Saturday, January 17, 2009

Handling Your Own Personal Injury Case...And Getting Handled (Lessons Learned)

So you want to handle your personal injury case against an insurance company on your own? Read on. Recently I was appointed by a judge as a "Guardian Ad Litem" for a minor child injured in a collision. The child's parent negotiated the child's claim with the insurance company and did not seek legal counsel. The judge, who reviews and must approve all minors' settlements under Ohio law, was rightly concerned whether the settlement was a fair one to the child. It was my job as guardian to review the claim, te child's injuries, and the negotiations and reach and independent opinion of the fairness of the settlement.

When I reviewed everything, I discovered that the negligent party's auto insurance company had attempted to reimburse the family's health insurance company for $10,000 worth of medical bills the health insurance company had previously paid (this is known as "subrogation"). One small problem: the health insurance company in this instance had no legal right to reimbursement.

The auto insurance company never took the necessary steps to determine whether the health insurance company had legal reimbursement rights. It simply assumed--wrongly--that it had to reimburse the health insurance company. Verifying a health insurance company's reimbursement rights is something a competent personal injury attorney does, or should do, in every case. In essence, the auto insurance company made an incorrect legal decision, without explaining any of this to the parent, to the tune of $10,000.

To make matters worse, the settlement offer made by the insurance company, and accepted by the parent, was inadequate. Thankfully, the judge undid the settlement and the insurance company made a more reasonable offer, and the case was resolved.

The parent told me after the hearing: "Wow, I didn't realize any of this." He was thankful the judge had carefully reviewed the situation and appointed someone to independently evaluate it.

General rule: in any accident claim, you "go it alone" at your peril. Now you know why many insurance companies discourage injured folks from hiring an attorney with promises to "handle your claim fairly." So who got handled here? And, by the way, this was the family's OWN insurance company.

Our free book, "Your Ohio Accident...And How You Can Level The Playing Field," explains when you'll need a competent attorney to represent you, how to choose one, and the one circumstance when it's OK to "go it alone" if you're so inclined.

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