How to Negotiate and Settle a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer

It’s possible to settle a minor auto accident claim without a lawyer. Here we explain the settlement process for personal injuries and property damage.

You don’t have to be an expert in car accident law to handle a basic insurance claim. Sometimes it makes good financial sense to negotiate minor injury claims without a lawyer.

With solid evidence, advanced planning, and a little patience, you should be able to negotiate a fair car accident settlement within a few months.

Steps to Settling an Auto Accident Claim:

  1. Start Building Your Claim at the Scene
  2. Notify Both Insurance Companies
  3. Organize the Evidence You’ll Need to Win
  4. Prepare Yourself for Claim Negotiations
  5. Make Your Demand for Settlement
  6. Finalize Your Insurance Settlement

Bonus: Deciding When to Handle Your Own Claim

Important Points About Settlement Negotiations

The adjuster will not accept your claim, much less pay for your losses, without proof that their insured is to blame for the accident. You have the same burden of proof, meaning the obligation to prove fault, whether or not you’re represented by an attorney.

When it’s time to negotiate your injury compensation, you’ll be in a strong position if you’ve proved the other driver was at fault, and you share no blame for the collision.

Vehicle Damage Claims

Negotiating a settlement for your vehicle damage is usually straightforward. Some insurance companies keep a list of preferred car repair shops they’d like you to use, or you can select a repair shop.

There might be more room for negotiations if your car was deemed a “total loss” by the insurance company, meaning it’s less expensive for them to pay the book value of the vehicle rather than make repairs.

You might have to go back and forth with the adjuster over the car’s value, especially if you had valuable upgrades or the car was in exceptionally good condition before the accident.

Before signing a settlement agreement for your vehicle damages, read it carefully to ensure you’re only agreeing to release and settle the vehicle damage claim, not all claims resulting from the accident.

Bodily Injury Claims

If your claim is serious enough to need an attorney, don’t give a statement or sign anything. Your attorney will reach out to the insurance adjuster and handle everything.

When you have fully recovered from relatively mild injuries, and the insurance company has accepted full liability for their insured, you can usually negotiate a fair claim settlement on your own.

Early on, the adjuster is likely to want to take your recorded statement and ask you to sign a medical release. You do not have to give a recorded statement to the other driver’s auto insurance company. Offer to provide a written description of what happened.

Adjusters are trained to ask leading questions and manipulate you into saying things that hurt your claim. If you’re handling the claim yourself, watch what you say. Don’t be tricked into making statements implying your own negligence.

The adjuster must have medical records to verify the extent of your injuries, but you don’t have to use the insurance company’s medical release form. Protect your medical privacy. The insurance company’s form may give them access to years of health records unrelated to your current injuries.

1. Start Building Your Claim at the Scene

Gathering evidence to support your accident claim starts at the scene of the crash.

Immediately after the crash:

  • Check if you, your passengers, or anyone else is injured.
  • Call 911. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured, there are dangers at the scene, or if traffic is blocked.
  • While waiting for the police, write down the other driver’s contact information, insurance policy number, and the insurance company’s phone number.
  • Gather witness statements. Ask them to write down what they saw and include their contact information.
  • Take photos and videos of the vehicles, skid marks, broken glass, and the surrounding area. You can never have too many pictures.
  • Write down the responding officer’s name and badge number, and the police report reference number.

Cooperate with paramedics at the scene of the crash. Let them examine you, and transport you to the hospital if that’s what they recommend. If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible, preferably the same day.

Refusing or delaying medical care after a car accident will undermine your personal injury case.

2. Notify Both Insurance Companies

Call the other driver’s insurance company or send them a notification letter of your intent to seek compensation for your damages.

Notify your own insurance company as soon as possible. Regardless of fault, your auto insurance policy has a “notification and cooperation” clause that requires the policyholder to notify the company when an accident occurs.

Your insurance company has a duty to defend you against lawsuits. You may forfeit that valuable protection by failing to tell your insurer about the accident. You never know when someone from the other car will contact your insurance company with an injury claim.

If you live in a no-fault state, you must first use the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage on your auto policy to pay your medical expenses. Severe injuries claims that exceed the no-fault threshold can be filed against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Even in no-fault states, you can always pursue the at-fault driver’s insurance company to pay for your vehicle and personal property damage after an accident. Some people prefer the convenience of using their own collision coverage for car repairs and letting their insurer recover from the other insurance company.

3. Organize the Evidence You’ll Need to Win

Don’t try to negotiate a settlement until you have fully recovered from your injuries. During your recovery and treatment, put together an organized accident file.

Your car accident claim file might include:

  • A copy of the police report
  • The notes, pictures, and statements gathered at the scene of the accident
  • Copies of your medical bills and records
  • Receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses, like medical devices
  • Receipts for replacement services, like child care or lawn maintenance
  • Written proof confirming the wages you lost while you were unable to work
  • Costs for personal property damaged in the accident, like eyeglasses or electronics

Your written notes can be a valuable resource when negotiation your injury claim. Begin by writing down your recollection of how the accident occurred as soon as possible after the crash. Continue with dated notes throughout your injury treatment and recovery to document the pain, inconvenience, and emotional distress caused by your injuries.

You’re in a strong negotiating position when you’ve gathered proof of the other driver’s fault and proof of your damages.

4. Prepare Yourself for Claim Negotiations

Claims adjusters are specially trained to investigate accidents and negotiate settlements to resolve insurance claims. They’re also required to deny claims when their investigation concludes their insured wasn’t negligent.

After you notify the at-fault driver’s insurance company of your intent to file an accident claim, you’ll hear from an insurance claims adjuster.

Some insurance companies assign two different adjusters to handle injury claims and vehicle damage claims. Keep track of the claim numbers for each type of claim and be sure to use the right claim number on your correspondence.

As soon as the insurance company opens a claim for you, expect to get a Reservation of Rights letter. The letter is a standard form letter sent to every claimant. It says the company will investigate your claim but they “reserve the right” to deny your claim if your losses aren’t covered.

Calculate Your Claim’s Value

When you’ve fully recovered from your injuries, it’s time to calculate the settlement value of your injury claim.

A commonly used method for figuring out claim value is to add up all your “special damages” (also called economic damages) meaning your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Then you can add one or two times that amount to account for your “general damages” like pain and suffering.

There is no objective measurement for pain and suffering, but there are ways to calculate pain and suffering compensation that can help you justify a higher injury settlement demand.

5. Make Your Demand for Settlement

Once you’ve calculated your total claim value, prepare a formal demand letter detailing your damages and explaining why the other driver is liable. Attach copies of the supporting documentation and send your settlement demand packet to the adjuster.

Now that you know your claim value, it’s time to decide your “drop-dead” amount. In other words, the lowest amount of money you’re willing to accept to settle your injury claim. Be realistic.  Successful negotiations depend on compromise from both sides.

Don’t tell the adjuster how low you’re willing to go. However, be prepared to walk away from negotiations and file a lawsuit if the adjuster refuses to pay at least that amount.

Expect Several Rounds of Offers and Counter-Offers

After the adjuster receives your initial demand, they will contact you to begin negotiations.

The adjuster may start by saying, “Your demand is way too high,” or “I don’t have authority for that amount.”

An adjuster’s authority is the maximum dollar amount they are allowed for settling claims. Only a supervisor can approve larger settlements. Claims adjusters are notorious for telling claimants their settlement demand exceeds the adjuster’s authority when, in reality, it’s not even close.

Don’t use the adjuster’s “authority” amount as the starting point for negotiations. Start with the amount in your demand letter and go down from there, by a small amount. Rejecting low-ball settlement offers is just part of the process.

Calmly explain the reasons for your demand. Begin by first setting out the evidence of the insured’s negligence, then going over the prescribed medical treatment you received. Remind the adjuster that your treatment plan wasn’t your idea, it was ordered by your doctor.

Make clear to the adjuster that your injuries and medical bills were their insured’s fault. Explain that the pain and limitations you endured during medical treatment was not something you asked for.

It’s difficult for an adjuster to contest a physician’s diagnosis and prognosis. Doctors rely on tangible evidence of injuries and are trained to recommend the appropriate treatment.

Even so, the adjuster may suggest your treatment was excessive, or that the tests performed were unnecessary. They may also say you took too much time off from work. After raising these objections, the adjuster will say how much they are prepared to offer to settle your claim.

The settlement offer won’t be close to your demand, but don’t overreact. Say that the amount is not appropriate compensation for your damages, but you will review the offer and get back in touch.

When you resume talks, be prepared to refute the adjuster’s objections. For example, the time you missed from work was appropriate because you’re a roofer who could not climb ladders with a knee injury.

There may be several back-and-forth exchanges between the two of you. Remember to negotiate down from your original demand, not up from the adjuster’s counteroffer. So long as the adjuster is still negotiating, you are likely to reach a satisfactory settlement.

6. Finalize Your Insurance Settlement

When you’ve verbally agreed on a settlement, immediately follow up with the adjuster in writing.  By email and letter, verify the amount and terms of your agreement.

Your confirmation letter should include these details:

  • Claim number
  • Date of loss (car accident date)
  • Date you reached the agreement
  • Amount and terms of the settlement

Also include your full legal name and the mailing address where you want the settlement documents sent.

You should get the Release and Settlement Agreement within two weeks. Carefully review the settlement agreement before you sign it. Be sure it clearly states the amount of compensation you’ve agreed to and any other terms of your agreement.

Never sign a document unless you read and thoroughly understand it. The settlement agreement is a legally binding document.

Deciding When to Handle Your Own Claim

You may decide to handle your own injury claim if you are fully recovered from minor injuries and liability is clear.

Serious injury claims should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. Adjusters won’t settle high-dollar claims for a fair amount of compensation when the claimant is on their own.

Similarly, complicated claims need a good car accident attorney to get fair compensation.

Complicated auto accident claims include:

You have the right to seek legal advice at any point in the claim process. When you’re handling your own car accident case, don’t let the adjuster get away with bad faith tactics like asking for the same medical records over and over, or failing to accept liability when their insured was clearly at fault.

When negotiations have stalled, be careful of your state’s statute of limitations for injury cases. If you haven’t settled your claim or filed a personal injury lawsuit before the statutory deadline, you lose your right to compensation. The adjuster is not obligated to tell you when the deadline is looming or help you settle your claim in time.

If the adjuster won’t negotiate your car accident claim in good faith or you’re worried about running out of time, speak to a car accident attorney about your options.

Sometimes hiring a personal injury lawyer is all it takes to get a stubborn adjuster to offer an acceptable settlement amount.

Most injury attorneys offer a free consultation to accident victims. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>