12 Tips for Negotiating Hard Costs in a Car Accident Injury Claim

Use these tips to negotiate full reimbursement for all the bills and expenses relating to your car accident claim.

When negotiating an injury claim on your own, it’s up to you to convince the insurance adjuster that all your damages are reasonable and should be compensated.

Expenses like medical bills and lost wages are known as “hard costs,” meaning there is a clear dollar amount associated with those expenses, backed up with bills, receipts, and lost wage verifications from your employer.

The insurance term for hard costs is “special damages,” while the term for pain and suffering, inconvenience, or emotional distress is “general damages.”

Here’s where we explain why adjusters might deny some of your expenses, and give you helpful negotiation tips to justify the amount you’re demanding.

Tip 1: Seek Immediate Medical Attention After an Accident

What you do immediately after a car accident is important. Your actions will directly affect your claim negotiations with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If you were banged up in a collision, don’t wait a day or two to see how you feel before going to the doctor. Likewise, if paramedics are called to the scene, let them evaluate your condition. If they want to transport you to the hospital, cooperate with them.

Never refuse or delay medical attention after a motor vehicle accident. The insurance company will jump at the chance to argue that your injuries weren’t that bad, or that your injuries weren’t even related to the accident.

Tell every medical provider who treats you exactly when and how you were injured. Don’t assume it’s already in your records. It helps your claim if every medical test and treatment note links your injuries to a car accident that occurred on a specific date.

Reasonable Medical Costs

Insurance companies train adjusters to settle injury claims quickly, for as little money as possible. Adjusters become familiar with the scope of medical treatment associated with common types of injury claims.

Also, many companies use specialized computer programs to calculate the average value of injury claims, based on similar claims made over time in the same region.

Insurance adjusters are always on the lookout for fake injury claims, where the person is exaggerating the severity of their injury, or making a false claim.

Adjusters will always scrutinize your medical bills to ensure:

  1. The injury is connected to the car accident
  2. The tests and treatment are reasonable for the injury
  3. Missed work time is reasonable for the injury

Insurance companies are obligated to pay reasonable medical costs for injuries caused by their insured. Put another way; the insurance company only has to pay reasonable medical costs for treatment of your injuries.

Adjusters are always skeptical of claims for whiplash and other soft-tissue injuries with higher-than-average bills.

Bills from a respected medical doctor who ordered one or two imaging studies followed by conservative treatment for your sprains and strains will likely get paid without question. On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly have to fight to get months of chiropractic treatments approved for the same type of muscle strains.

Avoid “accident doctors” who artificially inflate your overall medical bills with unnecessary therapies and repeated medical tests. You may be on the hook for tests and treatments that are outside regular standards of medical care.

Prior Injuries or Conditions

Your injury claim negotiations can get complicated if the adjuster believes your medical problems are from an old injury or underlying medical condition, rather than the car accident with their insured.

You shouldn’t hide or lie about a prior injury, but you can help your case by making sure your medical records clearly separate your current injuries from any pre-existing conditions.

For example, you’d tell your doctor you haven’t had any pain or stiffness from your prior shoulder injury for a few years, until the at-fault driver T-boned you. After the impact, you were in so much pain you couldn’t even open the car door and haven‘t been able to use that arm since the crash.

Tip 2: Never Sign a Blanket Medical Release Form

The insurance company does need copies of your medical records and bills before they can pay for your accident-related treatments. However, they have no right to your private medical records from every provider you’ve seen going back five or ten years.

If you sign a medical release form, make sure it’s limited to records after the accident date and only for records related to your injuries.

Don’t give the insurance company an opportunity to go on a fishing expedition through your medical history.

Tip 3: Get a Doctor’s Note for Missed Work

You’re entitled to compensation for lost wages, including sick time or personal leave you had to burn because of your car accident injuries.

Even if your employer doesn’t require a doctor’s note for your time off, you need one to justify your wage claim to the insurance company.

The insurance adjuster will take a hard look at your claim for lost wages and won’t hesitate to deny all or part of your wages claim when it seems out of proportion to your injuries.

Tip 4: Gather as Much Evidence as Possible

You need good evidence to support your injury claim. The burden is on you to prove the other driver caused the accident and the severity of your resulting injuries.

Before kicking off your accident claim negotiations, take the time to collect and organize copies of all documents related to your personal injury case.

Some claim-related documents are available online from your state and county records divisions or can be retrieved from a clerk at the courthouse, such as:

  • Police Crash Report
  • At-fault Driver’s Driving Record
  • At-fault Driver’s Criminal Record, if any

The police report is a valuable piece of evidence in accident claim negotiations, especially if the at-fault driver was ticketed for violating traffic laws.

Not every state will let you get a detailed history of the other driver, but it doesn’t hurt to see what’s available.

When the other driver has a history of negligent behavior, it tends to give you a slight advantage with the insurance company. After all, that kind of track record might influence a jury if your case went to court.

The courthouse clerk or online records department will usually ask if you need the documents certified. You don’t need the documents certified if you’re only negotiating a car accident settlement. There is always an additional fee for certified copies, and unless the case ends up in court, certified copies are a waste of money.

Key Evidence for Car Accident Claims

Photographs and Video: Pictures and video of the accident scene and your bloody injuries can be very compelling. Again, the adjuster knows that dramatic pictures can sway a jury.

Injury Diary: Dated notes written after the crash can track your medical appointments, pain levels, and your inability to perform activities of daily living during recovery.

Lost Wages Verification: Get a signed wage loss statement on company letterhead from your employer detailing how many days you missed, and how much pay you lost. Back up your income statement with copies of previous pay stubs and a doctor’s note requiring you to be off work.

Medical Records: Request copies of all your medical bills and records, and gather receipts for out-of-pocket expenses like medicines, bandages, neck braces, or crutches.

Witness Statements: Strong, independent witness testimony can make all the difference in your injury claim.

Tip 5: Follow Up with Car Accident Witnesses

Witness names and contact information should be listed on the police report. Give them a call.

When you speak with witnesses, immediately assure them you have not filed a lawsuit, and you’re just trying to reach a settlement with the insurance company. Although they were Good Samaritans at the scene, by the time you’re negotiating your accident claim, their lives have moved on. The last thing they want is to get tangled up in a lawsuit.

Many times, they will empathize with you and will then relax and speak openly. It’s not unusual for witnesses to tell you something helpful that wasn’t in their original statement.

Witness recollections of the at-fault driver’s “admissions against interest” are particularly helpful for your claim. For example, if the witness heard the at-fault driver say something to a passenger like:

  • “(Expletive)… I’ve got two warrants out. Tell the cops you were driving.”
  • “I didn’t mean to hit her. I just couldn’t slow down in time.”
  • “My insurance is going to cancel me for sure now. This is my second accident in two months.”

Tip 6: Get Bills for the Full Cost of Treatment

It’s important to get bills for the full cost of your medical treatments and medications, even if some of the cost was covered by health insurance.

You’ll want to negotiate for the full cost of your medical tests, medicines, and treatment, not just the co-pays that came out of your pocket.

Your health care insurance company has the right to put a medical lien on your car accident compensation to recover what they paid on your behalf.

Tip 7: Don’t Give the Adjuster an Ultimatum

Let’s assume you’ve already successfully negotiated your vehicle repairs, and the claims adjuster agreed to pay for some of your hard costs but is refusing to pay everything.

The types of hard costs most often declined by adjusters include extended hospital stays, additional medical tests, and excessive chiropractic treatment. These additional hard costs can amount to thousands of dollars you don’t want to be stuck with.

Stay calm. By negotiating with patience and persistence, you should be able to persuade the adjuster to pay all your legitimate expenses.

Never say anything which could be construed by an adjuster as a final demand for settlement. In other words, you don’t want the adjuster to know your “drop dead amount,” meaning the lowest amount of compensation you’re willing to accept.

The minute you indicate it’s “Take it or Leave it,” all discussions with the adjuster will end. You’ll have no choice but to file a lawsuit or seek other options for recovering compensation.

Tip 8: Beware of the Statute of Limitations for Your Claim

Each state has its statute of limitations for injury claims that limits how long you can take to settle your claim or file a lawsuit. If you haven’t settled your claim or filed a lawsuit before the deadline, you lose the right to be compensated for your injuries.

The statutory clock starts ticking on the date of your car accident.

The adjuster doesn’t have to tell you or help you settle before the statute runs out. It’s up to you to keep an eye on the calendar if negotiations are taking a long time.

Tip 9: Study Your Medical Records and Medical Terms

It’s vital to have a thorough understanding of your medical information to effectively negotiate your injury claims. Study your medical records, especially the doctor’s notes. Lookup any unfamiliar words or medical terms online, or ask your doctor.

You need to be able to explain to the insurance adjuster how you were injured by their insured’s negligence, the scope of your injuries, and why you needed all the tests and treatments ordered by your care provider.

Tip 10: Create a Medical Record Summary

As you go through your medical records, create a table or chart that includes:

  • The date
  • The medical provider name and title
  • A short summary of the provider’s notes, orders, and test results

A medical summary is a very effective tool used by personal injury attorneys during settlement negotiations and in trial preparation.

You’ll use your medical summary chart to walk the adjuster through a timeline that explains why all the tests and treatments were medically necessary.

Here’s an example of a medical summary chart with entries from a hospital stay. It helps explain why the doctor ordered additional imaging tests.

Sample: Medical Summary Chart

Date

Time

Provider

Notes

12.6.11

12:07 pm

David Todd M.D.

Increase Percocet to 15mg PRN – PT describes radiating pain to lower lumbar spine – order MRI and CT Scan

12.7.11

4:00 p.m.

David Todd M.D.

Met w/ AR Jerod MD Radiology – reviewed MRI and CAT scan – results indicate herniation of sacral levels 4 and 5. Jerod MD says MRI indicates possibility of radiation to Dorsal Disk at level 6. No prior indication of radiation of pain to level 6.

12.8.10

8:45 a.m.

Jean Harper R.N.

Patient taken for MRI

12.9.10

11:45 a.m.

Sara Jones R.N.

Patient’s vital taken. BP 130/90 oxygen 40 ml per.

12.9.10

9:00 a.m.

David Todd M.D.

PT complains of separate pain radiating from left side, center mass .Order additional MRI and CAT Scan

12.9.10

12:37 p.m.

Sara Jones R.N.

PT breakfast – PT ate very little – complains of nausea

12.9.11

4:00 p.m.

David Todd M.D.

Met w/ AR .Jerod MD Radiology – reviewed MRI – results indicate herniation of sacral levels 6 and 7 and radiation to Dorsal Disk at level 8. No prior indication of radiation to level 6. Ordered MRI for Dorsal at level 6. CT Scan located rupture in left dorsal

The medical record summary helps you respond to most questions the claims adjuster may ask about additional MRIs, CAT Scans, and other costs they find 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.

Tip 11: Be Willing to Compromise

You can be pretty sure the adjuster will attack excessive chiropractic or physical therapy bills, especially when the treatments are primarily massage-type therapies.

Realize that you’re not going to win every point with an adjuster. Sometimes allowing them to “save face” can be an excellent negotiating tool.

The best professional negotiators understand that reaching a settlement requires both sides to compromise.

Successfully negotiating a settlement for your car accident claim results in compensation you can count on. There’s no guarantee you’ll end up with more money in your pocket if you file a lawsuit.

Tip 12: Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney

Severe or complicated injury claims, like multi-car accidents, are always best handled by an attorney.

You can probably handle insurance negotiations for minor accident claims on your own, but it’s good to know you have the right to talk to an attorney at any time during negotiations.

There’s no reason to wait until negotiations break down to consult an attorney. Most attorneys don’t charge car accident victims for their initial consultation, and there’s no obligation to hire any attorney you consult.

It costs nothing to find out what an experienced attorney can do for you.

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