When you're the victim of an auto accident, you don't negotiate a settlement with the person that hit you—instead, you have to negotiate with their insurance company. If you think that you want to try to settle the case on your own, the key to success may very well be correspondence that you send to the adjuster. Here are some tips on how to get a fair settlement on your own.
Don't rush to negotiate and stay off the phone.
There will probably be a bit of correspondence between you and the insurance company as you go through the process of getting your car repaired and healing from your injuries. You may receive a few phone calls from the adjuster, who is likely hoping that you'll either say that you weren't hurt or are ready to settle. Don't agree to talk to the adjuster on the phone—especially if you're being recorded. If you need to take your case to court later, things that you say now can hurt you. Something as innocent as a response like "I'm fine, thank you," when asked how you are can end up being used as "evidence" that you aren't really injured.
Tell the adjuster that you'll be in contact in writing as soon as you're feeling better and ask that all communication from the insurance company be in writing as well.
Gather your evidence so that you can name a price.
You may not realize this, but you have to be the person who decides how much your claim is worth. There are some simple ways to do this, but you need the records of your medical costs, lost wages, and incidental expenses to do it.
When you write the letter asking for compensation, detail exactly what medical care you received, under whose care. Provide an itemized list of each medical visit or test, including what your medical insurance paid and what you paid. Similarly, list each date that you were off work or left work for medical care. Give a breakdown of what wages you would have earned if you had been there. You also need to give an itemized list of additional expenses that you may have incurred as a result of the accident:
- car rental fees or payment for transportation
- purchase of non-covered medical supplies, like an arm sling or cervical collar
- mileage for your visits back and forth to the doctor or physical therapist
- medications costs, including prescriptions and over-the-counter pain relief
Provide a total of your expenses and make it clear that you expect to be compensated for those losses, at a minimum. Provide photocopies of all your evidence with the letter you send.
Add a statement that explains your pain and suffering.
This is the area that is often the most difficult to negotiate because, unlike the "hard" costs of lost wages and medical bills, pain and suffering can't be easily quantified. Do your best to explain the pain and suffering that you have endured as a result of your accident.
Be very specific. Have you been unable to sleep at night because of the pain? Has physical therapy brought you to tears? Has your work productivity suffered because you were distracted by the pain as you healed? Emphasize the problems that you have had carrying on your normal daily activities, including taking care of your house or family, playing with your dog, or engaging in your hobbies.
Finally, attach a dollar amount to your pain and suffering. The conventional wisdom is that you should take the sum total of your "hard" damages and multiply by a figure that ranges between 1.5 and 5. The more severe your injuries and the longer your recovery, the higher the multiplier you can use.
Keep in mind that the more reasonable your request, the more likely that the insurance company will agree to the demand. It's often less expensive to settle for a fair request than to go to court. However, that doesn't mean that you should accept less than you genuinely believe that you're due. If the insurance company doesn't respond to your letter or responds with a figure that's outrageously low, consider contacting a car accident attorney for assistance instead.