that are for sale in the same area go for $4500. They might offer you $4750. You might say, "well, i'm not happy with that offer." in this case, typically, they are allowed to go over by around $500-$600 - again, depending on the price of the car, it could be more - but for any amount over, they have to contact their manager.

i may be wrong here with your particular situation, but keep in mind that what you are settling right now are physical damages to your property, and that you should be advised by your agent on how to handle medical damages. i suggest you go to a doctor and explain to him how your neck started hurting a few days after the accident and how you think a couple of months of thai massages are definitely in order. then pass the bill along to this fucker's insurance.

otherwise, don't get riled up and let it affect your decision-making. shit happens, people sometimes lie to get out of jams, and frankly, agents have deal with this type of shit day-in and day-out, so don't think that by amplifying your emotional responses, anyone's going to actually listen any more than they already are.

be happy that they have insurance.
posted by phaedon at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2007

Their first offer is probably somewhere in the realm of 40% to 70% of what they are willing to pay. You have to fight tooth and nail with them for every extra dollar that you want out of them though.

The Texas State Bar has a lawyer referral service that should be able to connect you to an attorney that will work on a contingency basis, meaning that they get x% of whatever settlement they negotiate. They usually get enough extra out of the insurance companies to justify their fee, but YMMV.

Good luck. It is a bad situation, and dealing with an insurance company is about on par with being kicked in the balls. Don't worry about trying to gouge the insurance company. They are trying to do the same thing to you.
posted by ND¢ at 1:08 PM on May 17, 2007

Man I feel for you. A couple of years ago, a guy runs a stop sign and totals my car (in VA).

His insurance mails me a check for like $250. I mail it back.

They call. We go back and forth. They will pay for my meds and x-rays. They ask about the check, I tell them it is too low.

They ask what I was thinking would be fair.

I blurt out $2,500 (it was a 98 Escort, so this wasn't too terrible).

The jump at that figure, and then will never move from it.

I went to a lawyer, who told me that basically the settlement is straight Kelley Blue Book, and if you are going to get much else, you get that on the injury-pain-suffering side. I knew I could not find another car for that price, and he told me that, basically, I was getting robbed, and there was nothing I could do, so I settled for the $2,500.

This is an oversimplification of the story, but you get the idea.

My suggestion would be for you to call the insurance company and offer to settle for twice what they offered you (pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc), and perhaps they would meet in the middle.

IANAL, but they will cost you something awful in a situation like this.

Also, what did the police report say about who was at fault?
posted by 4ster at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: i suggest you go to a doctor and explain to him how your neck started hurting a few days after the accident and how you think a couple of months of thai massages are definitely in order. then pass the bill along to this fucker's insurance.

I realize this is probably in jest, but I feel that's exactly what this person was trying to do to me before the accident was ruled their fault, and that's precisely what had me completely stressed out about the situation.

To clarify: I'd like to maximize the amount of money I'll get from this without doing anything immoral or illegal.

ND¢, thanks for the link. It's that whole "YMMV" part that scares me away from contacting a lawyer.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:14 PM on May 17, 2007

Briefly, because I don't have a lot of time. My car got totaled, I was offered a cash settlement that was based on the replacement cost of my car (they surveyed three different used car dealerships that had my make/model/year/approx. mileage in stock within a 50 mile radius, averaged those prices, and then gave me the names of those dealerships so I could go buy the car at one of those places -- I checked, and they were honest about the prices) and then $1500 because I was complaining of back pain. I took the settlement. All in, three weeks from accident to them handing me the check. It could've been done in five days, but I delayed them as long as possible to see if my injuries were serious or not.

My girlfriend and her cousin were rear-ended. Bumper damaged on the car, but not seriously. Cousin worried about whiplash, parents pressured her to get a lawyer because that's 'what everyone else does.' The lawyer took two years to get money for the bumper and the chiropractor he made them go to but was never able to get the five grand the (young, naive) cousin spent on medical bills.

If you have injuries, you should be compensated fairly. If they're giving you money for replacement of the car, they should tell you where they can find that car for that price. If they can't tell you, don't take the offer. Go out and find the car yourself at a dealership, and bring that price to them and tell them that's what you'll accept. Make sure the final settlement for the replacement value of the car includes everything, tax, title, whatever. You should be able to walk in with their check and walk out with very nearly your old car and not spend another cent. Other than that, don't expect much.
posted by incessant at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: PS: The police report totally aligns with my account of the incident and places fault on the other party. I used my cellphone to document the aftermath, and the photograph of the skidmarks alone completely invalidates the other party's account of what occurred.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:17 PM on May 17, 2007

The last time I was in an accident they offered the following without hesitation, I think its fair and what should be fair for you too. (A guy didn't see me and t-boned me at a low speed, still managed to total my car and give me a little bruise on my chest from the belt)

blue book value
3 days wages
doctor visit, pain killer, muscule relaxer for 1 week
plus (no kidding) about 5k for pain and suffering

I think it was because the police report noted "visible injuries" from where I hit the seat belt.
posted by stormygrey at 1:33 PM on May 17, 2007

IANAL, but I wouldn't advise you accept their first offer. They're not going to refuse to settle with you because you tried to negotiate, and they're certainly not going to lower the offer because you tried to negotiate, so the worst that can happen is that you end up with the same offer that you started with. But my understanding (from speaking with my attorney about a settlement with an insurance company in a personal injury case a few years back) jives with what ND¢ described above: they have authorization to negotiate up to a certain percentage above their initial offer. You just have to keep throwing numbers at them until you figure out what their actual maximum is.

Oh, and I realize you didn't ask about this specifically, but since you mentioned it, here are some things to be careful of when considering a 401(k) loan. If you can find any other way to get any money you may need--a yard sale, a part-time job, a no-interest credit card offer--I don't recommend raiding your retirement account.
posted by decathecting at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2007

If you sign, I would make sure that you are only settling the property portion of the claim and not the medical/personal damages portion.
posted by acoutu at 2:03 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: decathecting: Thanks for the 401(k) loan. We've used my 401(k) account about five times for loans (all but one could be considered emergencies, or at least very difficult situations) and that's good to know. Our credit sucks, hence the 401(k) loan as opposed to going through our credit union.

Perfect timing: the other party's insurance agent just called me to offer me $500 for "pain and suffering". I've got an appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow to check out this bruising, and I told them I'd hold off on making a decision until I let my chiro check me out.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:05 PM on May 17, 2007

Short answer is that in the price range we're talking about, hiring a lawyer is almost certainly not going to be cost effective. I'm not sure you could find one to take the case. Insurance companies lowball people because they know that it's really not worth it for you to muster the resources to fight them. Plus, it might drag things out, and you might need $x now more than you need $1.5x 18 months from now. Negotiate with them as hard as you can, and find reasons for them to up their offer. I got an extra $1000 out of a similar situation once when I pointed out that the car in question has unusually low miles on it. Gather all the facts, check blue book and black book guides, and then present them with your number. Maybe plus 10% so you have some room to come down. It can't hurt.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:06 PM on May 17, 2007

Best answer: If you were not seriously injured, I don't think you need a lawyer. They lawyer is going to take at least 1/3rd of your settlement, at least. That’s cutting into your car replacement money. I do think you can get through it by empowering yourself. Thankfully, it seems you were not seriously injured.

The first thing I've found in handling insurance claims is "don't feel bullied." Their job is to try to settle out fast because their metric is to get claims off their desks. I don’t think insurance adjusters are terrible people, but protect yourself in the matter, because they are not always looking out for your best interest. Some insurance adjusters are going to try to be fair with you, but they also want to settle for the least amount they can get you to agree with as well. Generally, the first offer isn’t the best offer. Your job is to make sure they are, in fact, being fair and you are made whole again -- fairly.

Do your own search before agreeing to anything. In fact, if you are contacted again, simply tell them "Thank you for contacting me. The offer is being looked over. We'll be in touch shortly." Don't give them any more information than that. If you can get them to correspond in email, all the better because it's immediate and in writing. I just did that with a claim I had against a home contractor a couple months back. Very useful and kept everyone honest and to their word.

Look around online for the same used car. KBB and Edmunds are good starts to get estimates and fair values on your car. You know what condition the car was in, what modifications/upgrades you may have done recently, etc. Google for handling auto insurance claims. When I was dealing with a claim recently, I found a wealth of information on how to handle the adjuster.

As far as the carseat, I'd get the cost of how much it is to replace that model and submit it. Either buy a new one now or print out the model/cost from a retailer's online site. Get the money upfront. Otherwise, I fear they are going to have you accept the check for vehicle replacement, by doing so; you're going to close the claim and release them from further obligation. In other words, unless expressly detailed in any release notice you put your signature on, you might end up holding the bag on the carseat and you don't have to.

Things you need to consider... Did you see a doctor? Did you have co-payments or medicinal bills at all? Was there a rental vehicle? Were rental charges taken care of by your insurance or are they pending/out of pocket? Any other expenses occurred by this accident? As a result of this accident, did you (or your spouse, if applicable) miss work and have to take personal/sick/vacation time at all? Tally any/all of those expenses up.

In your presentation of costs to them, you’re going to want to detail that the report from the officer at the scene did, in fact, place fault on Driver 2. You’ll want to state that you sustained injury due to the accident. This is where you’d include photos of the accident/injuries if applicable. I think your major points are going to be the following:

1. "This is the replacement cost of my vehicle. Attached please find estimates from industry leading auto pricing providers that specify mileage and condition of the car. I also had 4 new tires…” Insert pertinent vehicle info here if there are other things you want considered. Don’t be shy, but don’t misrepresent anything either. If you have receipt for tires or anything you’ve added to the car (new battery, new brakes, etc) all the better for your case.
2. "The carseat needs to be replaced upfront in order to ensure continuous safety for my child. Attached please find replacement cost/receipt for identical carseat."
3. This is where you mention that you were injured if that applies. “I sustained injuries to _____” Mention if you sought medical treatment and if you still are.
4. Anything else you need to add as far as rental costs incurred and not reimbursed, medical costs at all, time lost from work, etc.

End the letter with “I look forward to resolving this matter. The best way to reach me is at”

They’re likely going to come back with either a bigger figure or ask you to detail the money you want to make everything whole again. At that point, you can ask for the value of the car and carseat, and then throw whatever seems fair to you (depending on circumstances you incurred) on top of it.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:36 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don’t think insurance adjusters are terrible people, but protect yourself in the matter, because they are not always looking out for your best interest

I think they are terrible people, at least to deal with, and especially when they're the other guy's adjuster. Don't bother with a lawyer unless you've got thousands and thousands of damages that they refuse to pay for. Also: Make sure you're driving a rental that they're paying for while you sort this out. They have to make you whole, and getting you wheels while you hash this out is part of it.
posted by jaysus chris at 10:33 PM on May 17, 2007

Also: Make sure you can find a suitable replacement at KBB or Edmunds price. What the blue book says and what the local market provides isn't always in sync. Don't let them get away with the private party price if you can't get a car for that amount. Get some ads from local dealers or get a quote from them for what they'd charge to procure an equivalent replacement. Don't forget tax, registration, and all the rest. They owe you that money, too.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:11 PM on May 17, 2007

IAAL ... and good advice above ... one additional thing ... make sure all written communications state that they are "" in the interests of settlement and without prejudice to any and all other legal rights or remedies, all of which are fully reserved" ... just in case you do go to court.

Also never accept the first offer.
posted by jannw at 1:56 AM on May 18, 2007

I think they are terrible people, at least to deal with, and especially when they're the other guy's adjuster.

I try to remind myself that they are just doing their jobs. Their jobs require them to be shitheads at times, and they're probably not really shitheads in real life.

You are right though. With an adjuster, especially the other party's adjuster, you have to play both the offense and the defense.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:40 AM on May 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks again to all the replies. Here's an update:

It's been 14 days since the accident.

There's two settlements being made: one for my car, one for pain, suffering, etc. I've been in a rental car for seven days (meaning it took a week before the other party's insurance company decided to pay for me to have a rental car).

For them to mail me a check for the value of my car they first need to receive the title. We mailed them the title on Tuesday and it arrived on Thursday. They still haven't processed it. Due to the upcoming Memorial Day holiday this means that I could receive this check as late as next Thursday. They've extended my rental car time once already (was supposed to go back on Saturday but they extended it to Tuesday) and they told me that under no circumstances would it be extended again.

The second settlement is for $500. I've tried to get this to include missed pay for two days to find a replacement vehicle, but they've said that they're only paying for missed work due to me being injured. Because my injuries were not severe enough for me to miss work, they say that I'm not entitled to anything else.

I understand this is how they work. I understand that they'll wear me down, and that they know I'm getting desperate for a replacement vehicle. I understand that hiring a lawyer doesn't make financial sense in this situation.

Settle for $500 and chalk it up to life experience, or keep fighting? What say you, hive mind?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:49 PM on May 25, 2007

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