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Ask anyone from the legal world about the number of car accident cases going to trial, and you’re bound to get a single-digit number as the answer. The truth is car accident claims seldom go to trial. In fact, the parties involved in such a case usually end up reaching a mutually agreeable settlement outside the court, in a bid to skip the pricey and time-consuming litigation.
One of the most effective ways to obtain a fitting settlement of your car accident claim is to present your most pressing case to the insurance carrier of the person at fault via a detailed demand letter and persuasive follow up negotiations.
Further, if your injuries are minor, it would definitely be more economical for you to settle your car accident case out of court. But how do you go about doing that? This post has more.
Demand Letter – What’s That?
The demand letter is probably the most important document that you will draft during this process. It is drafted by the injured party and states all the facts and the conditions surrounding the accident and the medical treatment. It is considered the starting point of the negotiations.
It is crucial to draft it carefully as it is the victim’s best opportunity, to present his strongest case to the insurance company of the person at fault, outside the court.
A well-written demand letter, typically, contains a narration of the events leading up to the accident. It also contains an account of the goings-on during the accident, in-depth information of the medical treatment(s) received, and the details of all the medical bills and lost wages.
The demand letter will also ask for an amount of money which would be considerably higher than what the victim will actually accept. This is done in order to broaden the scope for negotiations, and to provide ‘room to move’ during the process.
What Happens Next? Initial offer
Once the insurance company receives your demand letter, they will assess it. They will also evaluate any other document that you may have sent them. You can then expect the insurer to make an initial offer to settle the claim.
Don’t be surprised if the initial offer is significantly lower than what you expected. Your insurer is using the same tactic as you did. Just as you quoted an amount much higher than what you’re actually willing to accept, the insurers also tend to offer lesser than they have actually allotted to your claim.
Do not be in a hurry to accept their offer and decline the first offer made by the insurer. You will need to draft a written response to the initial offer in which you specifically state that you have, in fact, refused the offer. Along with that, the letter should also mention the reasons why you think the offer is unacceptable. For example, the offer may not be enough to cover all your medical bills, or may not adequately take into account all the physical and mental pain and suffering caused to you.
Choose your words carefully, as the main purpose of your response letter would be to courteously, but strongly put forth the key concerns of your initial demand letter to the insurer. It should conclude with a counter-demand.
The amount by which you reduce your counter-demand can depend on several factors. Many a time, this amount is determined by reducing the initial demand by the amount of the first offer from the insurance company. For instance, if you made an initial demand of $10,000, and the insurance company offered you $3,000, your counter-demand may be $7,000.
These negotiations will likely continue for a while. If they come to a standstill, you can provide the insurers with more supportive information such as a letter from your doctor or photographs of your injuries, scars, marks, etc.
If negotiations have come to a halt, it may be effective to have a neutral party facilitate a statement. Hiring a professional personal injury mediator may help. Such a mediator is, typically, an attorney with considerable experience in settling and trying personal injury cases.
Do make sure you hire an attorney from the state where the accident occurred as he would be well-versed with the laws and the legal procedures practiced in that jurisdiction. If you met with an accident in Illinois, look for a car accident attorney in Chicago.
Having a mediator by your side can give you fresh insights into the case. He can identify the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case. An effective mediator will be able to bring both the parties on the same page and encourage a mutually agreeable resolution.
To Accept or Not?
Sooner or later, at some point in the negotiation process, either through the back-and-forth communication with you or through mediation, the insurer may make you an offer that meets your expectation.
Before you accept that offer, make sure that it covers all your medical bills, including those which are still unpaid. That should leave you with adequate compensation after deducting your attorney’s fees. If you have reached a verbal consensus on the amount, make sure you follow it up with a written note, in which you reiterate the amount offered and accepted.
The insurance agency will not send you a check until it has received a ‘release’ signed by you. The release is a legal document which ascertains that in exchange for accepting the settlement money, you will not be pursuing any other claim for any kind of damage arising out of the accident.
This is why you should be all the more careful before you accept an offer. You need to be sure that your injuries have reached maximum improvement before accepting payment and signing the release as doing so will prohibit you from any recovery in the future. Sign and send the release only if you’re certain that your medical condition is resolved.
Do let them know that you expect to receive the check shortly. If you’ve engaged an attorney, the insurers will send the check to him, and he will then handover the money to you.
Being the victim of a car accident can be extremely unsettling. The physical recovery can take a while and the pain and the mental suffering can leave one traumatized. The last thing you need, in such circumstances, is the added pressure of settling your claim. Out of court settlements are extremely common and serve as a quick and cost-effective way to get the compensation you deserve. Hiring a good lawyer can make the process easier on you. The above pointers should help you understand what such a claim entails and how you can deal with it effectively.