The title of this blog is misleading because I don’t believe people can get more money for their auto accident without hiring an attorney. I am a prime example of this. When I just started my legal career (less than 6 months after being licensed), I was working at an insurance defense firm and I was involved in an auto accident that was not my fault. I only had minor soft tissue injuries. Being a young attorney, I was advised not to file a lawsuit since I only had minimal injuries, and if I did file a lawsuit, I was advised it may look bad since I would be suing insurance clients our law firm did business with at the time. I opted to not file a lawsuit, or hire a private attorney and I tried to handle my own claim individually and under the radar in the claims process, since after all – I was an attorney!
I’ve learned a lot since that time and I am going to share with you my true and real experiences and my unbiased advice.
- RULE 1: It’s really about luck of the draw with adjusters.
There are a ton of auto insurance companies out there who all make different promises to you. The fact is, when you make a personal injury or a property damage claim, your case is solely in the hands of an “adjuster.” An adjuster is an employee of the insurance company who is hired to handle your claim in what is known as the “claims process.” Important note here: “employee” of the insurance company. Adjusters do not have your best interests at heart. They are in the business of saving insurance companies money, and sometimes their bonuses and commissions are directly related to how little they can get you to accept. For example, if your injury is really worth $10,000.00 and the adjuster convinces you to take $8,000.00, the adjuster may get a bonus of $1,000.00 because the adjuster saved the insurance company $2,000.00. Aside from the ethical questions surrounding such a bonus system, it still happens just check out this article here.
There’s a reason insurance companies have the biggest and tallest buildings in the world, they know how to get money and keep it. Most insurance adjusters use a computer program to value your claim, while others have more independence and autonomy to pay you more money and do not have to strictly abide by what the computer program tells them is the value of your case. Whether an insurance company is using a computer program to value your claim or not, depends on what auto insurance company it is and what type of injuries you are claiming. Most adjusters will not tell you the name of the computer program because it is a trade secret and sensitive information. One of the most used computer programs on the market is Colossus.
Also, be aware, there is no specific degree or background required to be an insurance adjuster and each of them take their own approach to valuating claims. For example, one adjuster may make you negotiate more, be mean and be hard to get in touch with, while another adjuster within the same company may be nicer, more responsive and settle your claim faster. Point is – it just depends. Each adjuster brings their own approach, attitude and style to valuating claims. Be aware your adjuster can change throughout the course of the case, and in fact, more often than not people have to deal with more than one adjuster throughout their claims process because the turnover rate in these jobs is very high.
- RULE 2: You need an attorney if you are injured. And you need a good attorney. If you are not injured, try to handle the case by yourself.
Most people think attorneys’ fees are too high. That is a conversation for another day, but what I want you to take away is that generally even after deducting the attorneys’ fees, you will still receive more than what you would if you were going to handle the case on your own. I’ve seen this first hand. Generally, people who hire an attorney make more money. People who hire the best attorney make the most money. Insurance companies track settlements, the reputation of lawyers in the legal community and the track records of lawyers. Insurance companies will pay more money in the end if they know the person is represented by a high caliber attorney, and don’t let them tell you anything different. I have seen an insurance companies do this over and over again.
Insurance companies know when a lawyer is involved, they are going to pay more. This is the exact reason why some major insurance companies are offering you a $5,000 check immediately after an auto accident and they are hoping you accept. It’s because it’s cheaper for them to prey on your weaknesses after an accident and shove money in your face. They know you know it’s a hassle to deal with insurance companies and they would rather pay you off at a fraction of the cost up-front. The money is tax-free, and many people accept this money because it’s easy. If you are not injured in an accident, honestly, that is the way to go. You don’t need an attorney in that case. If you are not injured and someone waves $5,000 in your face for injuries you do not have – take it. This when you do not need an attorney.
If on the other hand, you are sore, you feel different or you are worried you may be injured, get an attorney as soon as possible. I have seen so many cases where people come to us trying to handle the claim on their own at first, they get frustrated with the insurance adjuster and finally decide they need an attorney. An attorney can still help at this point if the statute of limitations and/or prescriptive period has not passed, but only if there is actual treatment and it’s documented properly. A true life example, a woman tried to handle her own personal injury claim with the insurance adjuster and after the adjuster did not give her the amount she wanted, she knocked on our door 7 months later. Because the woman went through her personal health insurance, the doctor did not document the injuries were related to an auto accident even though the woman had specifically told the doctor about the accident. The doctor did not document the complaints as being injury related because the doctor did not want to have to put up a fight with the health insurance company for the health insurance company to pay the doctor’s bill. This is so because in some instances a health insurance company will refuse to pay for a medical bill if someone else is responsible for the injuries. Thus, while the woman had a paper trail documenting her injuries, the paper trail presented problematic because it failed to link the complaints with the accident. We were able to help this woman, but we could have done so much more and it could have been much easier had she retained us from the outset.
In cases where people have already received an offer from an insurance company to settle their bodily injury claim, it is our office policy at the Cardone Law Firm to give a person credit for this negotiated amount as long as it is in writing from the insurance company. For example, if you come to us and the insurance company has already extended an offer to you in writing of $5,000.00 and you hire us and we are able to obtain a $40,000.00 settlement for you, we will only charge you an attorneys’ fee on $35,000.00. We don’t believe we should benefit from any work you have already done. Not all lawyers believe in this practice so if you are considering hiring an attorney, this is a question you need to ask them. I would interview at least 2 attorneys before making the decision to hire anyone.
- RULE 3: Know the risk.
The simple fact is attorneys like us would not have a job if insurance companies did not take advantage of people trying to handle their own auto insurance claim. If I am having a heart attack, I can take Aspirin and try to handle it myself, or I can go to the emergency room and be treated by a specialty physician. The same principles apply here. You can do it on your own, but should you? Each case is different and presents different sets of risks and the pitfalls for the unwary can be fatal.
Handling your own case can be tempting, but you should at least consult with an attorney before trying to do so and some of our policies at The Cardone Law Firm make it a no-brainer. We promise our attorneys’ fees will never be higher than the amount you receive, and if it turns out to be that way, we will reduce our fee so that you receive more than we do. We provide copies of our contact to anyone who is considering hiring us, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a copy and there is no obligation. We also promise to give you a fair valuation of your case. If we don’t think we can get you more money for your injuries, we won’t try and convince you otherwise. We only take cases were we think we can make the client happy, and signing you up as a client when the insurance company has already offered you fair value is not what we are interested in doing. Want an honest opinion on if what you are being offered is fair? Or want to discuss any issues that could arise if you decide to handle your own Louisiana auto insurance claim on your own? Call Hannah Salter or Cliff Cardone for a free valuation consultation at 504-522-3333.
Blog Post By: Hannah Beth Salter, attorney at The Cardone Law Firm