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It wasn’t until I had a serious car accident that I understood the economics behind all of the Personal Injury lawyer ads on TV, Billboards, and Bus Stops. One Sunday morning, my wife and I were driving down the road and I happened to notice a car wasn’t going through the intersection, even though the light was green. I slowed down as I entered the intersection, but it was all too late. To my left was a fire engine, en route to an emergency call. Thanks to the air tight passenger compartment of my dearly departed Lexus, I did not hear the sirens, even though I did not have a radio on, or a cell phone in use. Not knowing if they would be able to stop for me as they entered the intersection, I stopped abruptly, only to be rear ended. The irony of it all was that it was a former chiropractor I had seen who hit me. I called 911, first to let them know that one of their emergency responders had caused an accident, and second to have the police come to take a report.
I called my insurance agent, to let him know about the accident, and he said if I was not at fault, that the other insurance company would be the one to contact, but that if I needed him, he would be available. I contacted the other driver’s insurance company – which happened to be a subsidiary of my insurance company – and they said: “our insured has taken responsibility for the accident.” Well, I took that to mean that it would all be taken care of by the insurance company, and surely since I paid the same company every month, they would have my best interest at heart. I was wrong.
The claims rep said, “we are prepared to settle for $1,000 for your medical claims and $2,000 for your troubles.” I told her I had no idea what my medical bills would be because I had not gone to a doctor yet. I thought it was odd that they made me such an offer because I didn’t know the game, but I was about to learn. Something told me to call my lawyer, and I am so glad I did because he explained to me the three financial settlements that would take place.
Settling on The Loss of Your Car
The first financial settlement was for the total loss of my car. My car was totaled, and they had to pay me for it. I wasn’t sure what it was really worth, but my attorney directed me to go to several online websites such as kbb.com, Edmunds.com, and even eBay.com to see what cars like mine were selling for. He told me to print out the pricing and be prepared in the event that a low offer came in. Thankfully, I got a very reasonable amount based on the online pricing I found, however, it was not enough to buy another car outright (sorry Dave Ramsey!)
Settling on Your Medical Bills
The second financial settlement was for my medical bills. My wife and I both suffered what they refer to as “soft tissue” injuries and saw a chiropractor. We also learned that it can take days or even weeks for injuries to show up, and I shared that with the claims adjuster who agreed. I wondered why – if she knew this – that she had offered me a settlement before I even saw a doctor? It’s because insurance companies don’t want to pay out even when they are supposed to. They really want to capitalize on the “got to have it now” nature of our society. Thankfully, we were not in a financial bind or crisis. We were not expecting any lump sums of money, so of course, we wanted to make sure that we were fully restored to “pre-accident” health before we agreed to any settlement. If you are in an accident and it’s not your fault, you should make sure that the other parties insurance pays all of your medical bills. My lawyer also told me that I had up to a year to settle, and to disregard any pressure that the insurance company would try to put on me. I am sure that differs from state to state, so don’t take that as gospel, or applicable to you. I recommend that if anyone is in an accident that they consult a lawyer. (For the record, I also recommend going to the ER to be evaluated and insisting on having tests such as an MRI done.) It’s best to have a relationship with a personal injury lawyer before your accident, so you know the counsel you are getting is unbiased. It’s also a great benefit of having a legal services membership plan because you can typically get counsel on any legal matter free of charge.
Settling for Your Hardship
The third financial settlement is for your hardship. This is for your loss of time or work, as well as the emotional stress, due to dealing with issues related to the accident. This would include doctor visits, talking on the phone with adjusters, time spent replacing your car, you name it. If you had to take time to do it solely as a result of the accident, then you should be compensated for it. My attorney wisely advised me to keep a journal of everything. This way if they come back to you with a settlement amount that is lower than you expect, you can show them how inconvenienced you were due to the accident. The amount varies from region to region, but typical payouts include some multiple of what is paid in medical fees (1-3 times).
Well, I hope you don’t need this advice because accidents are no fun, but life happens, and accidents are a part of life, so if you do, hopefully, you will remember this post. More than that, make sure you have a lawyer long before you need one; especially since you can have one for just pennies per day through a Legal Shield membership. If you know anyone who has recently been in an accident, feel free to share this with them.