Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Should I settle my accident claim for $5,000?

It is not unusual that I get calls from people that were hurt in a car accident a few months ago, handled the claim themselves, and now have an insurance company offer to settle their case for a certain amount of money. They want me to tell them whether or not they should settle for that amount.

There are a number of things I will talk to them about. I am trying to find out how clear the liability is for the accident, how badly they were hurt, how much the medical bills were for, whether they have lost wages, have they fully recovered, and even whether they had any prior injuries of a similar nature. If I think that the offer to settle that they have in hand is significantly too low, I may offer to take the case and exempt the amount they have already been offered from my contingency fee.

To me, this is the ultimate proof that having a good attorney can add value to a case. I have repeatedly taken cases like this and helped my clients come out better than they would have without my services.

A lady called me and had an offer from the insurance adjuster to settle her auto accident case for $18,000. We took the case, and exempted that offer from legal fees. A couple months later, after we investigated and fully worked up the case, the client got a net settlement of $46,000 after all costs and fees were deducted.

Just this month I am settling a case where my client had been offered only $3,800 to settle by the insurance adjuster before I was involved. Again, after taking the case, filing a complaint in court, and fully developing all the injury issues, we have obtained a gross settlement of $20,000. That client will net over $14,000, and we are still pursuing another party who bears partial responsibility for the accident.

The morale of this story is that before you sign a release, and forever waive your rights, you should have a qualified accident attorney review the proposed settlement. More often than you might think, you can come out substantially ahead for taking the time to do so.