Wondering if you can handle your own injury claim or need an attorney? Use this easy worksheet to help decide.
When you or a loved one have been hurt because of someone else’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages. For most of us, that means asking the at-fault party’s insurance company to pay for our medical costs, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and our pain and suffering.
The most common injury claims arise from car accidents and premises liability incidents, with the vast majority of the claims settling out of court. ¹
Just because you don’t think your injury claim will turn into a lawsuit, doesn’t mean you’ll be better off handling the claim on your own. Use this free worksheet to help decide if you can successfully negotiate an insurance settlement on your own.
Click on the image below to download the PDF worksheet:
When You Can Handle Your Own Claim
If you’ve completely recovered from relatively minor injuries, and the at-fault party has accepted the blame for causing your injuries, you can probably handle your own claim.
Evidence of Injuries and Fault
You must have copies of your medical bills and records, receipts for your out-of-pocket medical expenses, and proof of your lost wages.
You’ll need bills and receipts for every aspect of the medical care and treatment connected to your injury, from the ambulance ride or urgent care center visit to physical therapy. The bills and receipts must show the full cost of your treatment or medication, before any adjustments for health insurance.
Keep in mind that some medical visits and tests generate two bills. For example, you’ll get a bill from the imaging department that took an X-ray, and another bill from the radiologist who interpreted the X-ray.
Proof of Lost Wages
Ask your employer to provide a statement of your lost wages, including any sick leave or vacation time you used while recovering from your injuries.
Self-employed workers can use profit and loss statements, and prior year’s tax returned to show a reduction in income. Letters and emails from clients can also document lost work opportunities due to your injuries.
Be sure you have a doctor’s note that corresponds to any time you were medically unable to work.
Knowing What Your Claim is Worth
If you are planning to handle your own claim, you’ll need to calculate what your injury claim is worth before considering any offers from the insurance company.
A basic way to determine a fair settlement amount is to add up all your hard costs, also called economic damages. Hard costs include your medical bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and replacement costs for clothing or glasses that were ruined by the accident.
After totaling your hard costs, add one or two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering. Pain and suffering covers non-economic damages like diminished enjoyment of life, physical pain, inconvenience, and emotional distress caused by your injuries.
Most insurance adjusters are willing to consider injury compensation within this range. If you feel your damages (especially non-economic damages) should be valued much higher, you’ll need an attorney to pursue increased compensation.
Willingness to Negotiate
In order to handle your claim without an attorney, you’ll need to be able to negotiate with patience and persistence. If you lose your temper or get defensive during negotiations, it will cost you. There will likely be at least a few rounds of negotiations, with some give and take on both sides before coming to a settlement agreement.
If you aren’t comfortable standing your ground with someone who might be confrontational or downright aggressive, you might be better off asking an attorney to help settle your claim.
When You Need Expert Legal Help
Cases involving severe injuries, disabling injuries, or permanent scarring are high-dollar claims that should be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. Insurance adjusters typically offer much lower settlements to severely injured claimants who are not represented by an attorney.
Similarly, if you will be facing ongoing treatment or future surgery because of your injuries, you’ll need expert help to be adequately compensated for projected medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Multiple-party accidents are complicated and difficult to resolve. There are two ways that multiple parties can complicate your injury claim. First, if there is more than one at-fault party (like in a multi-car accident) your claim could drag on for years while the parties try to shift blame to each other.
If there is only one at-fault party, but multiple people are injured, there might not be enough insurance money to go around. When this happens, the insurance company will ask the court to decide how to divide the available funds. If you suffered significant losses, you’ll need an attorney to help you get an appropriate share of the insurance proceeds.
Blaming the victim is a sure-fire way for the insurance company to minimize or deny your injury claim. Adjusters are trained to look for ways to shift blame onto the victim. Most states have comparative or contributory negligence laws, meaning your compensation can be reduced to account for your share of fault.
In some states, you can be barred from any compensation if you’re as little as one percent to blame for the circumstances leading to your injuries. In any case, an attorney can refute that you share any blame, or at least reduce the impact it will have on your potential compensation.
Pre-existing conditions raise a big red flag to insurance adjusters. Whether you had a prior injury to the same body part, or a medical condition that made you more prone to injury than the average person, the adjuster will fight your claim.
You’re entitled to be compensated even if your injuries were complicated by advanced age or another condition. But, you’ll need legal help to get fair compensation.
Product liability and medical malpractice cases are exceptionally complicated and expensive to manage. In either case, you’ll be up against an army of aggressive corporate defense lawyers who will use every trick in the book to win. You need an experienced legal team with the financial ability to advance the cost of your legal expenses, including expert witnesses, through trial.
Settlements in minor child injury claims (and claims made on behalf of an incompetent adult) must be approved by the court in most states. Typically, insurance settlements are placed in an interest-bearing account until the child reaches the age of majority.
Car Accident Injury Claim Considerations
If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you can settle most injury claims directly with your own insurance company. Your PIP (personal injury protection) coverage should pay for your medical expenses, lost wages, and some replacement services, like lawn mowing, while you are recovering. PIP coverage does not compensate you for pain and suffering.
No-fault states allow accident victims with injuries that exceed the state “threshold” for severity to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Claims for injuries severe enough to meet the state threshold should be handled by a personal injury attorney.
Car accidents involving multiple at-fault drivers or multiple injury victims are complicated. You’ll need a good attorney to get fair compensation for your injury claim.
Slip and Falls and other Premises Liability Claims
Injuries that happen at a private residence can often be resolved without an attorney when the property owner is cooperative and has homeowner’s liability insurance.
Slip and falls, or other injuries that occur at a business location can be difficult, if not impossible to handle without an attorney.
You might think your injury was obviously caused by the store’s negligence, but a slip and fall in Walmart or other big-name business means facing an army of corporate lawyers.
In any premises liability claim, the burden is on the victim to prove that the property or business owner was negligent. You’ll need evidence that the owner knew, or should have known, about the hazard and failed to do anything about it.
The tricky part is getting the evidence you need to prove the property owner was to blame. The business owner won’t voluntarily hand over important evidence like surveillance camera footage, or records of prior accidents like yours. You’ll need an attorney to subpoena the needed evidence, and that only happens after a lawsuit is filed.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
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