If you were injured in a car accident, it is tempting to try and settle a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurer on your own. After all, a car accident attorney will typically charge a contingency fee of at least 33% of any settlement and often 40% if it’s a premises liability case. So, can you settle an injury claim on your own and what do you risk if you do not retain a car accident attorney?
There are factors you should consider if you are contemplating handling the claim on your own:
- How severe are your injuries?
- Is the other driver claiming you were at fault or at least partially responsible?
- Do you have healthcare insurance to cover your expenses?
- Will you be unable to work for a significant period of time or is it possible you may not be able to return to work at all?
- How aggressive is the other party’s insurer acting toward your claim?
- Do you have the time, resources, and knowledge to gather the necessary documentation of your damages and calculate what you should demand and ultimately negotiate in settlement?
Car Accidents in Massachusetts
Be aware that Massachusetts is a no-fault state in auto accident claims. Regardless of fault, you are eligible to collect up to $8,000 for your medical bills and lost wages, called PIP benefits, that your own insurer will pay so long as you produce the necessary bills and medical records and those confirming your inability to work for a time.
But if your injuries are more serious, then you may want additional compensation from the responsible driver’s insurer. To do so, you have to meet certain criteria or a threshold before you can make a claim against the other party. Any one of these criterion apply:
- Your medical expenses exceed $2000
- You sustained a serious injury such as a broken limb, permanent impairment or disfigurement, or loss of sight or vision
- You suffered fatal injuries
Car Accident Injuries Compensation
Once you meet any one of these requirements, then you can make a claim for further damages such as additional medical expenses that includes likely future medical costs, current and future lost earnings, lost earning capacity, and diminished quality of life such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.
So, if you want to handle your own injury claim, keep the following in mind:
- Contact your own and the other party’s insurer as soon as possible.
- Obtain a copy of the traffic accident report that will provide details on the accident, the identity of the involved parties and vehicles, witnesses and their statements, weather and traffic conditions, if photos were taken, and if there is dispute over liability.
- Seek immediate medical care.
- Keep copies of all your medical bills and records.
- If out of work, ask your physician for a written statement or report about your injuries, how long you may be incapacitated, and the medical care you need.
- Obtain your employment records to confirm you were out of work.
- While your own insurer will require a statement from you about the accident details and your injuries, it is not legally required that you give one to the defendant’s insurer, nor is it generally recommended, even if the adjuster may pressure you to do so. Often, the adjuster may advise you that she or he will be unable to enter into serious discussions with you and will likely make a low settlement offer since you are not represented.
- If liability is disputed, no settlement will be forthcoming other than a very low offer.
- If your accident was with a state or municipal vehicle expect a denial of your claim.
Also, you have to be cognizant of the statute of limitations or time limit on when you have to file a claim in the appropriate court, or you will be barred from recovering any damages from the defendant’s insurer. In Massachusetts, you have 3 years from the date of injury to file your claim in court. There are shorter time limits and other requirements if your claim is against the state or a municipality.
Once your treatment is completed and you have all the necessary documentation of your economic losses, then you can draft a demand letter. This letter should contain:
- A detailed account of the accident and why the defendant should be held liable
- A description of your injuries supported by medical evidence
- A description of your treatment and progress, medications taken, and what physical restrictions were imposed by your medical provider
- Describe your work duties and the length of time you were unable to work
- How your injuries have impacted your life including emotional distress, effect on your marriage, inability to engage in recreational activities, housework, driving, sleeping, etc.
- Any permanent impairments or disfigurement supported by medical providers
- Value of your claim for pain and suffering
The defendant’s insurer should advise you of its insured’s liability limits, which could be as low as $20,000 since that is the minimum required under Massachusetts law. If your injuries are serious and you have substantial medical expenses and lost earnings, you should ask for the liability limits and if accepted, seek possible additional compensation from your own policy so long as you purchased underinsured coverage that exceeds the liability limits of the defendant’s policy. Note, you must get permission to settle first!
Why Retain a Car Accident Attorney?
Unless your injuries are minor, you should retain an experienced car accident attorney. Studies all substantiate that claimants who retain attorneys receive significantly more compensation, even accounting for legal fees, than those who handled their own claims.
Should you decide to retain an attorney, you can expect your attorney to do the following:
- Obtain all necessary documents from police, medical providers, employer, school, or other treatment providers and reports if needed to support your damages
- Investigate the accident if liability is disputed and hire a reconstruction expert if necessary and cost effective
- Ensure that you receive all PIP benefits to which you are entitled
- See that your property damage is paid
- Explore the possibility of holding other parties also liable for your accident, such as auto service providers if braking or steering was an issue, municipalities for faulty roadway design or defects, or other entities if there was a seatbelt or air bag problem
- Discuss all issues with the insurance adjuster and keep the agent updated on your injuries and how they are affecting your enjoyment of life so that funds can be set aside for your settlement
- Deal with reimbursement claims and liens on your settlement from your healthcare insurer and other providers
- Evaluate your claim’s value and then draft a professional and comprehensive demand letter
- Properly advise you on settlement offers and counter demands
- Litigate your case if needed
- Get your medical insurance/Medicare/Mass Health liens negotiated and paid
Many claimants make the mistake of agreeing to a recorded statement where they inadvertently say something that jeopardizes or minimizes their claim. They also may omit other liable parties, fail to adequately demonstrate how their injuries substantially affected their life, or get the necessary opinion that could show that a certain injury was caused by your accident and was not a pre-existing condition.
Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain
Get peace of mind by knowing that a seasoned and highly successful car accident attorney from Burns and Jain is handling your claim. Call us today at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.