Why Premature Settlements Can Be an Irreparable Mistake
Immediately after a car accident, it is tempting for many to rush to settle their personal injury claims. There are many reasons why a large number of car accident victims choose to go down this dangerous and risky road. However, the main reason is they want a quick settlement -- to pay medical bills, take care of their immediate financial needs and get back to work so they can put the entire, unpleasant episode behind them. There, is no doubt, an element of denial here. The victim wants to believe he is "just fine" and everything will go back to being the way it was prior to the accident.
Don't Rush to Settle Your Car Accident Case
Sometimes, that is true. The injury is not a big deal and the victim goes on to make a speedy and complete recovery. However, this is only an ideal situation. In a majority of auto accidents, personal injuries, even those described as "moderate," can linger on months or years after the incident and lead to time away from work and money lost in wages and out-of-pocket medical expenses.
We have dealt with several clients who, in my opinion, entered into a premature settlement with an insurance company and suffered a great deal later. Here is the critical issue: Once you take a settlement or sign an agreement with an insurance company, the deal is done. You cannot reopen the case after you have agreed to a settlement although you may still suffer from pain or continue to need treatment.
A Heartbreaking Story
There is a sad story of a young man, husband and father of two small children who was a union ironworker. Three months prior to his car accident, he was hired on a new construction job, which was projected to last a few years. He had been unemployed for nearly six months prior. Although he was injured in a car accident, he decided he did not want to risk taking any time off from his job to get medical treatment. He was afraid of losing his job if he did so.
The at-fault driver who hit him offered him $500 in cash to settle his claim instead of going through his insurance company. This car accident victim wanted me to negotiate a higher settlement for him because he felt that he was injured and should be getting treatment. I refused to settle his case so quickly and advised him that he should wait and see how events unfold and not rush to settle his claim. But the $500 was too tempting for this man, understandably so, and he took it. They signed a settlement agreement.
Eight months later, the young ironworker called me, this time from an Orange County hospital and begged me to come and talk to him. He was about to have emergency spinal surgery. His doctor had told him that he is never going back to being an ironworker. At this point, he had been off work for 90 days because of unbearable pain and had lost his job on the construction project. His doctor said he was relatively sure that the car accident was what started the problem and what made it worse was the fact that he did not get any care for his spinal injury. Instead he continued to work causing a series of bulging discs that were now causing extreme pain and preventing him from working in the construction industry. At this point, he couldn't get out of bed.
Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do for this young man because he settled his case prematurely. He did not let his injuries fully manifest before settling his claim.
Insurance Adjusters Are Not Your Friends
In this young man's case, he did not go through an insurance company. But if you go through an insurance company in your car accident case, you will find that your insurance adjuster will be more than eager to arrange a quick settlement. Why? The adjuster is well aware that the full extent of an injury is not likely to be known in the days following the accident. The sooner he settles with you, the less his company will have to compensate you for your losses. A quick settlement is fully in the insurance company's favor, not yours.
This is exactly why you owe it to yourself and your family to be patient in the aftermath of a car accident -- although it might be the more difficult thing to do. It is critical that you take the time to get a complete and thorough medical diagnosis of your injuries. If you got emergency care, schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor. Make sure you have given sufficient time for your injuries to manifest fully. Only then are you favorably positioned to receive the compensation you rightfully deserve for the full extent of your losses.
It Pays to Be Patient
If you accept payment or sign an agreement, like that young ironworker, you sign away your rights. You cannot renegotiate your settlement, irrespective of the long-term effects of your injuries. This applies even if your injuries result in permanent, lifelong disability or worse, if your family loses you prematurely. Remember, things can go from bad to worse.
An experienced California personal injury lawyer will not rush to settle your claim or advise you to take the first bit of money that is offered to you. A knowledgeable car accident attorney will advise that you wait until a clear and complete picture emerges so you can find out what your case is worth and receive a complete settlement that accurately compensates you for your injuries, damages and losses.