Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"How Much Should I Ask For In A Settlement?"

Occasionally we get this question from someone "going it alone" without an attorney. First, there are quite a few reasons NOT to represent yourself in your personal injury claim (and 1 reason where it's OK) as I wrote about in our book: "Your Ohio Accident Claim: Sorting Through The Insurance Maze (available for free through our website www.n-wlaw.com).

But if you are inclined to roll the dice with the friendly adjuster and the insurance company, the true answer to this question is: it's really hard to know without knowing a lot of detail about what happened. Was the collision a 5 mph love tap in the mall parking lot, or did someone run a stop sign at 45 mph and obliterate you? Were you hit by a slobbering drunk driver who fled the scene and later blew a .018--double the legal limit--or a nice elderly woman coming home from the church picnic?

These things make a difference.

More importantly, as we like to say, the "devil is in the details." One of the first things I do to evaluate an auto or motorcycle accident claim is to order and then read your medical records. They are liable to say ANYTHING, and they can make a difference in the evaluation of your claim. Take, for example, this entry in a client's physical therapy records from a few years ago:

"Patient reports increased pain after playing 17 games of softball over the weekend."    
Now this client was in a really bad crash and she needed quite a bit of doctor ordered physical therapy. But her auto accident injury claim ended with that PT entry/record. I told her: "If you're well enough to play 17 games of softball, you have recovered from your injuries in the eyes of the insurance company, and any bills you incur after that will not be related to your claim."

You can be sure the insurance company will be reading those records with the blank authorization you gave them to enable them to order the records. And most folks who call me while "going it alone" have not even bothered to read their own records and have no idea what they say (yet another big mistake they make while representing themselves).

This is just one example of why it is very difficult--and frankly quite stupid--for any personal injury attorney to give an opinion of claim value over the phone. I tell my clients the same thing at the initial client consultation: "I will eventually be able to give you a value or a range of values on what your injury claim is worth, and I'll meet with you in person and go over it. But only after I have reviewed  everything--the police report, all of your records, bills, EOB's, lost wages, photographs, and other materials. If you're looking for an instant evaluation on the first visit, you've got the wrong person and need to go elsewhere."

I say this even in situations where I have a good idea as to where the claim may go in terms of settlement value. Sometimes little things crop up that you discover that sway the value of a claim in either direction--both good and bad.

Knowing where to look separates us from the guy or gal who has never negotiated a single auto collision claim against an insurance company, much less their own.

Handling, evaluating, and negotiating auto, motorcycle, or truck accident claims may not be the equivalent of preparing a seven course meal for a table of food critics. But it ain't "instant oatmeal" either. Some attention to detail, and some good old fashioned time, are necessary ingredients as well.

No comments: