If you're in an accident and it was the other driver's fault, one of the first things you'll do is file a claim through their insurance. They caused the accident, so they're responsible for paying for any damages and injuries it caused you.
Often, insurance companies will offer you a quick settlement. Usually, the pitch goes, "Here's some money for your inconvenience if you sign this release." However, before you sign a release, know this:
Once You Sign a Release, Your Claim Is Over Forever
If you sign a release, you must be CERTAIN that it's enough money to cover the cost of your damages and injuries. This includes things like future medical bills, pain, suffering, lost wages, lost future earning capacity and the like. (In Texas, you have a right to compensation for all of these things after a wreck!)
If you sign a release and then realize that the insurance company didn't give you the money you deserved, it's too late. You can't revisit the claim and you're stuck with what you got.
Do Not Settle Until You're Done Healing from Your Injuries
In order to ensure you're getting the full value for your case, you should be certain what it's worth. I've written a detailed article on the topic, which you can find here.
Typically, I suggest that people don't sign a release until they're done with their medical treatment. This is because it's possible for you to think you're "not that hurt," but to then later find out that you have a broken bone or an injury that requires surgery. Unless you're fully healed, you can't be sure something won't pop up.
But What If You Need the Money Now?
If you have medical bills and car repair bills piling up, I understand why you might be eager to take whatever money you can get. However, it's a bad decision. You'll be better off in the long run if you wait to finish healing.
First, you can use your own health insurance. I've written an article on why this is a good idea, and you can find that here.
I know people don't always like that idea, but there is some sound logic behind it.
If you don't have medical insurance, then it's time to talk to an attorney. A lawyer can work with you and get you to see a doctor under something called a letter of protection. They'll be able to get you the help you need without forcing you to settle your case too early.
When Will Your Case Settle?
As you probably guessed, every case is different. There is no normal time frame, no schedule for you to expect your claim to be completed within. The rule of thumb I give my clients is that you should never settle your claim until either your life has returned to normal (you are back at work full time, doing the same everyday activities you were doing before the wreck) or your doctor has made it clear that the effects of the accident are going to be with you for the rest of your life.
Until you reach that point, it is impossible to know the real impact your injuries will have on your future life. If you don't know that, then you don't know what the true value of your case is.
Why the Insurance Company Will Try To Rush You
Do you feel like the insurance company is putting pressure on you to settle? You're not imagining things. Insurance companies typically win when a case settles quickly. Unfortunately, an adjuster's job is to pay you as little as possible - simply, the less money they pay you, the more money they make in profits.
If an adjuster can get you to sign a release early before you figure out how much your case is actually worth, they'll likely save money.
A True Story
Once, I met with a young couple in their early 20s who had been in an accident. Just 24 hours after the accident, an insurance adjuster showed up at their house and convinced them to accept a $250 check for their inconvenience in exchange for signing the release of claim. They did it.
Twenty-four hours after an accident, most people have no idea whether they're hurt or not. It can take days for injuries to show or for things to start hurting. Sadly, the young man started suffering from neck pain shortly after and, long story short, found out it was a bulging disc.
They came to me for legal advice, but once I found out they had already signed a release I had to tell them that I was sorry, but there's nothing I could do. By signing that release, they signed away their right to any future claim.
The lesson to be learned is don’t be in a rush to settle your bodily injury claim, even if you don’t feel injured.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If you're not sure whether the settlement you've been offered is fair, or you need advice on how to best handle your medical treatment, I'd encourage you to consult with a lawyer.
To set up a free consultation with the Anderson Law Firm in Fort Worth, call 817-294-1900.