In a personal injury case, the parties negotiate in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement. From the viewpoint of the defendant or insurance company, the ideal settlement value is as low as possible. Often, the victim ends up with a lower amount than they deserve – or nothing at all.
However, if you retain skilled legal counsel, your odds of receiving a fair settlement will likely improve dramatically. Continue reading to learn more about the negotiation process in personal injury claims.
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Sending the Demand Letter
In a demand letter, you notify the appropriate insurance company and the defendant of the existence of your personal injury claim.
The demand letter should include:
- The accident
- Your injuries
- How your injuries are affecting your lifestyle
- Why the defendant was at fault
- Why the insurance company is liable for your claim
You then demand that the insurance company compensate you for your losses. Lawyers disagree on whether you should ask for a specific dollar amount in your first communication with the insurance company. However, if your losses greatly exceed the insured’s policy limits, it probably wouldn’t hurt to request full policy limits in your demand letter. Have your lawyer write the demand letter for you.
Issues in Dispute During Negotiations
A complete list of all possible issues in dispute during personal injury settlement negotiations would probably fill a small library.
Following, however, are some of the most common issues in dispute:
- Whether the insurance policy in question covers your damages. For example, if you suffered a dog bite, the homeowner’s insurance policy may not cover injuries inflicted by certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls.
- The extent to which you were at fault for the accident. For example, the insurance company might refuse to pay for your head injuries if you were involved in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet.
- Did you have preexisting injuries? For example, if you are claiming damages for a back injury, you might have injured your back many years ago.
- Was your medical treatment appropriate and necessary? An insurance adjuster might claim that some of your medical treatment was unnecessary, especially if you undergo an unusual or alternative treatment.
In most cases, your best option is to have your lawyer do the negotiating for you from start to finish. Your lawyer cannot agree to settle your claim without your consent.
Unfair Insurance Company Tactics to Watch Out For When Negotiating
Insurance companies are businesses whose purpose is to make a profit, not to compensate policyholders. Because of this, you can expect that the insurance company will use strategies to undervalue or deny your claim.
Following are some common examples:
- Issuing you an inadequate settlement offer on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis and giving you an artificial deadline to respond. The Texas personal injury statute of limitations, not the insurance company, governs how long you have to file a lawsuit after an accident (typically two years). Your lawyer will keep track of the deadline to preserve your legal rights.
- Subjecting you to numerous unreasonable delays, hoping that you will grow inattentive and miss the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit.
- Persuading you into giving a recorded statement and then asking you trick questions geared toward undermining your claim.
- Gaining access to your social networking accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter. An insurance company can use your online posts against you in court.
- Convincing you that you don’t need a lawyer to resolve your claim. In most cases, the insurance company doesn’t want you to retain a lawyer since they’ll probably have to pay more that way.
This is just a small sampling of some of the tactics insurance adjusters and defendants might use against you if they think they can get away with it. The better the reputation of your lawyer, however, the less the opposing party will use any of these tactics.
Filing a Lawsuit as a Negotiation Tactic
For several reasons, you might want to file a lawsuit as a negotiation tactic, even if you ultimately hope to settle your claim, including:
- To meet the statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit. In Texas, this deadline is usually two years after the accident.
- To show the opposing party that you mean business so that a more generous settlement offer will be forthcoming.
- To gather evidence in the other party’s possession during the court-supervised pretrial discovery process. The evidence you acquire this way might give you an advantage in settlement negotiations.
You can withdraw a lawsuit any time during your case in response to an acceptable settlement offer. This means that even if you file a lawsuit, the odds are there will never be a trial.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer to Help You During the Negotiation Process
Almost any personal injury lawyer will offer free case consultations. Find a reputable personal injury lawyer and schedule a consultation to decide whether to continue pressing your claim. An attorney will help you during the negotiation process and ensure that you get fair compensation in your case.