Part 1: Tips for Negotiating Hard Costs…
Negotiating car accident settlements can be tricky. Personal injury attorneys have years of experience dealing with insurance claims adjusters. If you decide to pursue a car accident settlement on your own you must be self-confident and present your case convincingly. This page gives tips and strategies to help in your negotiations.
Let’s assume you’ve already successfully negotiated your vehicle repairs, and the claims adjuster agreed to pay for most of the Hard Costs (these are bills you incurred as a result of the collision).
It’s probable there are still some bills the adjuster declined to pay. The types of hard costs most often declined by adjusters include extended hospital stays, additional medical tests, and extended chiropractic treatment. These additional hard costs can amount to thousands of dollars, so it’s important to get the adjuster to pay.
Here are some tips to help you negotiate a fair car accident settlement for hard costs:
Tip #1: Don’t Give an Ultimatum…
Never say anything which could be construed by an adjuster as a final demand for a car accident settlement. Anytime you communicate (whether overt or implied) an ultimatum to the adjuster he is trained to close his file and send it straight to the insurance company’s legal department.
Statements such as the following should always be avoided…
“I won’t take a penny less than $______”
“If you don’t pay at least $______ then I’m going to find a lawyer and sue.”
“This is my final offer.”
The minute you indicate it’s “Take it or Leave it,” all discussions with the adjuster will end.
Tip #2: Get Copies of All Documents…
Before any discussions with the claims adjuster begin, make sure you have copies of all documents related to your personal injury case. Many of these documents are now available online from your state and county records divisions, or can be retrieved from a clerk at the courthouse. There is usually a nominal fee for copies.
Tip #3: Don’t Pay Extra for Certified Copies…
The courthouse clerk or online records department will usually ask if you need the documents certified. You do not need the documents certified if you are only negotiating a car accident settlement. There is always an additional fee for certified copies and unless this case ends up in court, certified copies are a waste of money.
Some of the documents you should have are:
- Police Report (including any written statements of witnesses)
- At-fault Driver’s Driving Record
- At-fault Driver’s Criminal Record, if any
(Because the at-fault driver’s full name and date of birth are listed on the police report you should be able to get these records either by running a check at the local courthouse, or using one of the many websites having this information).
Tip #4: Study the Police Report…
It contains important information you’ll need to substantiate your case. When the police arrive at a scene the first thing they do is secure the area for safety and determine if anyone needs medical attention. If so they will call Fire and Rescue to attend to the injured and transport them to the hospital.
Police are trained to determine if one or both drivers were at fault. They often do this by speaking with witnesses, drivers and passengers, and using their training to look for signs of culpability, such as skid marks, seeing if one driver was hit in the rear, and other signs which help tell the story of what happened.
Often the cause of a car accident is a violation of a traffic law. That could be failing to maintain a single lane, following too closely, speeding, reckless driving, and more.
If the police determine one or both drivers violated any traffic laws they will ticket the violator(s). You will normally see only one driver cited for traffic law violations, but on rare occasions it can be both. This ticketing will be noted in the police report. Because many police reports use codes you may have to do some research to decipher the actual meaning.
Tip #5: Study the Police Diagram…
The police report will contain a drawing made by one of the police officers or, in some of the major cities, by a full-time diagram writer. The diagram will show the position of the vehicles, especially as they were about to collide and then at the point of collision.
Tip #6: Read the Written Summary…
The summary is part of the police report. Depending on the police officer’s ability to write well, you will be able to read his account of what caused the auto collision and who was at fault.
The police officer is responsible for making sure everything in the report is as accurate as possible. Officers are trained for this and are often called to court to testify directly from their reports of the scene. Although not conclusive of the issue, the report goes a long way in influencing judges, juries, and for our purposes, insurance adjusters.
Tip #7: Read the Witness Statements…
These statements are normally taken by police at or near the time of the collision. Witness statements are vital because they contain a 3rd (disinterested) party’s assessment of the events.
They often include statements like:
“It was terrible!”
“The driver was driving like a crazy man cutting in and out of traffic. He got right up on the bumper and ran right into the other driver’s vehicle.”
“The car went right across three lanes and crashed into the concrete wall.”
Tip #8: Speak with Witnesses…
Their names are listed on the police report and often so are their addresses. Always be professional. Although they’re Good Samaritans at the scene, by the time of the car accident settlement negotiations their lives have moved on. The last thing they want is to become further involved in your case, and they definitely don’t want to have to go to court to testify.
When you speak with witnesses immediately assure them you have not filed a lawsuit and you are just trying to reach a car accident settlement with the insurance company. Many times they will empathize with you and will then relax and speak openly. You do not have to record the conversation. (Even if your case were to get to trial the recording would be inadmissible as hearsay.)
If you are speaking with a witness on the telephone and you want to record their statement for your own records you can do so. It is not a violation of state or federal law.
Many times you’ll be surprised when a witness tells you something helpful that was not in her original statement. She may have just forgotten about it until now.
Here are three examples of actual statements made by at-fault drivers recounted by witnesses. All three were effective in helping to win a car accident settlement for their respective claims…
- In the first instance a witness was standing at the scene when she overheard the at-fault driver say to his passenger: “(Expletive)… I’ve got two warrants out. Tell the cops you were driving.”
- In another case a witness remembered a statement made by the at-fault driver. He said out loud: “I didn’t mean to hit her. I just couldn’t slow down in time.”
- And the third witness later remembered another at-fault driver’s remark: “My insurance is going to cancel me for sure now. This is my second accident in two months.”
Tip #9: Confirmation of Lost Wages…
Lost income is included as part of your final car accident settlement. The record or confirmation must be in proper form, and not some illegible writing by your boss on a napkin from Dairy Queen (actually happened). It should be on company letterhead and signed by a person in authority.
The confirmation should convey as clearly as possible the wages you lost since the day of the accident. For example:
2400 MAIN STREET
NEW LONDON, CT 06584
203-778-12XXFebruary 2, 2011
To Whom it May Concern:
Jonathan L. Pierce has worked at Johnson Electrical Company since February of 2002. He is a full-time employee and is a Master Electrician.
His pay rate on December 6th, 2010 (day of collision) was $25.00 an hour. He missed work on the following days:
-December 6th through December 29, 2010
-January 6, 2011
-January 14th through January 17, 2011
Total Hours missed since December 6, 2010 = 147 x $25.00 = $3,675.00
Johnson Electrical Company
Tip #10: Organize Your Paperwork…
Organize all Bills and Expenditures of any type related to the auto collision, whether paid or unpaid. By now you should have copies of all the outstanding bills incurred as a result of the collision.
These bills are normally referred to as “Hard Costs.” These include the most major, like the hospital bill, down to gasoline receipts for gas used driving back and forth to doctors’ appointments and tests. Also included are medicines and other pharmacy products related to your injury and recovery.
Normally at this stage of the negotiation those bills would be paid or assumed by the insurance company, but there may be a few that the claims adjuster has indicated he will not pay. Some examples would be additional MRIs, CAT Scans, X-Rays and other tests related to your specific injuries.
Remember, it’s important for you to get the adjuster to pay these. These bills can be huge, with costs for MRIs at about $2,500 and CAT Scans at over $2,000 dollars. If the insurance adjuster won’t pay then you will have to pay, either out of pocket or out of your final car accident settlement proceeds.
Tip #11: Requesting Medical Records…
Get copies of all Medical Records, including your hospital chart. If the adjuster declined to pay some hard costs like additional MRI’s or CAT scans, use these records as a reference to convince him why he should.
Go through the medical records until you find copies of your medical charts and notes. Everything related to your treatment is recorded. Pay close attention to all the entries made in your chart.
The chart used to be the clipboard at the base of your hospital bed. Nowadays it’s usually more computerized so that each entry is loaded into your file in the database. The date, exact time of day and the reasons entries were made should be included in the chart notes.
Tip #12: Make a “Cheat Sheet”…
Call it your “CHART SUMMARY,” and write down entries made onto your chart. Note the date, the exact time, who made the entry, and finally, the reason for the entry.
This is a very effective tool used by personal injury attorneys. Doing so will give you a great advantage when negotiating a car accident settlement with the claims adjuster. The adjuster’s guidelines tell him not to pay for additional and repetitive tests. You will need to show him why those tests and treatments were necessary.
Here’s an example of a “Cheat Sheet.” Unless you have a photographic memory, follow the form and substance below…
EXCERPTS FROM CHART OF JONATHAN L. PIERCE
Patient taken for MRI
CT Scan located rupture in left dorsal
When preparing your summary, it’s normally okay to skip the nurses’ entries. Unless the nurse wrote down something out of the ordinary, it’s better to focus on the physicians’ entries.
Having this Summary will enable you to respond to most questions the claims adjuster may ask about the ordering of additional MRIs, CAT Scans, and other costs he considers questionable. A review of the doctor’s entries onto your chart will allow the adjuster to “follow along” to see the time and reason noted for the additional medical procedures. It doesn’t get much better than that!
You can be pretty sure the adjuster is going to attack chiropractic bills, especially those resulting from multiple visits. Realize that you’re not going to win every point with an adjuster. Sometimes allowing him to “save face” can be an excellent negotiating tool.
The adjuster’s job is to give car accident settlements. Every time he doesn’t settle a claim his effectiveness as a claims adjuster is scrutinized by his superiors. If he doesn’t settle enough cases he may be out of a job. Once the claim goes from his hands to the legal department’s he has just cost his employer a lot more money.
Remember, you didn’t ask to be here. His insured brought you here!
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