Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Do I Need An Attorney To Handle My Auto Accident Claim?

(The following is an excerpt from my recent book; "Your Ohio Accident...And How To Level Your Playing Field." It is FREE to all Ohioans by visiting our website and clicking on the link to the book).

General answer: Yes, but not always. Sometimes, we will tell potential clients that they can do just as well handling their injury claim on their own as we could do for them if we represented them. But this rule is the exception, and not the rule. Below is an example of practically the ONLY circumstance I can think of where you could conceivably handle your claim on your own.

EXAMPLE: You were rear ended. You went to the local ER (always a good medical idea as a precautionary measure), got treated and released, and waited a few days to see how you felt. You might have been stiff and sore for a few days or a week. You might have even seen your family doctor (also a good idea) just to be checked out. You may have missed a day or two from work, but eventually, you returned to work, and generally got better. No physical therapy, no series of diagnostic tests, or other treatments or bills – a happy ending to an initial nightmare.

If this is your accident scenario, a couple rules come into play. First, you have a limited claim. You’ll eventually be offered your medical bills plus a minimal amount for your pain and aggravation. Some insurance companies even have a name for this: an “inconvenience fee” (notice how your pain has been labeled just an “inconvenience”). Basically, the insurance company is looking to “cash you out.” Definition: in exchange for the small figure they’ve offered you, you sign a “Full Release,” which means your claim is over. If you have any further treatment or bills after you sign, forget it. Signed release = claim is over, unless you were fraudulently tricked into signing it.

This is why some insurance companies will send an adjuster to your house shortly after a collision, and offer to reimburse you immediately for your medical bills, as well as your “inconvenience fee.” By “cashing you out,” they close the books on your claim and limit their exposure.

Second, any competent attorney who would handle a minor or limited claim on your behalf would probably be able to obtain a slightly better offer, but the net recovery to you might be the same as if you handled it yourself, if you factor in the attorneys’ fees.

BOTTOM LINE: If your injuries were minor or brief, did not involve anything but a follow up doctor visit, and you’ve quickly recovered, your claim is minor. You really can’t mess it up if you handle it yourself. I call these claims “no harm, no foul” claims.

To borrow an example, if you were looking to repair or replace a simple light fixture in your home, and you really weren’t sure what you were doing but plowed ahead anyway, you probably wouldn’t burn down the house if your home repair attempt failed. However, if your injury claim involves anything more than a simple doctor's visit, you are at serious risk for messing up your claim, many times without even knowing it.

How do I know this? For over 20 years now my phone has rung with stories of how people either completely ruined or almost ruined their claims. Next week I'll provide some specific examples of how this can happen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Dayton! Excellent post. I love reading your blog. Have a great holiday!