How Should I Prepare For My Personal Injury Claim?
Personal injury victims often make the mistake of believing that an insurance adjuster is on their side. This is not the case. Insurance adjusters are well trained to withhold as much money as possible. This leaves the accident victim and the adjuster with conflicting interests. As an accident victim, you want to receive the highest settlement possible. If you decide to settle your own case without an attorney, you will need skill in two critical areas: preparation and negotiation.
Before you can negotiate your claim you need to prepare yourself. You wouldn't take a trip to Europe without planning out all the details. This is true with a California personal injury claim. To prepare for your negotiations ask and answer these five basic questions:
- What is the strength (evidence) of your claim?
- What are similar claims generally resolved for?
- What is your settlement goal?
- What is your settlement bottom line?
- What alternatives do you have if you don't settle?
The strength of your claim lies in the evidence. This includes statements of witnesses, police reports, photos, and documentation of your losses. Losses include medical bills and any other expenses that stem from your accident.
After you have evidence your next step is to prepare a cover letter. This letter is also referred to as a demand letter. Your cover letter will list damages and summarize the evidence. When preparing this letter be sure to ask for more than you would like to receive. This will give you room to negotiate the price down later.
Research what similar claims have been resolved for. Find your local law library and make copies of the cases you find. Reference the cases when negotiating your claim. It may also be a good idea to consult with a California car accident attorney to get their opinion as well.
Define a settlement goal. What is the amount you would like to walk away with (within reason)? After you have determined this you can focus your strategy around your settlement goal. Be prepared to justify your claim with evidence you have prepared.
What is your settlement bottom line? In other words, what is the lowest dollar amount you will settle for? If this amount is denied you will need to seek alternative methods.
If you do not settle what alternatives do you have?
- You could go to small claims court. This will usually take at least two trips to the courthouse plus a filing and service-of-process fee. The trial will take place six to eight weeks after you have filed. The judge could reward you more money, less money, or nothing at all from the trial. If the wrongdoer appeals the verdict you may have to do this process over again.
- You could wait and do nothing at all. In California you have two years to settle a claim or file a lawsuit. If you slow down the process an adjuster may be tempted to accept your bottom line number. Adjusters usually do not like their personal injury claims to pile up. They are judged on how much money they save the company as well as the speed in which they do so.
- Retain the services of a skilled California personal injury attorney. If you are not getting the results you want you can search for an experienced personal injury lawyer. Make sure the attorney you choose knows his way around the court room and has the respect of the judge. Ask him or her what their success rate is.