There are several misconceptions about injury law and car accident settlements. So many, in fact, that I wrote a book on them!
It can be detrimental to believe some of these lies, as you might end up making a costly mistake in your case.
Lie #1: You can evaluate your case based on someone else’s case.
Truth: Every case is different.
Just because you have heard of a neighbor or friend receiving a certain amount of money for a particular case does not necessarily mean that your similar case is worth the same amount. Your case may be worth much more or much less, depending on the circumstances.
Think of your case as a unique situation, with its own facts, details, range of value, and factors that could change the outcome.
So many details of your case can vary from others, such as:
- Your age,
- Your background,
- Your insurance company,
- The amount of available insurance coverage,
- Your medical expenses,
- Any future medical expenses,
- The list goes on. . .
. . . And that is just the minimum of information needed in order to evaluate your case.
Many lawyers pay for billboards, commercials, and other advertisements promoting the amount that past clients have received in their particular case. These ads are somewhat misleading as they only reveal the amount of money recovered by the lawyer, not the amount that the client received.
Your case could be worth thousands if not millions more than the other person’s, or yours may not be worth anything compared to the person on the advertisement.
There is seemingly no accountability for the type of case, type of insurance coverage, injuries, amount of wage loss, family structure, and other important factors. The only information given is the gross amount of money that they received and that has absolutely no bearing on how much your case is worth.
Lie #2: The at-fault driver will cover all of your bills.
Truth: The at-fault driver may not have enough insurance coverage, and you may be left with your own bills.
Florida does not require drivers to carry bodily injury coverage. As a result, there are many accidents in Florida where the at-fault person and their insurance company may not have to pay anything for your injuries.
If you have been in an accident, it is important to examine all available options for insurance that will pay for the damages you have suffered. This exploration of available insurance companies is usually one of the first matters that a law firm may undertake on your behalf.
If the at-fault driver does not have bodily injury coverage, then you may have to look to your own uninsured motorist coverage to make an insurance settlement.
Lie #3: It is OK to take your damaged car to the insurance company’s “preferred shop.”
Truth: Don’t let the insurance company pressure you into going to their preferred shop. You can take your car anywhere to be repaired, and the insurance company cannot force you to do anything.
“Preferred shops” are specific body shops affiliated with the insurance company. They have an agreement – the insurance company helps the shop keep a volume of business, and the shop returns the favor by repairing vehicles the way the insurance company wants.
If the insurance company is suggesting you bring your damaged car to one of their “preferred shops” you may want to think twice.
I asked my friend, Bill Chalker to weigh in on this issue. I’ve known Bill for 25 years, he is the General Manager of Feld Body Shop Inc., in Kissimmee, Florida. With 30 years of experience and a wrecker tow service, Bill and his team have seen plenty of car wrecks and repaired plenty of damaged cars.
According to Bill, insurance companies use a call script to pressure, convince and “steer” the consumer to use the preferred shop. “They make the consumer think it’s for their benefit, but it’s not,” says Bill. “These places will shortcut the job by using Korean-built car parts and substandard repair.”
If you are wondering why insurance companies do this, the answer is sad but simple.
“If they can keep the final cost of repairs as low as possible, then that is less that they have to pay,” says Bill. “Insurance companies with look for any and every excuse to not pay your claim. Insurance companies are all about profits, they will never pay extra.”
Bill advises, “Go online and check out the shop’s reputation. Look at reviews and don’t assume you’re getting a good job. Demand factory invoices of where the dealer bought the parts.”
At the end of the day, you can take your car anywhere you like. We generally encourage our clients to consider the body shop that they are very familiar with or a body shop known for the quality of their work.
Lie #4: Your health insurance will send you to helpful doctors.
Truth: You may have to do your own research if you need follow-up care to make sure that the doctor is willing to participate in an injury case.
Hospitals and your health insurance company will not differentiate between doctors that will or will not treat car accident victims when they refer the case for follow-up care, and you would be surprised how many doctors are not interested in treating car accident victims if they believe the legal system will be involved. Therefore, as a patient, you should do extensive research and seek out proper guidance before going to a doctor.
Although hiring a lawyer at this stage may be the last thing you want to do, good lawyers know the range of medical professionals in an area and usually know which doctors are comfortable testifying in legal situations on health insurance and doctors who do not wish to participate in the legal system.
Personal injury lawyers also know which doctors may not have strong credibility with the insurance company. You can imagine the problems in your case if your doctor has no credibility.
Lie #5: It is OK to let the insurance company gather your medical records for you.
Truth: They may gather unnecessary information that can hurt your case.
Always remember that the insurance company does not act in your best interest, they do not work for you and you should not provide them with a broad medical release that allows them to access any medical records from anyone at anytime. They may obtain your personal records and keep them in their database potentially forever, even if they have nothing to do with the case.
Even though there is a cost to obtain medical records, in the end, the cost may be worth it and may not even be that great considering the size of your overall case.
If your lawyer provides the insurance company with a narrowly tailored medical release with specific medical providers listed, it could save you money and at least you know that your lawyer is acting in your best interest.
Lie #6: The insurance company will continually need more information before they can make an offer.
Truth: This is usually a delay tactic.
The starting point for attempting to settle a car accident case is to obtain all of the appropriate medical records, bills, and documentation for developing a “demand letter” to send to the insurance company.
Once you send a demand to the insurance company, it is normal for the insurance company to take four to six weeks before responding, and the response is often just a request for more information. If an offer is made, it is usually an offer so small that it leaves the injured person feeling insulted.
This type of response along with the possibility of additional requests for countless amounts of records can sometimes be a delay tactic used by the insurance company.
Lie #7: If you file a lawsuit, you will get more money.
Truth: A substantial amount of time and expense is always a component of filing a lawsuit, and filing a suit should not be lightly undertaken.
The expense of a lawsuit depends upon the severity of the case. Many personal injury cases can cost between $15,000 and several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the complexity.
Some general costs may include:
- The initial filing fee ($300–$500),
- Service of process ($40–$70, presuming it is easy to locate the defendant),
- Court reporter fees throughout the case ( $50 -$100/hr., which can quickly add up to several thousands of dollars). Transcription costs can run 3x - 5x the amount of the hourly charge, depending on the particular court reporter involved,
- Doctors’ deposition charges ($700–$800 to several thousand dollars per hour),
- Other experts can also cost several thousands,
Overall, the cost of resolving a dispute with an insurance company can be a very expensive process. As time has developed, insurance companies have gotten very efficient at handling these cases so that the cost of the litigation is less of a factor for them. Unfortunately, for the injured person such resources are rarely available.
Lie #8: You have only one case.
Truth: You may have more than one case, but some lawyers tend to focus on only one area of the law because they do not understand or practice the other possible matters.
When someone has been injured in an accident, there are multiple areas of the law that can be involved. For instance, if you were in a car accident you may have a bodily injury claim against the at-fault driver, a claim against their uninsured motorist carrier, and a personal injury protection claim.
Also, if the car accident happened while you were on the job (ex. you were running a work-related errand or driving a company vehicle) then you may have a workers’ comp claim. If the car accident put you out of work then you may also have a short-term disability claim and possibly a Social Security disability claim.
The law has become increasingly complicated due to a number of statutory changes, so there are advantages of using one team from one law firm to handle the diverse areas of the law involved in one accident. There is significant interplay between various areas, and having multiple law firms can cost you since the different law firms cannot see or understand the interplay of the law between practice areas. Some lawyers can be too specialized in one area.