How to Negotiate a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer

Maximize your injury compensation by negotiating your car accident claim directly with the insurance company. Here’s how to get a fair settlement.

Insurance companies pay out billions of dollars every year for car accident claims, but they work hard to hang on to every dollar.

Insurance adjusters want to process accident claims quickly, for as little money as possible. They’re under no obligation to pay what your claim is worth, so long as they can get you to take less.

You don’t always need a lawyer to get a fair settlement. Here’s where you can learn how to negotiate a car accident claim to maximize your compensation.

We explain when you’re in a strong position to negotiate on your own, how to calculate your claim’s value, and what to expect from the insurance company.

Building a Strong Negotiating Position

Most minor car accident claims can be negotiated and settled out of court with the insurance adjuster.

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 obligation to prove fault, whether or not you are represented by an attorney.

When it’s time to negotiate your accident claim, you’ll be in a very strong position if you’ve proved the at-fault driver was negligent, and you share no blame for the collision.

You’ll need to show that the at-fault driver:

  1. Had a duty of care to prevent harm to others by driving safely
  2. Was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable driver would do under the circumstances, like running a red light
  3. Directly caused your injuries through their negligent act, for example, running the red light and hitting your car was the direct cause of your neck injuries
  4. Your sustained measurable damages, like medical expenses and car repair bills

Begin at the Accident Scene

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

Immediately after the crash:

  • Check if you, your passengers, the other driver, or anyone else is injured.
  • Call 911 to report the accident. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured, if the cars are severely damaged, if 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.
  • Look for any witnesses. Ask them to write down what they saw and sign and date their statements. Be sure to get their contact information.
  • Grab your camera or cell phone, and take photos of the vehicles, skid marks, broken glass, and the surrounding area. You can never have too many pictures.
  • Write down the service number or police report reference number.
  • Cooperate with paramedics. Let them examine you. If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. A delay in medical care can ruin your claim.

Notify Both Insurance Companies

Call the other driver’s insurance company or send them a letter of notification of your intent to file a claim.

Also call your own insurance company. Regardless of fault, most insurance policies require the policyholder to notify the company when an accident occurs.

If you live in a no-fault insurance 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.

Severe injuries are high-dollar claims. They should be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney to get appropriate compensation.

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 collision coverage and letting their insurer recover from the other insurance company.

Continue Gathering Evidence

Don’t try to negotiate a settlement until you have fully recovered, or no further treatment will change your medical status. During your recovery and treatment, put together an organized accident file that includes:

  • The notes, pictures, and statements gathered at the scene of the accident
  • A copy of the police report
  • Copies of your medical bills and records, including a written medical diagnosis, describing the type and extent of your injuries, and if you’ll need future medical treatment
  • Receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses, like medical devices or replacement services, like lawn care
  • Written proof confirming the wages you lost while you were unable to work
  • Documentation of repair or replacement costs for personal property items damaged in the accident, like clothing, glasses, and electronics

Beginning to Negotiate a Car Accident Claim

Claims adjusters are specially trained to investigate accidents and negotiate settlements to resolve legitimate 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 property 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 that says the company will investigate your claim but they “reserve the right” to deny your car accident claim if your losses aren’t covered.

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.

Rental Car

If your car is in the repair shop for more than a day, you have a right to a rental vehicle similar to the one damaged in the accident. For example, if you’re a parent who uses the family minivan to transport children to school and sports practice, tell the adjuster you need a minivan.

If the other driver was at-fault for damaging your car, you have the right to a rental until the day your car repairs are complete.

Bodily Injury Claims

Early on, the adjuster is likely to want to take your recorded statement and ask you to sign a medical release. Both are standard procedure.

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 probably negotiate a fair claim settlement on your own.

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

How Settlement Negotiations Work

Don’t be rushed into a settlement while you’re still in treatment for your injuries. Once the deal is done, there’s no going back. You won’t see another dime from the insurance company, even if your condition worsens.

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

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

A commonly used method for figuring out claim value is to add up all your “special 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.

Once you’ve calculated your total claim value, prepare a formal demand letter detailing your damages, and explaining why the other driver is liable, meaning responsible for your damages. 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 you’re willing to accept to settle your injury claim. You should be prepared to walk away from negotiations and file a lawsuit if the adjuster refuses to pay at least that amount.

Don’t tell the adjuster how low you’re willing to go.

Be Patient and Persistent

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.”

The Adjuster’s “Authority”

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. You have the right to reject low-ball settlement offers.

Back-up Your Demand

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 or chiropractic 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, nor wanted.

It’s very 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.

Counter-Offers

The settlement offer won’t be close to your demand, but don’t overreact. Continue negotiating with patience and persistence. 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.

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.

Reaching Settlement

When you’ve verbally agreed on a settlement, immediately follow up in writing to cement the amount and terms of your agreement.

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.

When Claim Negotiations Fail

You should negotiate with patience, but 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 for the accident.

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 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 tries to pin some of the blame for the accident on you, you should speak to a personal injury attorney about your options.

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

Most injury attorneys don’t charge for their initial consultation. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.

Video: Preparing and Negotiating Personal Injury Claims

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